On the eve of his Senate confirmation hearing (due for 10am, Thurs. Jan 22), new information has emerged showing that Adm. Dennis Blair — President Obama’s nominee for US Director of National Intelligence — lied about his knowledge of a terrorist massacre that occurred before a pivotal meeting in which Blair offered support and US aid to the commander of the massacre forces.
The massacre took place on at the Liquica Catholic church in Indonesian-occupied East Timor two days before Blair met face-to-face with the Indonesian armed forces commander, Gen. Wiranto (the massacre occurred on April 6, 1999; Blair and Wiranto met April 8).
A classified US cable shows that rather than telling Wiranto to stop the killing, Blair invited Wiranto to be his guest in Hawaii, offered him new US military aid, and told the Indonesian general that he was "working hard" on his behalf, lobbying the US government to restore US military training aid for Indonesia. (That training had been cut off by Congress after the 1991 Dili, Timor massacre; for an account of the US cable and the April 8, ’99 Blair-Wiranto meeting see News and Comment posting of Jan. 6, 2009.)
Blair’s support at that crucial April 8 meeting buoyed Wiranto, and his forces increased the Timor killings, which came to include new attacks on churches and clergy, mass arsons, and political rapes. (For a detailed chronology based on a UN report, see News and Comment posting of Jan. 9, 2009.)
Since I disclosed the contents of that Blair-Wiranto meeting in a report filed in 1999 (see Allan Nairn, "US Complicity in Timor," The Nation [US], Sept. 27, 1999, reprinted in the Jan. 6 ’09 News and Comment posting referenced above), Blair has defended himself by claiming that he went into the meeting with Wiranto not yet knowing of the Liquica massacre.
The Associated Press reported this month, in a January 9 dispatch: "Blair has said he only learned of the massacre a few days after the meeting." (Pamela Hess, "Obama to finalize national security team Friday," Associated Press, Friday Jan. 9, 2009, 4:22 am ET; Blair made the same claim to the Washington Post: Dana Priest, "Standing Up to State and Congress," September 30, 2000.)
But now, contemporaneous records have emerged — from the US Embassy in Jakarta, and from the Catholic Church — showing that the massacre was publicly described by Timor’s Bishop one day before the Blair-Wiranto meeting, and that while Blair was in Jakarta preparing for the meeting, US officials who were there with him were discussing the massacre in graphic detail.
One written message from a US official even noted: "In the face of the scores of horrible slash wounds at Liquica, there are no surgeons to treat them."
The US official was referring to the fact that, as had been disclosed at the Timor Bishop’s April 7 press conference, dozens of refugees sheltering in the church had been hacked to death with machetes, but as Blair and Wiranto prepared to meet, some of those slashed were still alive.
Another Jakarta dispatch by senior US personnel written prior to the Blair-Wiranto sitdown refers explicitly to Blair’s presence, to his impending meeting with Wiranto, and, crucially, to the detail and rough death toll of the already-known Liquica massacre.
"[W]e have the CINCPAC here today (Command[e]r in Chief of the Pacific]," the message said, referring to Blair by title; and it stated, in regard to what Wiranto’s men had done: "Now we may have 40 people — who were cowering in a church — dead."
Bishop Carlos Ximenes Belo, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, had made the key facts of the massacre clear in his April 7, 1999 press conference, which took place the day before the Blair-Wiranto meeting.
Belo was accompanied by Father Rafael Dos Santos, the Liquica pastor who survived the massacre. Their authoritative accounts received same-day coverage in the Western and local press and were also recounted in church bulletins and in US intelligence and diplomatic traffic.
For Blair to claim that he did not know of these materials or his US colleagues’ discussions taking place all around him is to strain credulity to the breaking point, especially since he’s being nominated as intelligence chief, and since his meeting with Wiranto was cleared by Washington precisely to address the Timor crisis.
Bishop Belo and Father Dos Santos said the following in their publicly broadcast remarks. This account is excerpted from "Timorese Bishop says more than 25 killed in church massacre," DILI, East Timor, April 7 , (AFP):
"Nobel peace laureate Bishop Carlos Ximenes Belo accused Indonesian-backed militia on Wednesday [April 7] of massacring more than 25 people in East Timor outside a church. Belo was speaking at a press conference with Father Rafael Dos Santos who described how refugees sheltering in his church and home at Liquisa [an alternate spelling of Liquica], 30 kilometers (20 miles) west of the Timorese capital Dili, were hacked down with machetes. Dos Santos said Indonesian mobile brigade police stood behind the militia during the attack, and fired into the air. When the attack began ‘people ran for cover wherever they could,’ he said. Some ran into his house and some into the church before being forced out when troops fired teargas into the buildings. ‘When they came out of the church, their eyes streaming, they were mown down, hacked to death with machetes, by the Besi Merah Putih (Red and White Iron militia),’ he said … Belo travelled to Liquisa earlier Wednesday to visit the site of the attack with Indonesia’s East Timor military commander Colonel Tono Suratman. ‘I have a paper from the military commander that there were 25 bodies inside the priest’s house,’ he said, ‘but according to other witnesses outside around the church there were other bodies. I don’t know exactly how many.’ Belo had been quoted by the Portugese news agency Lusa on Tuesday [April 6] as saying he had first been informed by the Indonesian military of the deaths of 40 people in the church and five in the priest’s house… ‘Firstly I am sad, for what happened in Liquisa … secondly I am ashamed to be a citizen of the (Indonesian) republic. It has taken us back to the middle ages,’ Belo said."
We shall now see where the Senate takes us.
(For another contemporaneous — April 7, pre — Blair/Wiranto meeting — public report of the massacre see the report of Yayasan HAK, the leading independent East Timorese human rights group, summarized here.)
Readers can reach their Senators through the US Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121. Key Senators include members of the Intelligence Committee, especially the committee chair, Sen. Diane Feinstein, the ranking Republican, Sen. Kit Bond, Sen. Ron Wyden, who has said he will question Blair about Timor, Sen. Russ Feingold, a longtime critic of US aid to the Indonesian military, and Sen. Barbara Mikulski, who has also criticized the US policy.
Allan Nairn is an award-winning correspondent who was badly beaten while reporting the Dili massacre in East Timor in 1991.