The Secret of Avoiding GAM’s Trap?
Soldiers who committed crimes will be put on trial. Will this reduce violations or merely lower morale?
LAST Tuesday, the courtroom at the Lhokseumawe District Court, Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam, was packed with camouflage-wearing soldiers. They were not attacking the building on Jalan Iskandar Muda; they were there to watch the trial involving their comrades in arms from 144/Jaya Yudha Infantry Battalion from Bengkulu. That afternoon, their colleagues were being tried by the Banda Aceh Military Court at Lhokseumawe.
Private Syaiful Bahri, and Basic Privates Toni Haryanto and Agus Widayat, also in camouflage, were sitting in the chairs reserved for those on trial. They were charged with mistreating the people of Meunasah Raya hamlet, Lawang Village, Peudada District, Bireuen Regency on May 27 and of not following orders. Four other soldiers are also suspects, and are awaiting their turn to be tried.
This is the first court martial of Indonesian Military (TNI) personnel since the military emergency was declared in Aceh. Senior military officers are keeping the promise they made to treat seriously any violations of the law by their soldiers in the field. Not long after he was appointed, the commander of the TNI Operational Command, Brig. Gen. Bambang Darmono said that he would set up courts in the field in order to uphold the law.
These trials in the field are short affairs, very different from civilian trials that are complicated and last a long time. If there is a violation of military discipline or civil law, it is initially handled by a Military Police taskforce. After the investigation is complete, the case is passed on to the Operational Command Legal Taskforce and a court martial is organized.
“I think that this process of questioning, an investigation and a trial is the fastest in [legal] history,” says Bambang Darmono. His words have been proved in the courtroom. In the first trial last Monday, the judge, Maj. Hulwani S.H. gave the legal advisors only one day to respond to the charges from the military prosecutor. The suspects’ advisors, Maj. Weni Okianto and Capt. Kurniadi had asked for three days to answer the charges.
The sense of urgency was also apparent when the military prosecutor asked for three days to respond to the legal advisor’s reply and the judge granted him only one hour. The judges only took half an hour to make an intermediate decision, namely to reject the suspects’ exception and to order that the trial continue.
The story of the crime allegedly carried out by the seven soldiers in Aceh as part of the security operation is a simple one. They have admitted what they did and there are many eyewitness accounts. The court martial gave the soldiers the opportunity to explain why they did what they did.
It seems that during the military operation, mental pressure made them unable to control their emotions. In court, the three men admitted they had been unable to contain their anger. They said that they thought the victims were lying when asked about the location and names of Free Aceh Movement (GAM) members in the area.
According to the account of one of the victims, Hamdani, on the morning of Tuesday May 27, soldiers from the Jaya Yudha Battalion came to their village. Hamdani said he had just finished his dawn prayers when soldiers pounded on his door.
When he opened the door, he saw three soldiers waiting. “Is your name Pak Keciek [the village head]?” Hamdani answered, “I’m not Pak Keciek. I’m only an acting official for three months.” Then I was asked to assemble the villagers in the prayer hall.
Hamdani was then taken to the edge of the village. While he was walking, he was hit in the face by a solider. This was for saying he did not know where the GAM base was. The answer “I don’t know” was rewarded with a kick.
When they arrived at the swamp at the edge of the village, they saw a wooden shelter. The soldiers surrounded the shelter. No GAM members were found as a result of this raid. But the soldiers did find hundreds of ID cards in a plastic bag.
Hamdani said that the ID cards belonged to local people and that they had been taken by somebody a few days beforehand. At the same time, the soldiers found a wet-cell battery–the type usually used to power bomb detonators.
After about 30 minutes in the area, Hamdani and dozens of TNI personnel went to the prayer hall. The villagers were waiting there. About 20 meters before the prayer hall, Hamdani was punched in the eye. This blow made him unsteady on his feet and he collapsed in the prayer room. His family took him to be treated at the community health center at the local military post.
It turned out that the injury was serious. Hamdani had to be put on a drip at the Dr. Fauziah Hospital in Bireuen for four days. The doctor who examined him found that he had sustained an injury to his eyelid that had resulted in bleeding. It was this punch to the face that caused his concussion.
Hamdani was not the only victim to testify at the court martial. Maimun and Rajali bun Abdurrahman, who had suffered the same fate as Hamdani, were also summoned to testify.
