Has Admiral Blair Double-Crossed a Second President?
In January, Amy Goodman’s guest Allan Nairn described to Democracy Now’s audience how, in 1999, Admiral Dennis Blair, Obama’s Intel Czar pick, had repeatedly supported Indonesian generals commanding Indonesian death squads in Timor, thus defying his Commander-In-Chief’s lawful orders to tell our client generals in the Indonesian military to shut down the death squads. Last week, at the Washington Independent, our own Spencer Ackerman broke the story that as Obama’s Intel Chief, Admiral Blair hired "Jonathan Fredman a former lawyer for the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center that the Senate Armed Services Committee report identified as a key player in the establishment of the Bush administration’s torture apparatus." The New York Times reports that last month, as Obama released the torture memos and his Administration told us the war crime known as torture failed to produce useful results, Admiral Blair told the intel community the exact opposite.
Two days after Indonesia’s military death squads massacred Timorese civilians sheltering in a church by hacking them to death with machetes (and then nailing their victims’ entrails to the church walls) back in 1999, Admiral Dennis Blair defied White House orders to stop Indonesia’s crimes against humanity in Timor. As Blair — already fully briefed on the Liquicia massacres — first sat down with Wiranto, the Liquicia church walls still dripped with gore. US officials cabled there were no surgeons to treat the "scores of horrible slash wounds at Liquica." Instead of obeying orders from his civilian commanders to tell General Wiranto, commander of Indonesia’s military, to stop the massacres, Admiral Blair offered General Wiranto goodies. The US military attaché in Jakarta, Col. Joseph Blair, cabled that Dennis Blair reassured Wiranto, invited Wiranto to Hawaii, and promised military aid to the paramilitary unit that had just committed the atrocities.
When Washington learned of Blair’s defiance, Washington again ordered Blair to tell Wiranto to stop the massacres; Blair again defied civilian authority and supported Wiranto. A few months later, journalist Allan Nairn reported in The Nation:
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. As a result of that cable from Washington to Roy, a corrective phone call was arranged between General Wiranto and Admiral Blair. That call took place on April 18.
I have the official report on that phone call, which was written by Blair’s aide, Lieut. Col. Tom Sidwell. According to the account of the call and according to US military officials I spoke to, once again Blair failed to tell Wiranto to shut the militias down. [snip]
At no point did Blair demand that the militias be shut down, and in fact this call was followed by escalating militia violence. . . .
Similar to the behavior of Bush’s Torture-Meisters, Blair misled Congress about the crimes in which he was complicit. Amy Goodman and Allan Nairn gave the details:
In testimony given before the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 3rd, 1999. . . . 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,"
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.
Together with Amy Goodman, Allan Nairn has followed Indonesia’s genocidal war against the Timorese for decades; the two of them barely escaped death in the 1991 Santa Cruz massacre that motivated global support for the Timorese in their struggle for freedom from Indonesia’s occupation and human rights crimes. When news Obama chose Blair for DNI first surfaced in January, Nairn appeared on Democracy Now to discuss Blair’s responsibility for crimes against humanity.
Blair even offered Wiranto aid for the specific unit, the Brimob, the paramilitary police who had gone into that church as they chopped up the refugees and chopped up the clergy who were hiding there. General Wiranto naturally took this as reassurance. He escalated the attacks. Wiranto was later indicted for crimes against humanity. Blair has not been held to account.
The US Senate — the august body that ratified the human rights treaties that proscribe war crimes and crimes against humanity and require prosecution of the perpetrators — also didn’t hold Blair to account. The Senate approved Blair for Director of National Intelligence by unanimous voice vote on January 28.
Admiral Blair rewarded the Senate and President Obama by hiring a CIA lawyer deeply involved in the war crime known as torture. As Spencer reported:
The minutes of the meeting — which the report makes clear are paraphrases and not direct quotations — say that Fredman discussed waterboarding, referred to in the minutes as the “wet towel” technique from SERE, by saying, “If a well-trained individual is used to perform this technique it can feel like you’re drowning. The lymphatic system will react as if you’re suffocating, but your body will not cease to function. It is very effective to identify phobias and use them (i.e., insects, snakes, claustrophobia).”
Fredman is described by the minutes as discussing moving detainees to avoid their exposure to the International Committee of the Red Cross. He is described as saying that the international convention against torture is “written vaguely,” making it impossible to define mental torture: “It is basically subject to perception. If the detainee dies you’re doing it wrong.” The report cites Fredman as advising against recording interrogations, since “even totally legal techniques will look ‘ugly.’” While Fredman is described as cautioning that “mock executions don’t work as well as friendly approaches,” he noted that such techniques should be “handled on a case by case basis.”
And now Blair appears to have double-crossed a second President: The NYT’s report revealed that last month, Blair touted torture as effective on the same day the administration he purports to serve proclaimed that it was not. When DNI Blair’s office released his remarks, they just happened to leave out the sentence in which Dennis Blair stated that torture works:
In an indication of the crosscurrents the president has faced in dealing with the issue, his own national intelligence director said in an internal memo last week that the now-banned interrogation methods had produced valuable information, contrary to the White House view that they had not been effective.
“High-value information came from interrogations in which those methods were used and provided a deeper understanding of the Al Qaeda organization that was attacking this country,” Dennis C. Blair, the intelligence director, wrote to his staff last Thursday as the previously secret memos were released.
A condensed version of the Blair memo was distributed to news organizations that day without that sentence. The original memo was provided to The New York Times on Tuesday by a critic of Mr. Obama’s policy. Wendy Morigi, a spokeswoman for Mr. Blair, said Tuesday that the sentence had been dropped in a routine process of shortening an internal memo into a statement for the news media.
Responding to a query about the fuller memo, Mr. Blair issued a statement Tuesday evening underscoring his support for the president’s release of the previously secret documents and for Mr. Obama’s decision to ban the “enhanced interrogation techniques” at issue.
“We do not need these techniques to keep America safe,” said Mr. Blair, who added: “The information gained from these techniques was valuable in some instances, but there is no way of knowing whether the same information could have been obtained through other means. The bottom line is these techniques have hurt our image around the world, the damage they have done to our interests far outweighed whatever benefit they gave us, and they are not essential to our national security.”
Well, after all this, who wouldn’t trust Dennis Blair? So long as we’re in a trusting mood, here’s a question: Admiral Blair, who do you serve — America’s civilian authority, or those complicit in the war crime known as torture?