In the spotlight of Western scrutiny still focused by the 9/11 attacks on the US, the bombings of 12 October 2002 forced Indonesia to confront the organisation responsible, Jemaah Islamiah, with ruthless efficiency.
A year later, most of the suspects have been detained — three of them sentenced to death.
But just a few hundred metres from the scene of last October's carnage lies a mass grave holding tens of thousands of bodies – victims of a far greater slaughter nearly 40 years before, with no justice or punishment to date.
The lack of similar Western pressure to try those responsible for the 1965-66 massacres highlights the complicit behind-the-scenes role the US and others played in the organised slaughter.
Bali bomber Imam Samudra was
rapidly tried and sentenced
Belatedly, the National Commission of Human Rights in Indonesia opened a preliminary inquiry into the massacres in February.
But according to the Asian Human Rights commission (AHRC) based in Hong Kong, the investigation was severely hindered.
Human rights commissioners were harassed by armed gangs and pressured by political figures connected to the military regime responsible for the massacres.
And the enquiry ended after only six months without any indictments amid calls by human rights groups that it should continue.
It is generally accepted between 500,000 and one million almost entirely unarmed Indonesians were killed in the bloodbath of 1965-66, according to the AHRC.
The Indonesian army, led by General Suharto and assisted mainly by the US, went on the rampage against what it called a communist attempt to overthrow the government.
Beginning in the capital Jakarta, the bloodletting spread to East Java, Bali, Aceh, North Sumatra and North Sulawesi.
Indonesian army killed up to one
million civilians 1965-66
Ironically, Suharto and his backers were more concerned with overthrowing the government themselves.
Under the populist, left-leaning President Sukarno, Indonesia was a founding member of the non-aligned movement, a group of Third World countries hoping to steer an independent course between the Soviet Union and the US.
In his book titled The New Rulers of the World (Verso 2002), award-winning Australian journalist John Pilger outlined how Sukarno’s encouragement of trades unions and peasants’ movements, his rejection of Western-dominated international financial bodies such as the IMF, and his dislike of US and UK political interference in the region, worried domestic power elites as well as America and Britain.
West’s covert support
Whether they believed it themselves or not remains unclear, but the message Washington and London sent out in 1965 was that under Suharto, Indonesia was about to fall to communists.
In 1990, American investigative journalist Kathy Kadane interviewed several US officials to reveal the extent of Washington’s covert support for Suharto’s killing spree and subsequent overthrow of Sukarno.
“As many as 5000 names were furnished to the Indonesian army, and the Americans later checked off the names of those killed or captured”
“They systematically compiled comprehensive lists of communist operatives,” she wrote. “As many as 5000 names were furnished to the Indonesian army, and the Americans later checked off the names of those killed or captured.”
The Indonesian army, already largely equipped by Washington, was given more items such as communications devices to help co-ordinate the massacres.
Pilger quoted British officials hailing their propaganda success in persuading the world’s media the violence in Indonesia was both limited and for a good cause.
The veteran reporter also noted Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt’s black humour in approving of the killings.
“With 500,000 to a million communist sympathisers knocked off,” Holt was reported as saying, “I think it’s safe to assume a reorientation has taken place.”
“On the island of Bali,” wrote Pilger, “the ‘reorientation’ described by Prime Minister Holt meant the violent deaths of 80,000, although this is generally regarded as a conservative figure.
“The many Western, mostly Australian, tourists who have since taken advantage of cheap package holidays to the island might reflect that beneath the car parks of several of the major tourist hotels are buried countless bodies.”