No Tobacco Day in Indonesia? Try a ‘health cigarette’

As the world marks No Tobacco Day, Indonesia is again in the spotlight and The Jakarta Post has again covered itself in infamy. On the eve of today’s event, the English-language daily published another installment in its bizarre campaign to promote “healthy cigarettes”. Using pseudo-scientific language, the author of an “opinion” piece claims that cancer patients are being successfully treated with scientifically altered cigarettes that vacuum up all harmful “free radicals” linked mercury.

If it wasn’t so sad it would be funny:

… apparently, a biochemist from the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB) has found a way to do just that — neutralise tobacco through a nanobiological process. i.e. a process characterised by the interplay between physics, materials science, synthetic organic chemistry, engineering and biology. The researcher has successfully treated a number of terminal lung cancer patients through a detoxification method that includes smoking the “healthy cigarettes” of her invention.

The unnamed scientist sounds suspiciously like Dr. Greta Zahar, of “Divine Cigarettes” fame. But Alita Damar, the writer of the opinion piece, seems to follow the template set by Australian contributor Murray Clapham last year and doesn’t name the mastermind behind this historic medical breakthrough. Best to keep all those desperate cancer sufferers guessing! She continues:

Indeed, the nanostructure molecular blocks of these health cigarettes remove the electrons of the free radical gases contained in tobacco smoke, in particular those promoted by mercury, thereby neutralising the ill-effects of smoking. Unlike regular cigarettes, this cigarette smoke is “odorless”.

So all the harmful effects of smoking, from impotence to stroke and heart disease and emphysema, not to mention cancer, are nullified by this new treatment. And what of the doubters? They’re dismissed out of hand:

Naturally, the controversial method has raised controversy [spellbinding wordplay here] in the wake of the anti-tobacco campaign here and around the world. Speculation has also been rife that she might work for the tobacco industry. It’s not true, of course. Years ago most patients would only survive in the next few months due to their poor prognostics, but many of whom are still alive.

And what, dare we ask, is the evidence that smoking such cigarettes cures or halts the spread of cancer? None. Unless you factor in the power of the placebo. In the absence of any evidence, we must conclude that the free radical, nano-engineering blah blah being touted here is just another form of “alternative medicine” which desperately ill people will try as a last resort. And as The Economist noted last week, there is very little evidence that alternative medicines work beyond the placebo effect, which may be considerable.

Damar claims that the mysterious researchers are part of the “complexity science” movement, and she notes that they have “presented” their findings at international meetings:

As controversial as it may seem, the detoxification process is based on meta-engineering, for example, the development of new knowledge…

This science, which includes the less popular quantum physics, deals with cells and interaction between cells. It thereby enables a better understanding on how the whole body system functions, thus leading to the achievement of “holistic health”. Hence, we are speaking of a science that potentially brings about breakthroughs in medical science which is generally based on reductionism, or a science that may well “revolutionise” medicine.

The detoxification method has been presented in a number of international forums attended by scientists working on Theoretical Physics and Nano or Computer Science, such as the recent ICEME (International Conference on Engineering and Meta-Engineering) in Florida, the US.

I looked up the proceedings of this conference (which one anonymous blogger described as “junk” ) and found the paper to which Damar appears to be referring. It’s by Sutiman B. Sumitro, identified as representing the Department of Biology and “Laboratory of Molecular Biology” at Brawijaya University in West Java.

The paper is titled “Study on Biradical Based Complex Structure: A PossibleWay to Find out Natural Nanoparticles from the Human Body”. A paper with the same name by Sutiman Sumitro  also appears on the fascinating website of something called the Indonesia Nanobiology Institute.  Take the time to read the 4-page paper and decide for yourself if it’s credible. I’m not a scientist so I can only guess.

Sumitro is a long-standing associate of Zahar, that “strange granny” I’ve mentioned before. They seem to be the driving forces of the “nanobiology institute” and co-author articles posted there. Check out the paper titled “Overcoming Cigarette for Health without altering the Flavor (Brief illustration of scientific background and evidences)”. Fascinating. It says Zahar is from the “Free Radicals Institute” of Malang. So many institutes I just can’t keep up. Here’s the abstract, or as the authors put it, the “Basic Concept and Philosophy”:

This is about technology to eliminate free-radicals and to transform particulates contained in the smoke having characteristic to develop order. The idea is based on the assumption that in the biological system, life is an ordered system with internal driven activities. We consider a complexity concepts cover self-organization and edge-of-chaos phenomena in the living systems. As may we know that in the basic process of life (called metabolism), there is ceaseless flow of energy and matter through a network of chemical reactions, which enables a living organism to continually generate, repair and perpetuate itself. Thermodynamically, the ordered structure of the living system is maintained by continually exert entropy to the outside of the system.

