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Sierra Leone RPCV Patsy Spier seeks justice in husband's murder in Indonesia
Sierra Leone RPCV Patsy Spier seeks justice in husband's murder in Indonesia
A quiet American widow seeks justice from Congress for her slain husband
By Jonathan E. Kaplan
Rick and Patsy Spier, American workers in Indonesia, were returning from a picnic in an orchid field last August when the life of one was ended and the life of the other was changed forever.
The couple had traveled the world in the preceding 12 years, teaching expatriate American children whose parents worked for foreign-owned, American-run companies.
The Spiers had taught in Sudan, Peru, Brazil and Indonesia. They traveled to India and did work for Mother Teresa.
Now they were on a mountain road in West Papua, one of the many islands in the Indonesian archipelago. The weather was wet and cool. They were in separate cars. Rick, in his company-owned Toyota Land Cruiser, passed a tanker truck on an uneven dirt road. Patsy, who was traveling in a separate SUV, remained behind the tanker truck.
Suddenly, armed men in Toyota pickup trucks, ambushed them, firing into their midst with powerful military rifles.
“ They just wouldn’t stop shooting,” said Patsy Spier, weeping in the House Longworth Building’s cafeteria last week as she recalled the 45 minutes of terror.
Another teacher had tried frantically to radio for help, but the road was 7,000 feet above sea level, with mountains towering over it, and the vehicles were in a wireless phone dead zone.
“My only saving grace is that Rick died instantly and did not know what happened,” said Spier, who is now lobbying Congress to cut off military aid to Indonesia.
Rick and the school principal were shot in the head. Patsy Spier survived, but with more than 70 pieces of shrapnel in her back, a bullet in her foot, and a dead colleague on top of her in the front seat.
The survivors were evacuated to Australia for a month for medical care, and then Spier returned to Denver, Colo. where she lives with her brother and his wife.
Now she is on Capitol Hill telling lawmakers her terrible story and forcing them to choose between broad U.S. foreign policy objectives and the anguish of a widow seeking justice for her husband’s killers.
“ We’re trying to make sense of the senseless,” said Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.), her hometown congressman, who opposes any aid to Indonesia’s military. “Spier has a compelling case, but … these things don’t lend themselves to an easy fix.”
Spier’s complexion is weathered by years in the subtropics and she looks out of place and ill-at-ease in the Capitol’s corridors. Her only prior experience in government was a stint with the Peace Corps in Sierra Leone.
She told The Hill that she needs to find out “who did this and why, and to stop it from happening again.”
The are many theories about who did the killing, but it is increasingly clear that they were local Indonesian Army soldiers (TNI) intent on extorting payments and perks from Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold. The company, which operated a nearby copper mine, had cut its contributions toward security provided by the Indonesian military.
Brigands are a major problem for multinational corporations, which often pay enormous sums to private security forces and the country’s national army.
BP is building a natural gas plant near Freeport’s Indonesian mine. The British oil company hired Gare Smith and Bennett Freeman, former U.S. deputy assistant secretaries of state for democracy, human rights and labor, to draft a human rights report and advise it how to handle Jakarta and the Indonesian army.
A spokesman at New Orleans-based Freeport answered questions with an e-mail, that said: “This is a police matter and we cannot comment on the ongoing investigation,” and added that the company has cooperated fully with the FBI and Indonesian government and that they have no idea who the perpetrators are and only hopes for justice.
In December, President Bush sent a National Security Council aide with personal ties to Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri, to Jakarta with a blunt message that her government must conduct a credible investigation.
The Indonesian police pinned the crime on its Army. An Army investigation exonerated the military. Two FBI agents also went to West Papua to investigate and are now writing a report.
Military aid to Indonesia was eliminated in 1999 because of TNI-backed massacres in East Timor, but is gradually being reintroduced. To persuade Jakarta to investigate properly, however, Spier has lobbied U.S. lawmakers to withhold $400,000 from the International Military Education and Training (IMET) program.
Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) offered an amendment to kill the aid last month, but his measure lost on 36-61. Sens. Kit Bond (R-Mo.) and Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) led the opposition.
Ernie Blazar, Bond’s spokesman, said: “Sen. Bond believes Indonesia is critical in the war against terror. It would send the wrong message to [cut off funding]. It would be a slap in their face. Her tragedy is heartbreaking…but foreign policy is based on many considerations.”
Now Spier wants the administration to withhold the money until an investigation is completed. “It’s very symbolic to the Indonesian military and people,” she said. “The money has nothing to do with war on terror, it is the only carrot we have to pressure the Indonesian government to continue the investigation.”
Last week, Spier met with a dozen House and Senate lawmakers and staffers. She also spent 20 minutes with Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, a former U.S. ambassador to Indonesia, in his Pentagon office.
“ He was sympathetic and very nice,” she said. “He listened, but really did not tell me anything and made no promises.”
For now, Spier’s pursuit of justice is at the mercy of several complex calculations and a tense U.S.-Indonesian relationship that the Bush administration considers crucial to winning the war on terror.
Her plight has also focused attention on multinational corporations and human rights abuses, and set up a potential squabble between her advocates in Congress and the administration.
While she has dedicated herself full-time to lobbying, she is not raising money, and uses Expedia.com to search out $59 hotel rooms. She walked the halls of Congress, telling and retelling her painful story.
“ We loved it there,” she said of Indonesia, “but now, this [lobbying] is my job. Rick and I walked to school together. We ate lunch together. We taught units together. I don’t know if I can teach without his support.”
When this story was prepared, here was the front page of PCOL magazine:
This Month's Issue: August 2004
Teresa Heinz Kerry celebrates the Peace Corps Volunteer as one of the best faces America has ever projected in a speech to the Democratic Convention. The National Review disagreed and said that Heinz's celebration of the PCV was "truly offensive." What's your opinion and who can come up with the funniest caption for our Current Events Funny?
Exclusive: Director Vasquez speaks out in an op-ed published exclusively on the web by Peace Corps Online saying the Dayton Daily News' portrayal of Peace Corps "doesn't jibe with facts."
In other news, the NPCA makes the case for improving governance and explains the challenges facing the organization, RPCV Bob Shaconis says Peace Corps has been a "sacred cow", RPCV Shaun McNally picks up support for his Aug 10 primary and has a plan to win in Connecticut, and the movie "Open Water" based on the negligent deaths of two RPCVs in Australia opens August 6. Op-ed's by RPCVs: Cops of the World is not a good goal and Peace Corps must emphasize community development.
Read the stories and leave your comments.
|By Michael G. Browne (ool-44c52edd.dyn.optonline.net - 220.127.116.11) on Friday, January 27, 2006 - 9:37 am: Edit Post|
Mrs. Spier is part of the problem. She and her husband by working for the environmentally distructive corporation of Freeport McMoRan were accepting the benefits of their employ. The distruction wrought by the gold and copper mining industries are known throughout the world. She and her husband couldn't care less as long as they could enjoy themselves at the expense of the indigenous peoples.Now that her bucolic life has been shaken she is calling out for revenge. Maybe she should give a closer look to the cause of her situation.