Secrecy News

Declassification of Indonesia Files in Progress

Updated below

The National Declassification Center has completed declassification review of more than half of the classified files from the U.S. Embassy in Djakarta, Indonesia from the turbulent years of 1963-1966. The remainder of the task is expected to be completed by this summer.

So far, 21 of 37 boxes of classified Djakarta Embassy files have undergone declassification review, said Sheryl Shenberger, director of the National Declassification Center. Remarkably, the declassification of the Indonesia records was prioritized in response to public comments.

What new light will they shed on the past?

“As to the discovery of anything new, I leave that to you and the researcher community,” said Alex Daverede of the National Declassification Center, who is performing the declassification review.

“I think you will gain some insight about US perspectives on the 30 September Movement [military personnel who assassinated six Indonesian generals, triggering a campaign of mass killings]. You will also get some close observations about Sukarno and the cast of characters around him. You will also see the Embassy’s perspective on the awkward transition from Sukarno to Suharto. There is a lot of information on Indonesia’s economic woes in 1965-1966 and of the efforts to get food to what was a bankrupt country,” Mr. Daverede said.

In a 2014 draft resolution, Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) pressed for declassification of U.S. records from this period.

“It is a painful history to recall. On October 1, 1965, six Indonesian Army generals were killed. According to scholars, these generals were killed by military personnel, but their deaths were blamed on Indonesia’s Communist Party, which was used to justify mass murders.”

“The next few months were horrific for the Indonesian people. The CIA has called it one of the worst periods of mass murder in the 20th century. Hundreds of thousands were killed. Many others were imprisoned, tortured, raped, starved, and disappeared across the country. These individuals were targeted for their alleged association with communism, but they came from all walks of life, including women’s groups, teachers, intellectuals, and others. Most were unarmed, and none had due process of law.”

“The United States provided financial and military assistance during this time and later, according to documents released by the State Department, and General Suharto consolidated his power, ruling from 1967 to 1998,” Senator Udall noted. CIA also conducted covert operations in Indonesia during this time, though records of that activity may not be included in the Embassy files.

“Unfortunately, while Indonesia has made important economic and political strides since the systemic repression of the Suharto years, impunity for the horrific crimes of the 1960s and during the final years of the independence struggle in East Timor remain glaring examples of unfinished business that are inconsistent with a democratic society based on the principle that no one is above the law,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) in 2015.

“We need to recognize the role of our own government in this history, declassify relevant documents, and urge the Indonesian Government to acknowledge the massacres and establish a credible truth and justice mechanism,” he said.

Now some of those relevant records are being declassified and they should soon be released. Last month, Mr. Daverede wrote about an episode involving the detention of an American missionary in Indonesia in 1965 that was discussed in the files being declassified. See The Curious Case of Harold Lovestrand, NDC Blog, February 10.

The National Declassification Center was established by President Obama’s 2009 executive order 13526 to help coordinate and expedite declassification of historically valuable U.S. government records.

Update, 10 March 2017:

Another official weighs in:

Steve-

Just saw your piece on the declassification of the Indonesia embassy records. You asked the wrong person for a comment on what new light they will shed.

For the most part the embassy’s files will consist of the embassy’s files of its exchanges with the Department of State. The Department’s files of those very same documents are in the Department’s central files where they have been declassified and available for research for many years. There is, of course, always the possibility that there is something extraordinary in those files and there are often documents of a local nature that are only summarized to the Department. But, I think, by and large there will be no great revelations, just details around the edges.

As one example, the central files documents that tell the story of the Lovestrand family discussed in the NDC blog have been open to the public since the 1990s.