Pretty clear, yeah? They even include a diagram to illustrate “complexity in living system”:

So, we can rest assured the Nobel committee is on its way to Bandung or Malang (or wherever) to bestow its honours on Dr. Zahar (who has previously stated she has no interest in having her work reviewed by “Western” scientists), her colleague  Sutiman Sumitro and their groundbreaking team. When are all those silly Western evidence-freaks going to come to their senses?

Sadly, The Jakarta Post isn’t the only outlet for those willing to peddle this stuff. Take a look at this blog for more.

For a dose of reality, check out this story in the Jakarta Globe on Tuesday, with the depressing stats on smoking in Indonesia.

Or check the National Cancer Institute’s website and read what it has to say about free radicals (such as oxygen) and antioxidants (such as vitamin C). It says that while serious research is ongoing, recent “large-scale, randomised clinical trials reached inconsistent conclusions” about whether antioxidants slow or prevent the development of cancer. As for actually reversing that damage, there seems to be no evidence at all.

There is also serious research being done into the use of nanoparticles to fight cancer. Scientists at the Georgia Institute of Technology, for example, have sent gold nanoparticles into the nuclei of cancer cells and killed them (NB: sent particles into cancer cells, not used particles to hoover up free radicals). Their research has been cited as a communication in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

I’d love to know who is behind these opinion pieces and features in The Jakarta Post, coming as they do on the eve of No Tobacco Day and as the government tries to improve its appalling record on smoking regulations. It wouldn’t have anything to do with the tobacco industry’s advertising dollars, would it?

Looking for a no-smoking zone in Indonesia

A website sent in by a reader seems to be a compilation of pictures of Indonesian men smoking in shops. It happens all the time and there’s nothing non-smokers can do except leave the shop. You’d have more luck asking the pope to dance the can-can than getting one of these guys to stub out their cigarettes or take it outside.

Check it out – http://itcroxymasjakarta.wordpress.com

I recently took a friend to Cork and Screw (Kuningan), an up-market wine bar and restaurant in Jakarta, and asked if they had a non-smoking area. The waiter, all dressed up like he was on the Champs Elysees, looked bemused and had to think about what we meant. Finally he told us that if we didn’t like cigarette smoke we could eat dinner  out on the service bar near the cash register. In other words they didn’t have a non-smoking area. The waiter explained that it was a wine bar, and people like to smoke when they drink wine.

Silly me, thinking that a restaurant in the 21st century that aspires to be cosmopolitan and sophisticated would have a non-smoking area. In other countries, of course, I might have trouble finding a smoking area, because the whole restaurant would be a smoke-free, healthy breathing kind of place. But no, this is Indonesia, and it has a very, very long way to go.

It was early and not very busy so my friend and I decided to put up with the smoke and eat anyway. We ordered a hugely overpriced bottle of wine (alcohol is the drink of the devil and rich foreigners, you see, so it is subject to massive taxes in mainly Muslim Indonesia) and asked for the menus. When the wine came we tasted it and both agreed it was off. It had soured, probably because it had been exposed to varying temperatures as it was transported from Australia. The waiter didn’t know what we were talking about, and offered to give it to us in different glasses. We said no thanks. Then a more senior waiter came over and said he would have to get the restaurant’s in-house “sommelier” to taste the wine. I watched as he took the bottle over to a guy who was smoking cigarettes at the bar with a woman, who was also smoking and drinking a giant fruit cocktail with a pink umbrella. The “sommelier” swished a bit of wine around in his glass and had a couple of gulps, but seemed unable to decide if it was OK. He gave the glass to one of the bar tenders who also had a swig before passing it over to a third bar tender for yet another taste. Strange sort of sommelier, I thought to myself. Low self-esteem, perhaps? Lacking confidence? Anyway, the waiter brought the bottle back to us and told us the wine was in fact good. We said no thanks, the wine was in fact off. Then the restaurant’s manager come over and had a taste himself. He said maybe it would be better if he chilled it for us for precisely two minutes. We said no thanks that would make no difference at all. So the manager said he would talk to his number-one sommelier, the really serious expert in the house, who ended up being the woman I’d noticed smoking at the bar. She put down her fruit cocktail and cigarette and had a sip, then another, etc etc etc. Finally she came over and said the wine was good. I told her the wine was not good and we weren’t going to pay for it. By this stage my friend and I were laughing. At least they had the decency to accept our position, but it took an awful lot of rather silly posturing before they did.

