Jakarta. Indonesia’s last military commander under the strongman Suharto has confirmed that presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto, a top Army general at the time, was indeed discharged from the force for ordering the abduction of pro-democracy activists in 1997 and 1998.
Retired general Wiranto said in a televised press conference on Thursday that Prabowo’s dismissal was no secret, and denied that the recently leaked letter of dismissal was confidential.
“There were no instructions from military leaders at that time” to kidnap the activists whose protests would eventually lead to Suharto resigning, Wiranto said.
“I did ask Prabowo about the kidnappings, and I believe it [the kidnappings] was done on his own initiative,” he added.
Wiranto said that because the incident involved civilians, it was a case that was in the public interest, and therefore the circumstances of Prabowo’s dismissal should be public knowledge.
“I don’t consider the dissemination of the letter as a leak. The document is not confidential because the victims were civilians,” Wiranto said.
The abductions took place between December 1997 and March 1998. An investigation was launched in March, and Prabowo was subsequently hauled before a military tribunal overseen by Wiranto.
“From the investigation until the dismissal I regularly gave updates to public,” Wiranto said. “[In 1998] I issued a public apology because some of my men had committed ethical, procedural and legal violations, and I promised that they would be punished.”
However, Wiranto declined to say whether Prabowo had received an honorable or a dishonorable discharge.
“I don’t want to be caught up in the semantics,” he said. “The debate about the terminology is no longer relevant.”
But he hinted that Prabowo had been dishonorably discharged, saying that serving personnel only received an honorable discharge if they retired or if they suffered from chronic illness or sustained permanent disabilities.
“But there are soldiers who are fired dishonorably because they have violated [the soldier’s pledge] and the Constitution,” he said.
Wiranto added that the letter issued by the 1998 military tribunal, or DKP, clearly stated that Prabowo had been dismissed.
Wiranto, the founder and chairman of the People's Conscience Party, or Hanura, has endorsed Joko Widodo, Prabowo's rival, for the July 9 presidential election.
Prabowo’s supporters have long tried to play down his dismissal from the military, calling it a past incident that has no bearing on his suitability as a presidential candidate.
They have also criticized the leak of the letter, with some calling its authenticity into question. But Wiranto said it should be very easy to verify the authenticity.
“Authenticating the letter is important because this concerns the credibility of a presidential candidate,” he said. “We can do that easily because most people mentioned in the letter are still alive.”
Besides Wiranto, another top military general who served on the tribunal and whose signature appears on the letter ordering Prabowo’s dismissal was one Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.