But at least the tsunami halted the murder, rape, and torture in resource-rich Aceh
The unluckiest people in the path of history’s deadliest tsunami were those on Sumatra, in Indonesia’s Aceh province—and the luckiest were the executives of ExxonMobil.
The stupidest single person in the wake of the wake was George W. Bush, who missed a once-in-a-planet’s-lifetime chance to win over the hearts of a billion Muslims. Why didn’t he jump into action right away? All he had to do was say some words. But he kept on picking up sticks at his ranch, instead of doing his real job. There’s never been a more lazy-ass president.
The storm didn’t force the world’s largest oil company to lift a finger, either. Australia’s ABC News reported this morning that the death toll in Aceh alone could top 80,000. But the tsunami left untouched the very northern tip of Aceh, site of ExxonMobil’s Arun natural-gas field. The industry news service Schlumberger put things in the right perspective in its Monday story “ExxonMobil: Indonesia Quake Caused ‘Minor’ Ops Disruption”:
Despite the horrific toll in human suffering, analysts and government officials are breathing a sigh of relief that Indonesia has been spared the economic impact of serious earthquake-related damage to the liquid natural gas facilities in the quake-stricken province.
Indonesia, the only Asian member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, is the world’s largest LNG exporter and relies heavily on petroleum revenues to support its sputtering economy, which has seen growth falling behind that of its regional neighbors in recent years.
The oil bidness in Aceh is where the murder, rape, and torture come in. In way, the people of Aceh who did survive are lucky: The killings have stopped, many of the killers probably swept away as if Travis Bickle‘s daydream had come true.
Even before the tsunami, Aceh was hell on earth. This is how the International Labor Rights Fund explains it:
In the past decade alone, ExxonMobil has extracted some $40 billion from its operations in Aceh, Indonesia, leaving in its wake a legacy of death, destruction, and environmental damage.
There have been credible reports dating back several years that Exxon Mobil Corporation, along with its predecessor companies, Mobil Oil Corporation and Mobil Oil Indonesia, hired military units of the Indonesian national army to provide “security” for their gas extraction and liquification project in Aceh, Indonesia. Members of these military units regularly have perpetrated ongoing and severe human rights abuses against local villagers, including murder, rape, torture, destruction of property, and other acts of terror. ExxonMobil apparently has taken no action to stop this violence, and instead, reportedly has continued to finance the military and to provide company equipment and facilities that have been used by the Indonesian military to perpetrate and literally cover up (in the form of mass graves) these criminal acts.
The ILRF has sued ExxonMobil over the tortures and murders, but the company vigorously denies involvement. What’s darkly hilarious about this is that the U.S. State Department has encouraged D.C. federal judge Louis Oberdorfer to throw out the case, warning in 2002 that the lawsuit “would impact adversely on the interests of the United States,” meaning our financial interests, as well as compromise our “war on terrorism.” See, the lawsuit gets in the way with our close relationship with Indonesia’s military—whose butts our own Paul Wolfowitz has long kissed. And of course, the suit is directed at ExxonMobil, a huge contributor to Bush.
The problem is this: As many people have pointed out, the State Department itself has catalogued and condemned the murders, tortures, and rapes in Aceh. The State Department’s lengthy 2003 human-rights report on Indonesia focuses mainly on Aceh. Here are some excerpts:
• Human rights abuses were most apparent in Aceh province, the scene of a long-running separatist revolt.
• Physical torture cases included random beatings and acts involving the hair, nails, teeth, and genitals. Heat, suffocation, electricity, and suspension were also used. Psychological torture cases reportedly included food and sleep deprivation, sexual humiliation, being forced to witness torture, and being forced to participate in torture.
• The [Government’s] security forces committed numerous extrajudicial killings that were not politically motivated. The government largely failed to hold soldiers and police accountable for such killings and other serious human rights abuses, particularly in Aceh.