My friend and I concluded that it’s a waste of time trying to buy wine with a meal in an Indonesian restaurant unless you want to pay about $80 for a $30-dollar bottle. Otherwise, you pay $40 for the cheapest plonk they have. As for trying to escape the smokers, forget it.

Meanwhile the country continues to bow to Big Tobacco and sidestep meaningful reform to its smoking regulations that would bring it in line with the rest of the world. The latest news is that regulations to limit cigarette advertising will not be brought in as planned because of “technicalities”.  As Arist Merdeka Sirait, chairman of the National Commission for Child Protection, told the Jakarta Globe, the government’s decision contradicted the Health Law.

The law clearly states tobacco as an addictive substance and clearly addictive substances should not be advertised. The government should ask themselves, what do they care about more, income or the future or our children?

If you go to that Jakarta Globe link, check out the comment from the religious nut regarding tobacco and the Koran. Smoking  can “stop you from the sole purpose of having been sent to the world, namely the remembrance of Allah”.

I don’t know about you, but I can think of a few other reasons to live.

Sadly, there are “still places” like Indonesia

I had to laugh when I read the following line in this wonderful piece by Andrew Copson in The Guardian: “There are still places where it is illegal to declare yourself as non-religious on your identity papers or official records”.

Yes unfortunately there are still such places, and at least one of them is  Indonesia, that mainly Muslim country which US President Barack Obama recently lauded as a model of tolerance and pluralism. In Indonesia it is impossible to have a legal identity if you are an atheist – you must state your adherence to one of six “religions”. I put that word in commas because the rules bizarrely rank Catholicism and Protestantism as separate religions. The others are Islam, Buddhism, Confucianism (a religion?) and Hinduism. Any alternative beliefs, including the various other branches of Christianity, are invalid and followers of those beliefs are ineligible for ID documents.

I laughed because Indonesia is so desperate to be seen as a powerful, moderate and modern country, yet in fact on so many levels it ranks as one of those unmentionable places that still has such backward laws on its books.

Of course, Indonesia isn’t the only place in the world where religion reigns mightily over reason. Witness the madness being committed in the name of religion in Afghanistan now, with the killings of innocent people in response to a US pastor’s provocative and stupid burning of a copy of the Koran in far-away Florida. In this foul, depressing atmosphere it’s so nice to read a piece of free-thinking such as Copson’s article.

Copson points out that 2011 is the 200th anniversary of Oxford university’s expulsion of the poet Shelley for his publication of a tract arguing the “Necessity of Atheism”.

Today in Britain, non-religious people are not thrown out of universities because they don’t believe in God, but in other parts of the world many suffer this fate – and worse. There are still places where it is illegal to declare yourself as non-religious on your identity papers or official records.

One of the most upsetting stories I was ever told was by a young humanist from Saudi Arabia who grew up so frightened of what would happen if he spoke out loud about his beliefs to another person that the only outlet for his thoughts was to go on long walks away from all people, and speak his mind only to the air. In fact, he never spoke to another human being about his most fundamental beliefs until coming to Britain in his late 20s, and experiencing then for the first time what those of us who live in freedom take for granted: the joyful dynamic of testing and developing our own ideas in conversation and dialogue with others.

In this country the blasphemy laws have been abolished, but elsewhere our fellow men and women face death for speaking and thinking freely.

Indonesia has not yet made blasphemy a capital crime, but some fear it is heading down that road. And anyway Indonesians “face death for speaking and thinking freely”, either at the hands of fanatics for their religious views or at the hands of the security forces for their political ones.

Crass ad of the day: pizza for refugees!

We probably shouldn’t blame Pizza Hut for this, but check out the unfortunate placement of their advertisement in this Gulf newspaper below.

The story is about refugees pouring out of Libya and begging for food at the Egyptian border. The excellent news photo shows refugees reaching for scraps of bread through the razor wire. It’s an effective front page … except for the scowl-inducing contribution from the advertising department.  A special offer of four extra thick pan pizzas placed in such a way that the refugee almost looks like he’s reaching for a slice. Oh dear. Guess it’s a case of the right hand not knowing what the left is doing in this particular newsroom.

