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2009-01-09

Did Obama Aide Admiral Dennis Blair Lie to Congress?

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Guests

Allan Nairn, Award-winning journalist who has reported from Indonesia for years. In 1999, he broke the story on Dennis Blair’s secret meeting with Indonesian generals to affirm US support for their violent crackdown on East Timorese.

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President-elect Obama is expected to name his intelligence team today: Leon Panetta for the CIA, John Brennan as a key White House adviser, and Admiral Dennis Blair as Director of National Intelligence. Blair, as Allan Nairn reported on Democracy Now!, was implicated in backing the perpetrators of church massacres in East Timor in 1999. Award-winning investigative reporter Allan Nairn reveals new information that indicates he may have lied to Congress. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: President-elect Obama is expected to name his intelligence team today, Leon Panetta for the CIA, John Brennan as a key White House adviser, and Admiral Dennis Blair as Director of National Intelligence.

    PRESIDENT-ELECT BARACK OBAMA: I think what you’re also going to see is a team that is committed to breaking with some of the past practices and concerns that have, I think, tarnished the image of the agencies, the intelligence agencies as well as US foreign policy. Last point I will make, though, on this is that there are outstanding intelligence professionals in the CIA, in DNI and others, and I have the utmost regard for the work that they’ve done, and we are committed to making sure that this is a team effort that’s not looking backwards but is looking forward to figure out how we are going to serve the American people best.

AMY GOODMAN: Is this change? John Brennan was dropped as a candidate for Director of Central Intelligence due to accusations of support for torture and extraordinary rendition. This is Brennan speaking on the PBS NewsHour in 2005.

    JOHN BRENNAN: I think it’s an absolutely vital tool. I have been intimately familiar now over the past decade with the cases of rendition that the US government has been involved in, and I can say without a doubt that it has been very successful as far as producing intelligence that has saved lives.

AMY GOODMAN: President-elect Obama is now selecting John Brennan for a position not requiring congressional confirmation.

Admiral Blair, as Allan Nairn reported on Democracy Now! on Tuesday and Wednesday, was implicated in the backing of perpetrators of church massacres in East Timor in 1999. Award-winning investigative reporter Allan Nairn joins us on the phone again today with more information on potential new problems for Admiral Blair.

Allan Nairn, welcome to Democracy Now! Tell us what you know at this point.

ALLAN NAIRN: Well, in addition to supporting General Wiranto as he and his forces were massacring churches and killing more than a thousand civilians in Timor in 1999, it now appears that Blair either lied to or willfully misled the US Congress in testimony given before the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 3rd, 1999. In that testimony, Blair discussed the fall of the Indonesian dictatorship Suharto. Suharto fell in May of 1998. And Admiral Blair, in his prepared statement, submitted — made the following statement: “Throughout this process, the Indonesian armed forces have played a difficult but generally positive role. While there were instances of individual or small unit violence against Indonesian citizens, military leadership firmly supported the constitution. Moreover, the incidents of abuses, shootings and kidnappings that were reported are now being investigated and the perpetrators punished,” end-quote.

Now, that is simply false. Almost every element of that statement is false, as anyone who is familiar with the situation in Indonesia at that time could tell you. It was not individual small units, but top Indonesian military officers, led by General Prabowo, who carried out the Kopassus kidnappings of activists, known as the “Rose Team” kidnappings. Not only did this involve senior officers, but those senior officers were US-trained. And the specific Kopassus intelligence units doing the kidnapping had a liaison with the US military attaché in the embassy, and General Prabowo was a longtime US protégé. The senior officers of the Indonesian military instigated anti-Chinese riots, in which their agents rampaged through the streets, burned houses, conducted mass rapes of Chinese and other women in the streets, a model of mayhem that was used one year later in occupied East Timor. They were also involved in the killings of protesters in the streets.

