Elite snake-eating Indonesian unit forbidden from working with U.S. military over human rights abuses

Matt Saintsing
January 24, 2018 - 1:10 pm
mattis indonesia

DoD photo by Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith

A video is making its way around the internet showing elite Indonesian counterterror troops eating snakes in front of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. The unit, however, was once barred from working with the U.S. military for decades because of human-rights abuses.

A State Department process known as “Leahy vetting,” clears foreign militates to receive U.S. training and assistance. The law bars U.S. interaction with units found to have committed human-rights abuses such as rape, murder, and torture.

It must also be demonstrated that punitive action was taken against troops found to have committed such acts.

The Indonesian special operations unit, known as Kopassus, engaged in ruthless crackdowns under Indonesian dictator Suharto, including attacking his political opposition in East Timor, Aceh, and Papua.

Suharto was ousted from power in 1998, and a ban on working with the Indonesian military was implemented the next year.

The Obama administration lifted some restrictions on Kopassus in 2010, but the U.S. is still forbidden from training with them.

“While the Indonesian military is no longer the criminal enterprise it was during the Suharto period, impunity for past crimes remains the norm,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), who was the principal sponsor of what is now known as the “Leahy Law.”

“Indonesia has come a long way since the dark days of President Suharto, but when it comes to military reform, it has fallen far short.”

Mattis arrived in Indonesia Sunday on his first foreign trip since unveiling a new strategy to refocus military efforts on big-power competition. The archipelago nation looks like a prime candidate to work closely with the United States since they seem to be more aligned with U.S. efforts to check Chinese expansion in the region.

China has claimed the entire South China Sea, a strategic body of water where $3 trillion in goods flows through annually, triggering a rebuke from an international tribunal that has been largely ignored by Beijing.

Indonesia has further built up its military on the Natuna Islands, in the South China Sea.