Leaking the truth

How US officials 'inadvertently' revealed America's bloody role in 1960s Indonesia.

Dave Hallsworth

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As a young communist in the 1960s – still reeling from the Twentieth Congress of the Soviet Communist Party, where Khrushchev revealed some of the bloody truth about Stalin’s regime – I was also troubled by news that the Indonesian army was killing off members of the Indonesian Communist Party. Estimates of the numbers killed ranged from 100,000 to one million.

Now, the US government has ‘inadvertently’ released documents about its dealings with Indonesia in the 1960s, and is desperately trying to get them back. As the Washington Post reveals, ‘United States officials are trying to recall an official history of US dealings with Indonesia that documents some American responsibility for the killing of thousands of Indonesian communists in the mid-1960s – including a cable recommending payments to army-backed death squads’ (1).

The 830-page government document covering the USA’s role in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines from 1964 to 1968 was distributed by the Government Printing Office (GPO) to libraries throughout the world. GPO spokesperson Andy Sherman revealed that he received orders from the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security to get the microfiche copies back – but it came too late. The National Security Archive, a research group at Washington University, had already posted the document on its website (2).

Another document, covering US dealings with Greece, Turkey and Cyprus in the same period, is locked up at the GPO under the category: ‘Embargo: this publication cannot be released.’ Officials have declined to say why.

The papers are part of the prestigious series ‘Foreign Relations of the United States’, which has been going since 1861. The preface to each volume says that it includes, ‘subject to necessary security considerations, all documents needed to give a comprehensive record of the major foreign policy decisions of the United States’. The last controversy arose in 1990, with the publication of a history of Iran that made no mention of the widely known CIA-backed coup in 1953 that restored the Shah to power – so congress responded with a law requiring that each volume be ‘a thorough, accurate and reliable documentary record’. Can anybody imagine such a decision being made in the UK?

Today, as the Washington Post points out: ‘The volume on Indonesia contains documents indicating that 35 years ago, US officials supplied the names of thousands of members of the Indonesian Communist Party, the PKI, to the army in Jakarta which was tracking them down and killing them.’

No doubt UK prime minister Tony Blair is avidly reading his copy – or being briefed about the fuss – in order to pick up tips on how to avoid embarrassing truths about foreign adventures coming back to haunt him in his old age.

(1) Paper shows US role in Indonesian purge, Washington Post, 28 July 2001

(2) National Security Archive website

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