Their accounts were confirmed by the suspects in the trial presided over by chief judge Maj. Hulwani S.H assisted by Maj. Adil Karo-Karo S.H. and Maj. Trias Kowara S.H.
When Private Syaiful Bahri was questioned, he said that he had received orders from his platoon commander, 2nd Lt. Fuad, to conduct a sweeping operation against GAM members in the village of Meunasah Lawang, Peudada, Bireuen. The order was given May 26 at about 8pm. Syaiful was a member of one of the four teams that were deployed.
Approaching dawn, two teams went to Meunasah Lawang. Syaiful’s team went behind the village to seal off the road in case GAM fighters tried to escape and entered the village from this direction. Meanwhile teams III and IV entered the village from the front. About 400 meters inside the village, the team members saw a GAM member taking a bath. Then there was an armed clash that lasted approximately 30 minutes.
When they reached the prayer hall, around seven people had already assembled. The platoon commander gave a briefing, and it was then that he saw Private Alfian (also a suspect) taking Hamdani away.
Alfian was seen asking Hamdani if there were any GAM members there. Hamdani said he did not know. Not long after, Maimun left the prayer hall. Outside, the soldiers asked him which villagers were GAM members. He answered, “[I] don’t know. There aren’t any.”
Then Abu Bakar quietly left the prayer hall. Shortly after this, two shots were heard. It was these shots that killed Abu Bakar. According to Alfian, Syaiful had told him that Abu Bakar was a member of GAM. The information was certain. “I felt I had been lied to. That meant Maimun lied and was protecting GAM, so I hit him,” he said.
Basic Private Toni Haryanto told the same story. He said he had met Hamdani on the road. His nose and lip was bleeding. Toni approached Hamdani. One of his friends said that Hamdani had not admitted to being Pak Keciek. “I became emotional and also hit him,” he said.
Still according to Toni, while the briefing was continuing, he saw Maimun leave the prayer hall. He said he wanted to go outside for a moment. According to Toni, this was too much and showed a lack of respect for the commander who was giving a briefing. “I became emotional. I hit him. I was emotional, commander,” he told the judge who was questioning him.
Agus Widayat gave a similar account. He said he was irritated with Hamdani, who had lied. When he was told to guide us, he led us astray, said Agus Widayat.
For their actions, military prosecutors Lt. Cmdr. Maryanto S.H. and Capt. B. Siregar S.H. charged the suspects with two crimes. Firstly the suspects collectively and intentionally disobeyed orders, and secondly they collectively mistreated others. Therefore, at the trial last Friday, the prosecutor asked that the defendants be sentenced to eight months in jail. The next trial will start this week.
The Lawang incident is the first case that has come to trial. According to military expert Dr. Salim Said, this judicial process, which has been conducted openly, demonstrates TNI’s seriousness in upholding the law. In a conversation with senior TNI officers, he was left with the impression that they really do want to prove that TNI has undergone a reform process in its way of thinking, he said. But Salim also gave a warning. “Don’t have too many courts martial. It could lower the morale of the soldiers,” he said.
Of course not every report of breaches of the law by TNI personnel ends up in a trial. Two incidents before the Lawang case, namely the report of extortion by TNI soldiers to the tune of Rp2 million plus jewelry and the shooting at Peusangan, Bireuen, will not end in trials. The Military Police Taskforce has said there is insufficient evidence of transgressions in these two incidents.
The shooting at Peusangan, which caused a controversy because the victims were civilians, is seen as closed because TNI is certain those shot were GAM members. According to Salim, GAM uses children as spies and as cannon fodder for TNI. Unarmed children should not be shot. “TNI could fall into GAM’s trap, and GAM could exploit this via the international media,” he said. This was done by Fretilin in East Timor.
GAM knows that they cannot defeat TNI militarily. Therefore they are going to set traps to prolong the war. If that happens, TNI personnel will become exhausted and will lose self-control. Then GAM will use their international connections to discredit TNI personnel who act irrationally. “This is the job of senior TNI officers. They must look for wiser actions because they are the ones who really know about battlefields,” says Salim Said.
A senior official at a Western embassy has a more explicit suggestion. “Unarmed people may not be shot,” he says. The diplomat, who gave considerable assistance to TNI in its reform process warns, “Don’t forget, every time somebody is shot by mistake, at least 10 guerrillas will appear.”
Edy Budiyarso, Abdul Manan (Lhokseumawe)
TEMPO, JUNE 16, 2003-040/P. 22 Heading Cover Story