Friday, July 19, 2013

Documentary on Indonesian War Crimes Strikes a Chord

Frank Pasquale


The documentary "The Act of Killing" appears to be an extraordinary commentary on the violent anti-communism of Suharto's Indonesia. As Francine Prose notes, "the country’s right-wing leaders recruited gangs of thugs to wipe out suspected Communists with messy, improvisatory, but astonishing efficiency; estimates of the number killed during this period range from 500,000 to a million or more." As in Vietnam, it appears that extremism in the defense of liberty was no vice.

As gangs become a tool of the prison industry in the US (or vice versa), the following observations from participants in the documentary are a striking commentary on the relativity of law in extreme scenarios:

On screen, one unrepentant murderer mocks the notion of human rights: “The Geneva conventions may be today’s morality,” he says, “but tomorrow we’ll have the Jakarta Conventions and dump the Geneva Conventions. War crimes are defined by the winners. I’m a winner. So I can make my own definition.”

When some of "the most important figures in organized crime are employees of multinational companies, politicians and bureaucrats," the definition of the "criminal" leaves ordinary rule of law principles behind. The problem affects far more countries than the obvious targets of, say, Indonesia, Italy, and India. The "officialization of the criminal" and "criminalization of the official" may well be one of the darkest trends of our already troubled times.

Image: From The Act of Killing (directed by Joshua Oppenheimer), video still of an Indonesian talk show, where the audience applauded the "homicidal exploits" of a "self-described gangsters who" engaged in "brutal campaigns against Communists, ethnic Chinese and critics of the military government."

X-Posted: Concurring Opinions.

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