Richard Holbrooke is President Clinton’s nominee to replace Bill Richardson as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. This nomination stems from Holbrooke’s role in imposing the Dayton Accords on Bosnia and Clinton’s desire to exploit such interventions to convert the United States into the world’s policeman. Recently, Holbrooke applied his heavy-handed tactics to Kosovo. Holbrooke declared he met with both Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo, failed to negotiate a cease-fire, and implied that an American military response was required to impose a “settlement.” Armed intervention was averted, in part, as a result of an open letter by Serbian Orthodox Bishop Artemije which revealed that Holbrooke never met with Serbs. By linking the Dayton Accords with the International War Crimes Tribunal on Bosnia, and then linking Kosovo with Bosnia, Holbrooke presented himself as a defender of human rights interested in prosecuting the crimes of mass murder and ethnic cleansing. His true character, however, was revealed two decades ago, in the “killing fields” of East Timor.

On December 7, 1975, Indonesia, after receiving approval from President Ford and Secretary of State Kissinger, invaded the Portuguese colony of East Timor. Lacking the military equipment necessary to overcome the island’s mountainous terrain, Indonesia confined its occupation to the coast while most East Timorese escaped to the mountains. The Carter administration, despite its rhetoric of human rights, provided Indonesia with the napalm, “Huey” helicopter gun ships, “Skyhawk 11” and “Bronco” attack planes, Lockheed transport aircraft, and Commando armored cars which enabled Jakarta to occupy the entire territory, establish concentration camps, and engage in ethnic cleansing and the systematic torture and massacre of East Timorese. More than one-third of the East Timorese population (over 200,000) died. The official in the Carter administration who lobbied on behalf of Indonesia for those weapons, who justified their use against the East Timorese, and who minimized the atrocities committed by Indonesia was the Assistant Secretary for Asian and Pacific Affairs —Richard Holbrooke.

Holbrooke’s policy became entrenched. Congress did not terminate International Military Education and Training (IMET) aid to Jakarta until after the November 1991 massacre of over 270 East Timorese by Indonesian troops. However, in March 1997, in testimony to the House Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee, the Clinton administration admitted providing Indonesia with military training (including “Advanced Sniper Techniques,” “Military Operations in Urban Terrain,” and “Air Assault”) throughout 1996—the very time Clinton was accepting campaign donations from Indonesia’s Lippo Group—in violation of the clear intent of the congressional ban.

While Holbrooke’s actions regarding East Timor should be grounds for the Senate to reject his nomination as Ambassador to the U.N., the question of accountability remains. While Holbrooke championed an International War Crimes Tribunal for Bosnia, he fears one for East Timor. As a human rights activist has noted, if such a court is established, one of the first people it will indict will be Richard Holbrooke.