And Admiral Blair tried to tell the Senate Armed Services Committee that the Indonesian military leadership had firmly supported the constitution. Well, he had to know when he submitted that written statement that shortly before Suharto — as Suharto was falling, the Indonesian grassroots movement had announced a mass demonstration, and it was widely anticipated in Jakarta that this mass demonstration might draw a million people and that it would lead to the downfall not only of the individual dictator Suharto, but of the entire military establishment. So what did General Wiranto, the commander of the Indonesian armed forces, do? He told the organizers that if they held this demonstration, they would get a Tiananmen. They would be massacred by the military. And, in fact, they called the demonstration off, with the result that Suharto, the individual, fell, but the military institution run by Wiranto remained intact and dominates within Indonesian politics to this day. So, Admiral Blair was either lying or willfully deceiving the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 3rd, 1999.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s also interesting, Allan Nairn, that the President-elect Barack Obama actually has personal ties to Indonesia and knows very well what happened in Indonesia. In fact, he wrote about it in his first book, in his memoir, in his autobiography.

ALLAN NAIRN: Yes, and one of the — I mean, Obama makes several very good observations, and one of them is that he says the fate of Indonesia has been tied to US foreign policy. And it certainly was in 1999 when the militias, organized by the forces of that same General Wiranto, rampaged across occupied East Timor, massacring churches as they went. And what Admiral Blair did in response to this was to meet with Wiranto on April 8th, 1999, not only reassure him, but even offer to get him new IMET military training, which had been cut off by the US Congress. So, Wiranto — so, Admiral Blair was essentially offering to side with General Wiranto, the mass-killing General Wiranto, against the US Congress to try to get the military aid restored for Wiranto and his men.

In the days after that, Wiranto, of course, was very pleased by this meeting, very encouraged. They increased the killing. On April 17th, they rampaged through downtown Dili, the capital of Timor. They took the son of one of the prominent Timorese leaders, Manuelito Carrascalao. They executed him. And the next day, the very next day, Admiral Blair called Wiranto again, reaffirmed his support, offered him still more US aid, and within five days after that, the Catholic Church was reporting that in rural villages in occupied Timor, anywhere from forty-two to a hundred villagers had been executed by militiamen in the days immediately after Blair’s call. And after that, it just got worse, including events like the burning of the bishop’s house, a massacre at the diocesan office, the church massacre of perhaps 200 people at the church in Suai, the assassination and rapes of clergy. It just went on without end.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And, Allan —-

ALLAN NAIRN: And this was backed by the United States, backed specifically by Admiral Dennis Blair, who Barack Obama, today at 10:30, in two hours, is reportedly going to nominate as the new US Director of National Intelligence, unless people weigh in to stop it.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And, Allan, your sense of these appointments, what they will mean in terms of any possible change in US policy, at least toward Indonesia and that part of the world?

ALLAN NAIRN: Well, that’s a very good question, but the implications now are not just Indonesia. I mean, Blair happened to have been involved in these -— in sponsoring these crimes in Indonesia and Timor, but now Blair will have authority for the entire world if he gets this job, as already do people like Robert Gates.

Obama’s team has said he wants to abide by the rule of law in intelligence and foreign policy. So, in ’99 in Indonesia, Timor, did Admiral Blair abide by the rule of law? If Obama thinks the answer is no, then he should prosecute Blair, not appoint him. If Obama thinks the answer is yes, that that was abiding by the rule of law, then that means it’s OK to sponsor mass killings of civilians, and doing that earns you a promotion in Barack Obama’s Washington.

People can call the Obama transition office, because there’s still two hours before this appointment is announced, and it’s not over ’til it’s over. This is still a press leak. It hasn’t come out of Obama’s lips yet. The number is (202) 540-3000. (202) 540-3000, that’s the Obama transition office. Their website is www.change.gov. And also, people can contact the East Timor Action Network at etan.org, www.etan.org. They’re running a petition campaign to try to stop the nomination of Admiral Blair.

AMY GOODMAN: Allan Nairn, I want to thank you for being with us, award-winning journalist, has reported on Indonesia and East Timor for many years. In 1999, he broke the story on Dennis Blair’s secret meeting with the Indonesian General Wiranto and is now unveiling more information in these hours before it looks like Dennis Blair will be appointed Director of National Intelligence. Allan Nairn’s website, allannairn.com.

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