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31 January 2009

ETAN response to Adm Dennis Blair's Statements to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence

East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN) response to Admiral Dennis Blair's Statements to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence - ETAN fully supports Senator Ron Wyden's (D-OR) call for the cables and reports of Adm. Dennis C. Blair's contacts with the Indonesian military (TNI) to be turned over to the committee and publicly released. In a written response to a committee question, Adm. Blair wrote "Documents of these events, which occurred almost a decade ago, are not now available to me." Seeing those documents will certainly help clarify his actions at the time. As it is, his responses on this matter do not fit with what is publicly known.

The Box

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), quoting former Secretary of Defense Perry, described Adm. Blair as someone who is "one of those who could think outside of the box." However, his actions in 1999 and early 2000 reflected a pattern of official thinking that turned a blind eye to or even enabled the horrendous human rights violations committed by the TNI in East Timor. The conventional thinking for decades was to value a good relationship with the TNI above any other goal - including human rights accountability. Blair's actions at the time showed how deeply embedded he was in the engagement "box," even as U.S. policy was changing. His actions prior to East Timor's August 30, 1999 referendum certainly failed to temper the Indonesian military's behavior. This was not surprising given the long history of U.S. military engagement enabling Indonesia's worst human rights violations.

Blair's troubling record on Indonesia and East Timor shows a mind set that places maintaining a relationship with the worst human rights violators over justice and accountability. This sets a poor precedent for his future role in supervising U.S. intelligence agencies. Partnering with foreign militaries and intelligence agencies that systematically violate human rights has been a regular part of the "war on terrorism." This needs to change.

April 1999

Adm. Blair, responding to a question from Senator Wyden (D-OR), said that accusations concerning his actions during 1999 in relation to Indonesia did not come up until "after I left active duty in 2002." However, the most comprehensive media reports on Adm. Blair's actions were published in September 1999 and September 2000. These reports describe Adm. Blair's approach to the Indonesian military in the spring 1999 as all carrot and little or no stick. Contrary to his statements to the committee, he did not at that time emphasize "that if their [Indonesia's] troops behaved irresponsibly, they risked negative consequences, but if they behaved responsibly, the U.S. was prepared to respond positively." Nor had his "conversations specifically included strong opposition to violence against civilians."

Allan Nairn published an article in the September 27, 1999 issue of The Nation describing Adm. Blair’s actions during the previous spring. Based on official reports of his meetings, Nairn wrote that Adm. "Blair, rather than telling Wiranto to shut the militias down, instead offered him a series of promises of new US assistance." [ http://etan.org/et99b/september/26-30/27nairn.htm]

Dana Priest's profile of Admiral Blair appeared in the Washington Post almost exactly a year later on Sept. 20, 2000 [ http://etan.org/news/2000a/01wpblair.htm]. She reported that Blair "told Wiranto that he 'looks forward to the time Indonesia will resume its proper role as a leader in the region,’ according to U.S. officials who reviewed a cable written about the trip. He invited Wiranto to a seminar in Hawaii and promised to train troops in crowd control. Blair also said he would work to reinstate the IMET program and was hopeful Congress would back it. Wiranto maintained that the military was being 'unfairly blamed' for supporting anti-independence militias."

Priest goes on to write that "over the next week" Blair learned of the brutal massacre in Liquica. This massacre took place two days before Blair's April 8 meeting with Wiranto. Initial reports of the attack appeared quickly in the press. [See a sampling of media reports at http://etan.org/et99/april/default.htm]. East Timorese Bishop Belo, a Nobel peace laureate, held a press conference to decry the massacre on Wed., April 7, the day before Blair met with Wiranto [ http://etan.org/et99/april/3-10/7bishop.htm]. The UN, International Committee of the Red Cross, the Portuguese government and imprisoned East Timorese leader Xanana Gusmao all quickly addressed the violence.

If the goal of Blair's April meeting with Wiranto was to urge an end to the violence of his security forces and their militia proxies, it would be very surprising if Blair had not been informed of the attack beforehand. If the meeting was meant to make nice with the TNI commander, his failure to pay attention to the most recent events on the ground might be more understandable.

Officials at the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta were so upset with Blair that they complained to Washington. According to Nairn, "When word got back to the State Department that Blair had said these things in a meeting, an ’eyes only’ cable was dispatched from the State Department to Ambassador Stapleton Roy at the embassy in Jakarta. The thrust of this cable was that what Blair had done was unacceptable and that it must be reversed." A phone call was then arranged between General Wiranto and Admiral Blair. That call took place on April 18 (the day after a massacre by militia of refugees from the Liquicia massacre who had sought shelter in East Timor’s capital, Dili). Nairn writes that "once again Blair failed to tell Wiranto to shut the militias down."

September 1999 and Beyond

Adm. Blair did raise the blatant behavior of security forces in September 1999. By then the U.S. was moving to suspend all military assistance. This cut-off was crucial to ending the violence and to the Indonesian military's eventual acceptance of the result of the referendum. In a response to the committee, Blair writes "I do remember well that the reports of the atrocities themselves were quickly available, both through intelligence reports and in the international press....I was the senior officer in PACOM, and was requesting and receiving information both on the atrocities themselves and on senior TNI complicity in ordering them...."

He describes the atrocities after the August 1999 referendum as "so widespread and well planned that it was clear that the entire TNI command in East Timor was involved. At this point it did not matter whether General Wiranto had ordered them or not, they were his responsibility." If Blair had delivered a clear message of respect for human rights and the need for the TNI to call off its militia prior to the vote, much of the post vote violence could have been prevented.

Blair told the committee that U.S. policy "worked... and East Timor is now an independent country." But by the following year, he was falling back on a pro-engagement mindset and arguing for re-engagement, even though the TNI was still denying its role in the atrocities and actively trying to block efforts to try TNI officers for their crimes. According to Dana Priest, in 2000 Adm. Blair was again forcefully arguing for re-engagement, despite what then U.S. Ambassador Gelbard called "virtually zero progress. In fact, they've [the TNI] gone backwards."

The new administration has a number of officials who have repeatedly spoken out against human rights crimes in different parts of the world. The question for them is will they work to bring to justice those responsible for the war crimes and crimes against humanity in East Timor in 1999 and before.

Finally, we commend the committee for the timely release of Adm. Blair's responses to committee questions. We hope it will do the same with the any documents it receives concerning Adm. Blair's actions concerning Indonesia and East Timor.

[The text of Adm. Blair's responses can be found at http://etan.org/news/2009/01blair2.htm ]

Contact: John M. Miller, National Coordinator, ETAN +1-718-596-7668, +1-917-690-4391

Ed McWilliams (former political counselor, US Embassy, Jakarta) +1-703-899-5285

Image added by ETLJB - Cold-blooded murder by Indonesian state agents on the streets of Dili during the illegal occupation.
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1999 East Timor Crimes Against Humanity

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