Australians could be shocked at how their money is being used in Indonesia’s war on terror, says Marni Cordell.
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 Cooperation (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.
“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,” he explains.
“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 conducted at the Australian-funded police training centre.
JCLEC was set up in 2004, after the Bali bombings, as a joint project between Indonesia and Australia to strengthen Indonesia’s counter-terror efforts.
I visited the centre in March as part of a New Matilda investigation into Australia’s funding and training of Indonesia’s crack anti-terror squad, Densus 88 [Detachment 88] – the unit responsible for capturing or killing most of the country’s terrorism kingpins since the 2002 Bali attack.
Densus 88 uses a controversial brand of policing in which suspects are shot dead rather than arrested – like a soldier would shoot an enemy combatant – and 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.
The unit is funded by Australia and while the Australian government might not endorse their paramilitary-style tactics, it’s been willing to turn a blind eye because Densus 88 has been extremely effective at disrupting Indonesia’s extensive terror network.
Australian officials say the government does not support Densus 88’s counter-separatist activities – but it’s clear we also lack control over how our substantial assistance is used.
When I first contacted JCLEC in early February, I was surprised to receive a response from Australian Federal Police (AFP) agent Kylie Ford. I knew the centre had been built with Australia’s assistance and received ongoing funding – I didn’t know that its core funding for over 130 staff members on six hectares of well-maintained grounds now comes directly from the AFP’s own budget. The centre also has three permanent AFP staff.
Since Australia pays for all running costs save the utilities bill, you’d think a visit from an Australian journalist would not be such a big deal. But getting media clearance for the centre proved much harder than I expected.
Three weeks after I sent off a letter to JCLEC’s official gatekeepers, the Indonesian National Police, I finally received what I thought was the go-ahead to visit the centre – but a few days later that permission was revoked after I wrote an article for New Matilda on Densus 88’s involvement in West Papua.
Ford told me that after reading my story the Indonesian police no longer felt confident that my visit would result in a “good news story”. “Because it mentioned Detachment 88 and that’s possibly a bit sensitive for them,” she told me. My access had been cancelled.
It took another full day of phone calls to the Indonesian police before I was finally allowed access to the Australian-funded centre.
Details on our financial support for the unit are even harder to come by. The Australian government committed $36.8 million over the first five years of JCLEC, from 2004 to 2009. Now the Australian Federal Police continues to provide “roughly the same amount” according to JCLEC executive director of programs and AFP federal agent Brian Thomson.
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 New Matilda.
Back in Australia, my own inquiries about Densus 88’s operations in West Papua and their move toward policing separatism have been met with an almost uniform response. Australia has no mandate to tell the Indonesian police how to run their business, I was told by the AFP head office in Canberra. And, yes, we will continue to provide “capacity building assistance”.
When Jakarta Globe journalist Nivell Rayda asked the Indonesian police why Densus 88 was being deployed to Papua – which does not have a big problem with terrorism – a spokesman explained that, “Terrorism is not only limited to radicals waging jihad. By the definition set under the 2003 [Indonesian] Terrorism Law, terrorism refers to any act that can cause unrest.” http://www.thejakartaglobe.com/editorschoice/indonesias-anti-terror-police-expand-their-targets/502463
Any act that can cause unrest? This sounds like something from the Suharto era and should have sent loud warning signals to the Australian government and the AFP: Australia is funding a highly skilled police unit that can be deployed against dissenting citizens.
But in the course of investigating this story I found no willingness at all from Australian officials to address these concerns.
Australia’s assistance in Indonesia’s post-Bali counter-terror effort has been sold to us as a success story. But just what is Australian money being used for in Indonesia’s deadly war on terror?
Marni Cordell is Editor of New Matilda www.newmatilda.com