General Wiranto, Indonesia's current minister of security, former armed-forces chief, and once the handpicked successor of Indonesia's fallen dictator Suharto, was supposed to be dangerous when pushed. A guy who could pose a threat to Indonesia's fledgling democracy.
Yet in response to the National Commission on Human Rights finding that he is culpable for "crimes against humanity" in East Timor, his expected defiance was muted. He only promised to "fight for the truth.'' Told of President Abdurrahman Wahid's stated intention to fire him, all he had to say was that he hadn't heard the news.
Hardly the words to strike fear into the hearts of men. For good reason. Wiranto, the subject of coup rumors for months, was outflanked by Mr. Wahid, a genial Muslim cleric who is one of Indonesia's canniest political operators. Wiranto's political career, analysts say, appears to be at an end.
Those afraid of a coup should take a cue from Wahid himself, who's on a two week trip abroad, analysts say. Wahid felt confident enough to let Wiranto know of his plans through a television interviewer in Davos, Switzerland. "I will ask him, to use a polite word, to resign,'' he told Reuters Television.
The findings of the four-month government inquiry into the East Timor rampage were stunning. They held Wiranto, five other generals, and 27 militia leaders, political figures, and junior officers responsible for aiding a campaign of rape, murder, and torture in the wake of the territory's August vote for independence. "Wahid has been setting this one up for months," says a political analyst in Jakarta. "It's quite clear the intention all along was to use the human rights inquiry as a wedge to solve his problem with the military.'' After the announcement, chief military spokesman Air Force Rear Marshall Garito Usodo promised the military would respect the legal process.
The commission presented its findings to Attorney General Marzuki Darusman, a close ally of Wahid's. Mr. Darusman promised to pursue further investigation that could lead to a prosecution but hasn't set a timetable.
Of course, acceptance hasn't been total. On Feb. 1, lawyers for the five accused generals attacked the accuracy of the report and threatened a libel suit against the commission's members. The lawyers, led by former human rights crusader Adnan Nasution, said in a statement that the allegations against the military were not supported by the evidence presented.
The plan, according to members of the investigating team, was to couple international pressure with hard evidence of military guilt to draw potential public support away from the generals. The announcement of the domestic inquiry's results came just days after United Nations investigators recommended a tribunal be set up to try those accused of war crimes in East Timor, the former Portuguese colony that gained independence after 25 years of Indonesian rule.
"It is my hope that efforts to hold those responsible for the atrocities in East Timor accountable will go on so that there is no impunity," said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson in response to the Indonesia report.
But that's not very likely. Support within the UN for a war-crimes tribunal is low. Domestically, it would go against the grain to drag the generals through the court. Wahid, though he has said Wiranto should be prosecuted, has promised to pardon him if convicted. One member of the investigation team says they were in constant contact with Wiranto, promising him that any prosecutions would stop short of officers.
Still, the release of the report represents a major victory for civilian rule in the world's fourth-largest country. The military has always played a dominant role in Indonesian politics since independence from the Dutch in 1945, and has more often than not controlled the presidency. Top generals have traditionally been appointed governors of Indonesia's provinces, and the military has appointed seats in parliament.
Wahid represents the side of Indonesia that wants the Army out of politics. Yet there are many Indonesians, brought up on patriotic stories of the independence fight, who have not been prepared to see the dark side of their military.
If many of them read the commission's report, that could change. "The crimes against humanity committed in East Timor occurred entirely, directly or indirectly, because of the failure of [Wiranto] to ensure security,'' said human rights commission chairman Djoko Soegianto.
The body of the report says soldiers and policemen participated in "mass killings'' in "churches, police stations, and military bases'' - and that the leaders of the pro-Jakarta militias the military has claimed were acting alone were in fact "either members of the civilian security forces or the Army."
To be sure, the military is not a spent political force in Indonesia. With separatist movements from Aceh, on the northern tip of Sumatra, to Irian Jaya, on the country's eastern flank, the military will continue to ask for, and be given, a free hand on the margins by Jakarta.
And though there's a new breed of generals on their way up, who say they want to reform the military along the professional lines of the armies of the West, most analysts suspect they're not yet ready to confine themselves to barracks permanently.
"Wiranto was ambitious enough to be threatening to Wahid. So he had to go," says one Western diplomat. "But the president wouldn't have moved if he didn't feel he had enough support from other parts of the military. Those guys aren't supporting the president just so he can ignore them later."
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society