“President-elect Barack Obama’s rumored selection of Admiral Dennis C. Blair for Director of National Intelligence is unacceptable,” the East Timor and Indonesia *Action* Network (ETAN) said today.
“During his years as Pacific Commander, Blair actively worked to reinstate military assistance and deepen ties to Indonesia’s military despite its ongoing human rights violations in East Timor and consistent record of impunity,” said John M. Miller, National Coordinator of ETAN.
“His actions demonstrate the failure of engagement to temper the Indonesian military’s behavior and his actions helped to reinforce impunity for senior Indonesian officials that continues to this day,” added Miller. 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 assistance.”
“It is unfathomable that Obama would consider appointing someone to such a prominent position who has shown so little concern for human rights in the past. Can we expect someone who has sought to undermine efforts to link human rights to military assistance to be a champion of reform? We don’t think this is the kind of change people are expecting,” said Miller.
In April 1999, just days after Indonesian security forces and their militias 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.
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 violence in East Timor, as Indonesian security forces and their militias killed, looted, and destroyed the country’s infrastructure.
In April 1999, Blair met in Jakarta with General Wiranto, then the Defense Minister and the commander of Indonesian forces, just days after dozens of refugees in a Catholic church in the town of Liquica, East Timor were hacked to death by 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 military “took as a green light to proceed with the militia operation,” according to Allan Nairn, writing in the Nation magazine at the time. [http://www.etan.org/et99b/september/26-30/27nairn.htm ]
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 in conjunction with the next round of bilateral defense discussions in the July-August ’99 time frame. He said Pacific command is prepared to support a subject matter expert exchange for doctrinal development. He expects that approval will be granted to send a small team to provide technical assistance to police and…selected TNI personnel on crowd control measures.” Nairn writes that the last offer was “quite significant, because it would be the first new US training program for the Indonesian military since 1992.”
Blair was fully aware of what was going on in East Timor at the time: “From a windowless concrete building near Blair’s Pacific Command headquarters, seven intelligence analysts at the “Joint Intelligence Center,” the world’s largest military intelligence center, had tracked the movements of Indonesian and militia forces since May 1998,” according to the Washington Post.
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. “‘What they did was absolutely remarkable,’ said one top Pentagon general,” reported the Washington Post’s Dana Priest. http://www.etan.org/news/2000a/01wpblair.htm
Blair has acknowledged that 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 to try to stop the brewing crisis,” wrote Priest. “It is fairly rare that the personal relations made through an IMET [U.S.-funded military program] course can come into play in resolving a future crisis,” he told her.
In April 2000, over the objections of U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia Robert S. Gelbard, members of Congress and State Department officials, Blair made the first high-level visit to Indonesia since all military assistance was cut off in the aftermath of the 1999 independence referendum in East Timor.
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 (CFR). 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. The military’s mission is to violently suppress West Papua’s simmering independence movement, its sympathizers, and terrorize ordinary citizens – 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 and 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. http://www.etan.org/et2003/february/23-28/28info.htm 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.
By John M Miller