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23 Mar 2012
Our Money Helps Kill, Intimidate And Torture
By Marni Cordell
Australia plays a key role in training and funding elite Indonesian counter-terror unit Detachment 88 – but wants to distance itself from the unit’s violent reputation, reports Marni Cordell
Bob Carr and Stephen Smith with
their Indonesian counterparts.
There’s been a terror threat in Jakarta. A group of hardliners claim they intend to bomb the city’s transport system, just days before the UK prime minister is scheduled to arrive for a state visit. Indonesia’s counter terror agencies scramble to respond to the critical incident as the population goes into lockdown.
I’m sitting in the Control Room at the Jakarta Centre for Law Enforcement Co-operation (JCLEC) alongside international police trainers Bob Milton and David Gray.
On the screens in front of us, Indonesian police are acting out roles in this imagined terrorism scenario — and Milton and Gray are the puppet-masters.
Inside the JCLEC Control Room. Photo: Marni Cordell
“Basically the scenario develops into a more and more complicated problem,” explains Milton, a former Metropolitan Police commander from the UK.
“We try to make it as real as possible. We’ll have things such as pictures, audio, taped phone conversations, anything that we can try and get the information to them in a more interesting way.”
“We then challenge the students and ask for quite a lot of detail about how they are going to respond, and how they are going to deal with it.”
Fake terror scenarios like this one are a regular part of the immersive training that goes on at the Australian-funded police training centre.
JCLEC was set up in 2004 as a result of a bilateral agreement between Indonesia and Australia to strengthen Indonesia’s counter-terror effort in the wake of the Bali Bombings.
I visited the centre last week as part of an investigation into Australia’s funding and training of Indonesia’s crack anti-terror squad, Detachment 88 — the unit responsible for capturing or killing most of Indonesia’s terrorism kingpins since the 2002 Bali attack.
Detachment 88 employs a controversial brand of policing in which suspects are shot dead rather than arrested — like a soldier would shoot an enemy combatant. The high profile counter-terror raid in Bali last Sunday, in which five suspected terrorists were killed and the police were hailed internationally as heroes, was just the latest in a long line of lethal operations.
The unit is funded and trained by Australia and while the Australian Government might not endorse their paramilitary-style tactics, it’s been willing to turn a blind eye because Detachment 88 has been extremely effective at disrupting Indonesia’s extensive terror network.
JCLEC itself is deep within the grounds of the Indonesian National Police Academy, in the city of Semarang in Central Java. When I arrive at the centre I’m met by AFP federal agent Brian Thomson, a friendly, middle-aged cop from Canberra who is nine months into a two-year stint here. I’m the first Australian journalist he has hosted in that time.
JCLEC is touted as an international police training centre but in fact its students are over 90 per cent Indonesian — 9 per cent of whom are Detachment 88. The centre hosts trainers from Indonesia and across the globe, predominantly from Australia, Europe, and the UK.
Students undertake computer-based training courses – this one tests their knowledge of the difference between intelligence and information. Photo: Marni Cordell
Its core funding for more than 130 staff on six hectares of well maintained grounds comes directly from the Australian Federal Police’s own budget.
The self-contained centre — complete with student accommodation, lap pool and gym — couldn’t stand in greater contrast to stories that abound in Jakarta about Detachment 88’s operations.
JCLEC’s shtick is about “learning and understanding through shared experience” — and teaching best practice terror investigation techniques and proper use of the judicial process. Detachment 88, an elite and highly skilled unit with unique powers of surveillance in Indonesia, seems to operate above the law.
As I reported earlier this month, there is growing evidence to suggest what was once solely a counter-terror unit is now moving into counter-separatist operations. Activists in West Papua claim the squad is being deployed to hunt down civilians aligned with the independence movement in a growing campaign of intimidation.
According to Eric Sonindemi, a participant in last October’s Third Papuan People’s Congress, says Detachment 88 personnel were involved in the deadly attack on Congress in which six people were killed and many others wounded.
“Most of the security forces were in plain clothes, but they weren’t really concealing their weapons — they were sort of showing off,” Sonindemi told me when I met with him in Jakarta. “Detachment 88 was there,” he said, explaining that he “saw their equipment and riot shields”.
“Hundreds of people were detained [by police] that night and many of them were beaten in detention,” Sonindemi said. “I spoke to one person who had a gash in his head, a broken nose and bruises on his face. He had been beaten with the butt of a rifle by a policeman.”