Roasting coffee on a Sunday (better than church)

In honour of Koran-burning, rabble-rousing Pastor Terry Jones and his ecstatic (read wacko) disciples, I decided to write a blog about something better to do with a Sunday than going to church. Roasting coffee!

Yes folks it’s actually more productive and fun than voodoo, witchdoctery and inciting other religious nut-jobs to violence, and if you do it right you won’t get anyone on the other side of the world beheaded. Right on!

People like Pastor Jones and Mullah Omar (for they are closely related species) could even use coffee roasting as a kind of non-violent therapy. Roast beans instead of witches! Peace.

Seriously though, I decided to roast coffee beans today because the news from the world outside my little apartment was just too depressing. It was my therapy for the disturbing madness of people like Jones and his counterparts in Afghanistan and Indonesia etc.

So I went to the helpful breworganic.com and read up on the basics. Pretty simple really, much as I had guessed from watching coffee being roasted at a shop in France years ago. You can use popcorn poppers to get an even roast but I don’t have one of those so I used a wok. The website mentions using a frying pan but as woks are made to evenly distribute heat over a larger surface I thought I’d go with one of those instead.

I didn’t bother measuring the temperature in the wok. I just put it on a medium-high heat for a couple of minutes so it was good and hot, threw in about a cup of beans and started stirring.

I’d bought the beans a few months ago in East Timor. Timor is famous for its coffee, but the tiny little country has hardly any industry so it’s not that great at marketing its products. I bought two kilograms (four pounds) of green beans and two of roasted beans from a wiry, cheerful old man in a wooden shack near Dili airport. If I was Elizabeth Gilbert I might have stayed for a while and asked him to read my palm. But I’m not Elizabeth Gilbert so I paid him a nice tip over his heartbreakingly low asking price of around $5 a kilogram and went on my way. The roasted beans were great, and when I finished them last week it was time to get the green ones out of the freezer and try roasting them myself.

The coffeereview website sums up East Timorese coffee thus:

In terms of taste, most current versions of Timor are typical for small-holder wet-processed coffees from the islands of the Malay Archipelago: Low-key, sweet, with a musty pungency that can range from soft and intriguing to hard and oppressive. However, the very best and cleanest-tasting Timors can be extraordinary: full, round, smooth, sweet, and deliciously cocoa-toned. These coffees, already promising, may continue to improve as the first decade of the millennium unfolds.

By way of explanation for tea drinkers like my Taliban friends, coffee is all about freshness. They say green beans will keep for about two years, roasted beans for about two weeks and ground beans for two hours. Or something like that. I can’t really tell the difference, but then again I’ve never drunk coffee that I was 100% sure was freshly roasted – another good reason to roast my own.

The trick, according to breworganic, is to keep stirring. You don’t need any oil or anything in the pan – just chuck in the beans and stir. Coffee beans are flat on one side and curved on the other, so naturally they tend to fall on the flat side. Keep stirring to make sure the curved side gets its share of the heat.

After a couple of minutes they start to brown. Then they start to audibly crack. The experts have a very technical term for this phase of the process. They call it the “first crack”. Just keep stirring. You’ll see the beans getting browner. By this stage, after four minutes or so in my case, the beans were light brown and had reached what’s called a light or cinnamon roast. I could have taken them off the heat then but I wanted a darker roast, in the Italian or French style, so I kept stirring.

I’d bought some lightly roasted New Guinean beans in Paris a while ago and didn’t like their grassy, sour taste. Basically the more you roast the more flavours you get in the coffee.

After a few more minutes my beans started to smoke. I had to open the door and windows to avoid setting off the fire alarms. This is a normal reaction, so I kept stirring. Then the beans started to crack again. Strangely enough, the experts call this phase the “second crack”. Now I knew I was close. I was lifting the wok to toss the beans around, while stirring all the time, much like a stir-fry. Even so, some beans looked darker than others. That’s normal in a do-it-yourself roasting operation like mine, I suppose. It took about 10 minutes to get the beans nice and dark the way I wanted them.

The next picture shows the lightly roasted New Guinean beans on the top left, some  Sumatran beans I’d bought in a supermarket in Jakarta on the top right, and my home-roasted Timorese beans below.

You can see the greener Papua beans are dry compared to the more oily Sumatran and Timorese beans, which have been roasted longer.

They say you should leave the beans for 24 hours to allow the chemical processes started with the roasting to run their course. So I’ll have to wait a night before I get to blend my beans and brew them in my Italian-style percolator. With a bit of toast and honey, hopefully it will make for a great Monday morning!

