Review – By Ezki Suyanto
At one point during Aceh’s nearly 35-year battle for autonomy from Indonesia, a woman approached an officer at a military post in the village of Trio.
The Acehnese woman alleged that she had been raped by a member of the Kopassus, also known as the Indonesian army’s Special Forces.
An investigation was launched into the matter. It was decided that the rape never took place.
Later, it was revealed that the woman had a relationship with the soldier.
This story, among many others, can be found in Kopassus Untuk Indonesia (Kopassus for Indonesia), a book which claims to give the “inside story” on the army’s Special Forces.
While going into the history of the elite force and explaining its daunting selection and training process, it is apparent that Kopassus published the book to “clarify” and “justify” its use of force in military operations and conflict zones.
The group, known for its strategic warfare tactics, appears to have deployed the same skill in this publication — using civilian writers to tell its side of the story to gain public acceptance.
This book, published in January, marks the first time that a book on Kopassus has been written by civilian
reporters. As such, the narrative about the country’s most elite force has garnered a great deal of attention from both activists and observers.
Authors Iwan Santosa and E.A. Natanegara’s 351-page book is broken down into six chapters. One delves into the history of Kopassus and illustrates why only the country’s fittest and smartest make it. The intensive selection process that new recruits undergo is explained in detail.
“Once during survival training at Situ Lembang [West Java], I inspected my equipment and my students,” says Letkol Iwan Setiawan, the head of the training command, in the book.
“One student was missing. We searched for him for an entire night. He showed up at 8 am the next morning. We asked him what had happened and he claimed that an old man had helped guide him back to the mountain. We do not know whether it was true or not, but it showed that he was a coward.”
According to the book, the final test for new recruits is a 500-kilometer march from Batujajar [West Java] to Cilacap [Central Java]. The entire journey takes five days and nights of walking, and the cadets can only rest for meals. They receive the coveted red beret if they reach Cilacap on time.
“They forget all their suffering and what they had to endure when they receive the red beret,” Setiawan says.
The most interesting part of the book by far is the description and depiction of Kopassus’s involvement in conflicts in Aceh, East Timor, Poso, Ambon and Papua.
According to Kopassus, they were defending Indonesia from breaking up, as Aceh and Papua were waging armed insurgencies to break away from Jakarta rule.
At the same time, they were aware that the public did not like them because of the military operations that they carried out.
Human rights groups have routinely accused Kopassus of murder, rape, robbery and torture during their tour of duty in the tho troubled provinces.
Kopassus denies all the accusations, saying that it was the separatist Free Aceh movement (GAM) who was responsible for the human rights violations that took place during the insurgency.
The book recounts an incident when an Acehnese female reporter, Cut Aisyah, reported a soldier to the Military Police for allegedly kidnapping her husband.
Commander Major General Syamsul Jalal investigated the case.
“We still doubt the veracity of the report and the accuracy of the evidence. Every woman who reports anything related to violence will get compensation,” says Major Ari Yulianto, who was on duty when Cut
Aisyah lodged her report.
The book also tells how Kopassus protected the Chinese community during the May riots in Jakarta in 1998.
“There was a rumor that we were taking bribes of Rp 2 million [$210] from the community,” says Letkol Doni Munardo, who was Jakarta battalion commander. “I assure you it is not true.”
The book only twice mentions the name most often associated with Kopassus: that of Prabowo Subianto, one of its most famous and formidable leaders, who has now turned politician. He is mentioned as commanding the rescue operation to free a hostage from Mapenduma, and when he led an expedition to conquer Mount
Prabowo, the former son-in-law of the late President Suharto, wielded tremendous power when he led Kopassus.
There are no details about the missing activists who were abducted at the time, an issue that brought about the fall of Prabowo’s military star. As of today, 13 activists remain missing.