“He was subsequently released and never charged with any crime.”
So exactly how closely does Australia work with the deadly unit?
According to a Jakarta-based security analyst who asked not to be named, “There was a big push after the first Bali Bombing, to the point where Detachment 88 actually had Australians with them on [counter-terror] operations.”
“It’s been a long time since that’s happened,” the analyst continued. “The AFP says that sometimes Detachment 88 doesn’t even share information with them any longer. There’s a real pride in doing things themselves now without relying on the Australians.”
But a diplomatic source in Jakarta confirmed that the relationship remains extremely close — and that the AFP continues to work with the Indonesian National Police, of which Detachment 88 is a part, at head office in Jakarta.
Australian Federal Police agent Brian Thomson at JCLEC, with an Indonesian colleague. Photo: Marni Cordell
Details on our financial support for the unit are harder to come by. The Australian government committed $36.8 million over the first four years of JCLEC. Now Thomson tells me the Australia’s support for JCLEC comes out of the AFP budget, which continues to provide “roughly the same amount” of funding to the centre. We also assist the unit directly — although just what that assistance entails is a closely guarded secret.
“I’ve pursued that question through senate estimates, through questions on notice, I’ve had DFAT briefings, and I can’t get any clarity about the role of Australian support of the Indonesian military and police and specifically whether our contribution benefits Detachment 88,” Greens senator and spokesperson on West Papua Richard Di Natale told NM.
“And it’s very clear that Detachment 88 has been involved in some of the violence that has occurred in the region.”
Details from the Indonesian side are just as shady.
Although some of Detachment 88’s terror raids have been simulcast on television in Indonesia, scratch below the surface and it’s difficult to get any real detail on the unit, says Usman Hamid, advisor to the International Center for Transitional Justice.
“The accountability of Detachment 88 is very low,” Hamid tells me when I meet him in a hotel lobby in Jakarta where he is meeting with other experts to prepare a response to the draft national security bill.
“Detachment 88 has special allocation of the budget and international funding — which has never been explained to the Indonesian public clearly, or even to the parliament for that matter.”
“We hear vague amounts but it’s not under the state budget.”
“It should be accounted appropriately,” Hamid told NM. “To the Indonesian parliament, to the Indonesian public, and of course to the Australian parliament and public … to make sure that the budget Australia gave is really being used for the right purpose.”
As Brian Thomson walks me through the official JCLEC Power Point presentation, I ask how Australia can be sure that the training taught at the centre is also being “used for the right purpose” — how do we know it isn’t being used to crack down on civilian dissent?
He’s silent for some time before asking me to repeat the question, and then ultimately refusing to answer it — handballing to his Indonesian counterpart, Dwi Priyatno, who refers me to the Indonesian law on terrorism, and back to the public affairs branch of the Indonesian police.
I also ask specifically about separatism in Indonesia and whether techniques to quash independence movements are ever discussed at the Australian-funded centre. Thomson again gets nervous.
“I can’t really answer that because my job here as an executive director is to be involved in running the centre, so what’s actually discussed in the classroom, I can’t give full [details],” he says.
“When you say separatism, in what regard are you referring to it?”
Back in Australia my inquiries about Detachment 88’s operations in Papua and their move toward policing separatism have been met with an almost uniform response. Here’s what I received from the AFP head office in Canberra: Australia has no mandate to tell the Indonesian Police how to run their business. And yes, we will continue to provide “capacity building assistance”.
Meanwhile, Eric Sonindemi says he remains traumatised by the police and military attack on the Third Papuan People’s Congress. He clearly remembers the sound of gunfire, he tells me, and now jumps when he hears loud noises. He is sure he is being monitored by the police. “I’ve been threatened by the police before,” he says, “but this is the first time I’ve feared for my life.”
Other Papuans I met in Jakarta told similar stories — of constant surveillance by the security forces, phone tapping and intimidation. They told me that fear is part of their daily lives.
Australian officials may well seek to disclaim any responsibility for the behaviour of the Indonesian police and particularly from the activities of Detachment 88. Given the close relationship between the AFP and the unit, however, it’s hard not to conclude that Australia is directly contributing to this climate of oppression.
This is the second article in an NM investigation of Detachment 88 and Australia’s role in the Indonesian counter-terror effort. Read the first article here.