• The Government made no progress in establishing accountability in a number of extrajudicial killings in Aceh in 2002, including the June killings of two farmers on Kayee Ciret Mountain and the August killings of three women in the north Aceh village of Kandang. . . . The Government reported no progress in prosecuting those responsible for acts of torture committed in Aceh in 2002, including the beating and burning of civilian Rizki Muhammad.
• During the year, hundreds of disappearances occurred, most frequently in Aceh province, and large numbers of persons who disappeared over the past 20 years, mainly in conflict areas, remained unaccounted for at year’s end.
• According to [human-rights group] Kontras, at least 17 verified cases of torture or beatings involving women or children were recorded in Aceh during the [Government’s] military operation, which began on May 19 and continued through year’s end. According to a November press report, a TNI [Indonesian Army] military commander in Aceh, Brigadier General Bambang Darmono, declared that beating suspected rebels was acceptable: “For example, my soldier slugs a suspect across the face. That’s no problem, as long as he is able to function after the questioning. [But] if it’s gross torture, which causes someone to be incapacitated . . . that’s a no-no.”
It goes on like this for page after bloody page—from our own State Department, no less.
Of course, the New York-based Human Rights Watch has been trying to wake up the world to Aceh’s nightmare, doing real digging by interviewing victims and so on. HRW notes in its September 2004 report:
These are systemic failures, not just the acts of rogue soldiers and police or
untrained, poorly resourced judges and prosecutors. The stories of torture are chilling and sadly similar to accounts of abuses committed by Indonesian security forces in Aceh in the past and in other parts of the country.
But here’s what it gets really sticky for the U.S., thanks to the Bush regime. When the Abu Ghraib scandal blew up last April, so did officials of the countries we’ve long scolded for human-rights abuses. Indonesia condemned the Abu Ghraib abuses—and brutally. HRW tells it like this:
Major Farid Ma’ruf, a spokesman for Kopassus, the Indonesian
military’s notorious special forces unit, said, “It is ironic that torture and sexual abuse were committed by the military of a country that always claims to be the world’s human rights guardian. The treatment of Iraqi prisoners was clearly inhumane because the military should have strict standards on how to properly interrogate detainees.”
He should know. HRW interviewed numerous people who say they were tortured at the hands of Kopassus forces.
But after Abu Ghraib, our moral authority is shot. (As if we had the right to claim it in the first place.) Last May, when the State Department released its human-rights report, Indonesian officials went ballistic. HRW tells it this way:
In response to the . . . report on human rights, which highlighted a variety of abuses in Indonesia, Marty Natalegawa, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman, shot back: “The U.S. government does not have the moral authority to assess or act as a judge of other countries, including Indonesia, on
human rights, especially after the abuse scandal at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib Prison.”
Yes, that’s what the Bush regime has wrought. So yesterday, when Dubya finally put on a fittingly somber suit to pose as a businesslike world figure, what did he do to repair our image? He treated the English language the way Chuck Graner treated prisoners.
Bush often transforms from prop to malaprop, but he really slashed syntaxes yesterday when, defensive as usual, he inarticulated the U.S.’s position on disaster aid:
“No, we’re a very generous, kindhearted nation.
You know, the—what you’re beginning to see is a typical response from America. First of all, we provide immediate cash relief, to the tune of about $35 billion.”
Well, it was a typical response from Bush, anyway. We spend $35 billion every five months on the Iraq Debacle. Put another way, $35 billion equals two years of Wall Street bonuses.
He meant to say $35 million. Put another way, $35 million equals what two Wall Street execs got in bonuses last year.
Whoever types up the official White House transcripts probably has a macro for “[sic]”
The smirking Bush crowed about the U.S.’s generosity, blasting his critics as “very misguided and ill-informed.” He’s misinformed, as my colleague Jarrett Murphy pointed out Monday: Per capita, the U.S. is not the most generous.
At least the tsunami halted the murder, rape, and torture in Aceh. Latest reports say at least 500 Indonesian military officers on Aceh are reported missing. Guess it’s their turn.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on December 30, 2004