And I did it all without getting any blood on my hands, unlike the American pastor.

Old guard vs new in Indonesia’s Wikileaks washup

The Wikileaks cables revealing the United States is privy to serious allegations of abuse of power and potential corruption by Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono have, as expected, stirred up a storm of reactions, counter-allegations, conspiracy theories and recriminations.

As the feathers continue to fly, the roosters seem to fall into two breeds: those who claim the allegations are nothing important and seek to malign the messenger (in this case Wikileaks and the Australian papers which published the leaked cables); and those who say the allegations need to be investigated.

Just to recap, according to The Sydney Morning Helald (part of the Fairfax media group which gained exclusive access to the cables from Wikileaks), the allegations are that Yudhoyono “blocked a corruption investigation into a political powerbroker, Taufik Kiemas, used the intelligence services to spy on rivals and received funding from the controversial businessman Tomy Winata via a middleman”.

They also claim that first lady Kristiani Herawati sought to “profit personally by acting as a broker or facilitator for business ventures”. Yudhoyno’s former vice-president, Jusuf Kalla, a rich businessman and powerbroker, is also accused of buying influence with thick wads of cash. The allegations come from Indonesian political sources, including one who is close to Yudhoyono.

The government has issued a blanket denial and dragged the US ambassador, Scot Marciel, before the media to apologise. He dutifully did so, in what can only be described as a public humiliation. In doing so he threw out any claims he has to care about corruption in Indonesia and the freedom of the press.

That’s all entirely – if sadly – predictable. President SBY, after all, has a notoriously thin hide and an equally feeble grasp of the benefit of press freedom and free speech.

But some of the other sources of indignation and denial have been less predictable, though possibly not surprising.

Veteran Jakarta-based correspondent John McBeth, writing in The Straits Times, says the cables “only report  rumours” about the “untainted” president, and offer “little in the way of evidence”. McBeth is close to many a “senior government official”, and quotes one saying that what looks like corruption from the outside isn’t corruption at all to an Indonesian. It’s all about the “culture,” you see.

“In our culture there is often a wide grey area and sometimes decisions are based on political realities,” the official explains.

McBeth then attacks the messengers, both Wikileaks in the form of Julian Assange, and Fairfax papers The Age and The SMH which he says “never cut Jakarta much slack”. He puts this down to a kind of vendetta stemming from resentment over the killing of five Australian-based journalists by Indonesian troops in the former East Timor in 1975. His evidence to back this conspiracy theory is sparse to say the least. (Indonesia denies this crime as well, of course.)

Joining him in the same conspiratorial camp is a gentleman by the name of Habiburokhman, a lawyer, who told The Jakarta Post that the allegations are pay-back by Australia for Indonesia’s plans to limit live beef imports from the country.

His clients are in the shoot-the-messenger camp. Officials from Indonesia’s Federation of National Enterprise United Workers Union have filed a suit in a Jakarta court claiming $1 billion in damages from the newspapers for allegedly “ruining the pride of a nation.” Given the gangster-style legal system in Indonesia, they might actually win.

The Jakarta Globe, which campaigns against corrupt junior officials with an invigorating zeal, seems to have lost its enthusiasm for the vice and virtue angle of the Wikileaks allegations against Yudhoyono. An editorial published in the aftermath of the explosive cables read more like a PR firm’s advice to the president on how to limit the damage than an indignant newspaper’s demand for transparency and justice.

So, there are plenty of people in the shoot-the-messenger and conspiracy-theory camps, but who is in the indignant anti-corruption camp? I can’t find too many.

The Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) – the country’s main corruption-fighting organ – has quickly hosed down any suggestion it is going to touch the allegations. It response seems to be – not with a 10-foot pole!

So we turn again to the little guys, the anti-corruption activists, to take up the banner.  Independent watchdog Petisi 28 has lodged a request for a formal investigation into the allegations. “It is time for the president to clarify the reports by submitting himself to the legal process. If the president is not guilty, he should be brave enough to allow the KPK to investigate him,” said the group’s leader.

And there’s the Fairfax papers themselves. They’re sticking to their guns, apparently unswayed by McBeth’s scorn and threats of billion-dollar lawsuits.  Here’s how The Age responded to its critics in an editorial today:

It is important to note that this is not a case of a single document containing accusations from a rogue source; rather, our reporting is based on numerous cables over several years that detail information gathered by senior US diplomats from a range of well-placed contacts.

