The US knew that civilians were being “delivered for slaughter” and did nothing during Indonesia’s 1965-66 anti-Communist massacres, declassified documents have revealed.
Between 500,000 and 3 million people were killed by the army and Muslim militias and documents point to the depth of US involvement.
US staff describe “indiscriminate killings” and moves to “completely clean up” left-wing groups.
By April 1966, the embassy appeared to have lost track of the death toll. “We frankly do not know whether the real figure is closer to 100,000 or 1,000,000.” Even the authorities had only a “vague idea” of the real number, the cable said.
Communists were accused of killing six generals in Jakarta on September 30, 1965 in an attempted coup.
The documents show that US envoys had credible information that contradicted the Indonesian army’s propaganda that the abortive coup was ordered by the Indonesian Communist Party and Beijing.
A US embassy communique from East Java from December 28, 1965, said “victims are taken out of populous areas before being killed and bodies are buried rather than thrown in river” as happened previously.
The telegram said suspected communists were “being delivered to civilians for slaughter”.
A list drawn up by the embassy’s first secretary, Mary Vance Trent, from December 17, 1965, details the communist leaders and whether they had been arrested or killed.
In Bali alone, around 10,000 people had been killed by mid-December, including the parents and distant relatives of the island’s pro-communist governor, and the killing was continuing, she reported. Two months later, Bali’s death toll had swelled to 80,000, according to the embassy.
The involvement of groups that today remain Indonesia’s biggest mainstream Muslim organisations, Nahdlatul Ulama, its youth wing Ansor and Muhammadiyah, is exposed by the reports. A December 1965 telegram from the consulate in Medan on Sumatra said that Muhammadiyah preachers were telling followers it was a religious obligation to “kill suspected communists”. Leftists were the lowest form of infidel, “the shedding of whose blood is comparable to killing chicken”, the US report said.
The memo said the instructions were giving a “wide licence for killing”.
A telegram said non-communists were being killed by the youth wing of the Nahdlatul Ulama because of “personal feuds”.
The 39 formerly classified documents have been released by the National Declassification Centre, a division of the US National Archives and Records Administration. More files, including CIA documentation, are set to be released later this year.
The killings are still deeply divisive. Picture credit: YouTube