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08 January 2009

Admiral Blair Poor Choice as Director of National Intelligence, Says East Timor Rights Group

Blair’s History with Indonesia and East Timor Raises Questions about Likely Nominee Contact: John M. Miller, +1-718-596-7668, +1-917-690-4391 Ed McWilliams, +1-703-899-5285

January 7 - The East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN) called Adm. Dennis Blair “a poor choice for intelligence director." The group urged President-elect Obama to reconsider the nomination, and make a break from past policies that have undermined human rights worldwide.

"During his years as Pacific Commander, Blair downplayed human rights concerns. He actively worked to reinstate military assistance and deepen ties with Indonesia's military despite its ongoing rights violations in East Timor and consistent record of impunity," said John M. Miller, National Coordinator of ETAN.

"Admiral Blair undermined U.S. policy in the months preceding the U.S.-supported and UN-sponsored referendum in East Timor in 1999," said Ed McWilliams, a senior U.S. embassy official in Jakarta at the time. "While senior State Department officials were pressing the Indonesian military to end the escalating violence and its support for militia intimidation of voters, Blair took a distinctly different line with his military counterparts. As Pacific Commander, his influence could have caused the military to rein in its militias. Instead, his virtual silence on the issue in meetings with the Indonesian generals led them and their militias to escalate their attacks on the Timorese."

"Blair's actions in 1999 demonstrated the failure of engagement to temper the Indonesian military's behavior; his actions helped to reinforce impunity for senior Indonesian officials that continues to this day,” added Miller.

"The extraordinarily brutal Indonesian retaliation against the East Timorese and the UN teams in East Timor following the Timorese vote for independence from Indonesia transpired in part because of Blair's failure to press U.S. Government concerns in meetings with the Indonesian general," said McWilliams.

In April 1999, just days after Indonesian security forces and their militia proxies carried out a brutal churchyard massacre, Adm. Blair delivered a message of 'business-as-usual' to Indonesian General Wiranto, then Commander of the Indonesian armed forces. Following East Timor's pro-independence vote, Blair sought the quickest possible restoration of military assistance, despite Indonesia's highly destructive exit from the territory.

Background

As Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Pacific Command from February 1999 to May 2002, Blair was the highest ranking U.S. military official in the region during the final period of Indonesia’s violent occupation of East Timor. During that time he undermined the Clinton administration's belated efforts to support human rights and self-determination in the Indonesian-occupied territory and opposed congressional efforts to limit military assistance.

In April 1999, Blair met in Jakarta with General Wiranto, then the Defense Minister and the commander of Indonesian forces, just two day after dozens of refugees in a Catholic church in the town of Liquica, East Timor were hacked to death with machetes by militia members backed by the military (including Kopassus) and Brimob troops.

Instead of pressuring Wiranto to shut down the militias, Blair promised new military assistance, which the Indonesian military "took as a green light to proceed with the militia operation," according to Allan Nairn, writing in the Nation magazine. In fact just weeks later, refugees from the attack in Liquicia were again attacked and killed in the capital in Dili.

Nairn reported that a classified cable summarizing the meeting said that Admiral Blair "told the armed forces chief that he looks forward to the time when [the army will] resume its proper role as a leader in the region. He invited General Wiranto to come to Hawaii as his guest... [Blair] expects that approval will be granted to send a small team to provide technical assistance to... selected TNI [Indonesian military] personnel on crowd control measures." Nairn writes that the last offer was "quite significant, because it would be the first new U.S. training program for the Indonesian military since 1992."

Princeton University's Bradley Simpson writes "According to top secret CIA intelligence summary issued after the [Liquica] massacre, however (and recently declassified by the author through a Freedom of Information Act request), 'Indonesian military had colluded with pro-Jakarta militia forces in events preceding the attack and were present in some numbers at the time of the killings.'"

In the bloody aftermath of East Timor's independence vote, "Blair and other U.S. military officials took a forgiving view of the violence surrounding the referendum in East Timor. Given the country's history, they argued, it could have been worse," reported the Washington Post's Dana Priest.

U.S.-trained Indonesian military officers were among those allegedly involved in crimes against humanity in East Timor. "But at no point, Blair acknowledges, did he or his subordinates reach out to the Indonesian contacts trained through IMET or JCET [U.S.-funded programs] to try to stop the brewing crisis," wrote Priest. "It is fairly rare that the personal relations made through an IMET course can come into play in resolving a future crisis," he told her.

Despite Blair's repeated overtures and forgiving attitude to Indonesia's military elite, they were of no help in his post-military role as chair of the Indonesia Commission at the influential Council on Foreign Relations. In 2002, Blair headed a delegation of observers who intended to visit West Papua. The government refused to let them in, with the Foreign Minister declaring that "there is no need for them to come to Papua."

The reason was clear: West Papua has become the new focus of Indonesian military and militia brutality and outside observers are not welcome. Though Blair's dream of renewed military engagement with Indonesia has been realized under the Bush administration, the Indonesian military's human rights violations continue, as does impunity for its senior officers.

General Wiranto was indicted in February 2003 by a UN-backed court in East Timor for his command role in the 1999 violence. The attack on the Liquica church is among the crimes against humanity cited in the indictment. He is currently a leading candidate for President of Indonesia in elections to take place next year.

ETAN was formed in 1991. The U.S.-based organization advocates for democracy, justice and human rights for Timor-Leste and Indonesia. ETAN was a major participant in the International Federation for East Timor's (IFET) observer mission for the 1999 referendum. For more information see ETAN's web site: http://www.etan.org.

http://etan.org/news/2009/01blair.htm
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