The Age does not presume to stand in judgment of Dr Yudhoyono on the matters raised in the previously secret cables, but nor do we apologise for exposing them and him to the harsh light of public scrutiny. Whatever else the cables show, they suggest that the so-called new Indonesia – free of the corrupt culture that poisoned the country’s political, military and judicial institutions through and beyond the Suharto era – remains elusive.

I know which argument makes more sense to me. How about you?

(Photo courtesy of Corvair via flickr)

US credibility takes a nosedive in Indonesia

US ambassador to Indonesia, Scot Marciel (pictured left shaking hands with the Indonesian president), needs to get out a bit more and listen to ordinary Indonesians. If he did he would know that his performance at a press conference on Friday was an insult to those who aspire to live in a democracy that respects the rule of law.

As reported in the Australian media, the ambassador apparently walked out of the press conference which was called to respond to leaked US diplomatic cables making explosive allegations of abuse of power against President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and other political leaders.

The conference was not called, it seems, to answer journalists’ legitimate questions, but merely to give a show of openness to what amounts to naked propaganda. That propaganda seems intended to give the impression, ridiculous as it is to anyone who follows Indonesian affairs, that there are no serious issues about corruption or abuse of power in the world’s “third biggest democracy”.

Here’s how the The Age’s Tom Allard described proceedings:

At an extraordinary and, at times, awkward press conference after the meeting, Mr Marciel declined to confirm or deny the veracity of the cables or comment on the specific allegations they contained.

But he said, generally speaking, such cables contained “candid and often raw information” that was “often incomplete and unsubstantiated”.

“We express our deepest regrets to President Yudhoyono and to the Indonesian people,” he said, adding that the publication of the cables was “extremely irresponsible”.

Mr Marciel abruptly left the press conference shortly afterwards, leaving Mr Natalegawa to answer questions alone.

Natalegawa reportedly dismissed the apparently naive suggestion that the allegations might be investigated, saying categorically they would not.

Showing how much he respected the Indonesian people, Marciel dutifully repeated the “attack-the-messenger” approach of the State Department that it is “irresponsible” to report allegations of serious abuses of power about a US ally.

The ambassador commented only in order to discredit his own embassy’s cables and to attack those who chose to inform the Indonesian people about the allegations contained therein. It reminds me of his predecessor, Cameron Hume, who reportedly told journalists in his final days in Jakarta that human rights issues in Papua were of absolutely no concern to the United States as it mulled re-opening military ties with the Kopassus special forces blamed for committing atrocities in the region.

President Barack Obama pretends he has some affinity with ordinary Indonesians. After all, he knows the words “satay” and “nasi goreng”. He also claims to support their aspirations for genuine democracy and justice. But apparently Obama doesn’t think they deserve to know what he knows about alleged abuse of power by their elected leaders and their lackeys.

What was left of US credibility took another blow today with the publication in the The Age of more US cables, provided by Wikileaks, showing the US embassy in Jakarta had defended an alleged Indonesian war criminal and sought to hide what the US knew about his involvement in the 1991 Dili massacre and other atrocities in East Timor.

According to the report, the Jakarta embassy argued that army general Sjafrie Sjamsoeddin, recently appointed by Yudhoyono as deputy defence minister, should be allowed to enter the United States (to attend a G20 meeting, no less) despite his alleged involvement in war crimes and state-sponsored terrorism by Indonesian forces in East Timor.

It took objections from the US embassy in Dili and a frank assessment of the implausibility of the general’s denials to convince Washington to overrule Jakarta and deny him a visa.

But even then, Washington kept its decision hush-hush, so as not to upset its partners in the Indonesian political elite, the same people who featured in other secret diplomatic cables about alleged abuse of power and corruption.

It’s not just about the rule of law, justice, alleged corruption and abuse of power. It’s about the impunity of the Indonesian military for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in places like East Timor, Papua, the Molukus and Jakarta during anti-communist purges, anti-Chinese massacres, anti-separatist wars and anti-democracy crackdowns under the Suharto dictatorship. Hundreds of thousands of people died in these murderous rampages but the generals responsible are rarely, if ever, held to account.

Instead they rise through the ranks, gain political influence and the wealth that goes with power, and are coddled by the United States. One of the Jakarta embassy cables described  Sjamsoeddin as crucial to military ties that are the “cornerstone of our efforts to ensure regional stability”.

So the US relationship with Indonesia, nay, the region as a whole, hinges on military ties, not justice or the rule of law.

How did that strategy go in Egypt?