Sample Letters to Editor on President Obama's Visit to Indonesia

In a few days, President Obama is expected to leave for a trip to Asia, including a several-times postponed visit to Indonesia where he lived as a boy. Letters to the editor are often the most widely-read section of newspapers, especially by decision-makers. Try to keep your letter to about 200 -250 words and be sure to include your full name, address, and telephone number when submitting the letter to the newspaper. If possible, include a local angle or directly respond to an article or opinion published in the paper. The more timely your response, the more likely it is to be published.

Contact us at or 718-596-7668, if you would like some help with your letter. Please send us copies of your letters, published and unpublished.
Adapt, mix and match the text of the 3 updated sample letters below. Use it in responses to online posting of articles and in blogs. Adapt the letters to your own words. Please check for additional letters as events develop.

Letter #1

For Publication

To the Editor

The Obama administration says that it supports democratic reform in Indonesia, but increased military assistance will do the opposite.

When Indonesia was a dictatorship, the U.S. was the Indonesian military's chief supplier. Military assistance ended in 1999, during the Indonesian military's rampage in East Timor after it voted for independence.
Most assistance has been restored since then, even though those responsible for human rights crimes in East Timor and elsewhere in the region have yet to face justice. Instead, reform efforts have stalled and many officers responsible for past crimes have been promoted to prominent positions. Recent videos document torture and the destruction of videos in the West Papua region by Indonesian security forces. A U.S. funded and trained police unit Detachment 88 is accused of torturing peaceful protesters. 

Of special concern was last summer's announcement that the U.S. would, for the first time in a dozen years work with Indonesia's Kopassus special forces. Training such notorious human rights violators will undermine the "Leahy law," which prohibits assisting units with unresolved human rights violations. The law is meant to prevent future abuses, as well as encourage an end to impunity for past violations, which has not happened.
On his visit to Indonesia, President Obama may eloquently promote democracy and civilian rule in Indonesia, but by providing military assistance now, he will be endorsing business as usual.


Your Name, Address, Phone/E-mail

Letter #2

Shortly, President Obama will return to Indonesia, his former childhood home. In his memoir, The Audacity of Hope, he wrote about the negative influence that the U.S. had on "the fate" of Indonesia, with policies that included "the tolerance and occasional encouragement of tyranny, corruption, and environmental degradation when it served our interests."
Indonesia has made progress since the overthrow of Suharto, the Indonesian dictator who ruled the country while Obama lived there. If he truly wants to promote further democratic change, he should publicly acknowledge the U.S. role in supporting Suharto's tyranny. During that time, the U.S. was Indonesia's major weapons supplier and gave its approval to the annexations of East Timor and West Papua. This might make some of his domestic critics and Indonesian hosts -- many of whom loyally served President Suharto and consider him a national hero -- uncomfortable. But a forthright and sincere acknowledgement of this history will resonate with Suharto's many victims.
President Obama should not offer military assistance, especially to Indonesia's Kopassus Special Forces. These notorious shock troops of Suharto's repression have not been held accountable for their human rights violations in Indonesia, East Timor, West Papua and elsewhere. The Indonesian military remains largely unaccountable for its past and current human rights violations, and efforts at reform have largely stalled in recent years. U.S. law requires that the U.S. not train military units with bad human rights records until there have been real efforts to bring the perpetrators to justice. Training Kopassus violates the law.


Your Name, Address, Phone and E-mail

Letter #3
To the Editor

A little more than a decade ago, the East Timorese people voted overwhelmingly to end the Indonesian rule in their country. The Indonesian military -- trained and armed by U.S. -- and its paramilitary allies exacted brutal vengeance in a bloody exit to a 24-year invasion and occupation that took up to 180,000 lives.
When President Obama goes to Indonesia, he should acknowledge the U.S. responsibility in this sordid history and press Indonesia to cooperate with credible trials of those who ordered the rapes, torture and killings. He should withhold military assistance until Indonesia has done so.
Past efforts to hold these generals accountable have gone nowhere. Many of them remain powerful in government or retirement. The East Timor government, fearing retaliation, is unwilling to stand up to up to its much larger neighbor.
Last August, during the 10th anniversary of the 1999 independence referendum, Indonesia pressured East Timor to release a recently-arrested former militia leader  "without charge, trial, or proper court authorization," according to the U.S. State Department's annual human rights report. UN-backed prosecutors had indicted him for his role in a massacre at a church where 30 civilians, including three priests, were slaughtered.

U.N. investigators and others have proposed a UN international tribunal to try those who organized and carried these brutal crimes. While in Indonesia, President Obama should announce his support for a tribunal and work with the Security Council to bring these perpetrators to justice.

Your Name, Address, Phone/E-mail

see also

WPAT: Torture video reveals "Indonesia's Abu Ghraib" on eve of Obama visit
ETAN/WPAT: Suspend Training and Funding of Indonesian Police Unit Detachment 88

Suharto's No Hero

U.S. Training of Kopassus: A Bad Idea Whose Time Has Not Come

ETAN To Obama Administration: U.S. military assistance will harm reform and set back human rights

WPAT Write Obama Ahead of His Trip to Indonesia

Joint Statement between ETAN and Indonesian Human Rights Groups on Martenus Bere and Justice for Timor-Leste

Support ETAN make a contribution here
Thank you for your support.

John M. Miller, National Coordinator
East Timor & Indonesia Action Network (ETAN)
PO Box 21873, Brooklyn, NY 11202-1873 USA
Phone: +1-718-596-7668  Mobile phone: +1-917-690-4391 
Email Skype: john.m.miller


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