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Ex-agents say CIA compiled death lists for Indonesians
The Examiner - May 20, 1990
After 25 years, Americans speak of their role in exterminating Communist Party
Kathy Kadane, Washington – The US government played a significant role in one of the worst massacres of the century by supplying the names of thousands of Communist Party leaders to the Indonesian army, which hunted down the leftists and killed them, former US diplomats say.
For the first time, US officials acknowledge that in 1965 they systematically compiled comprehensive lists of Communist operatives, from top echelons down to village cadres. As many as 5,000 names were furnished to the Indonesian army, and the Americans later checked off the names of those who had been killed or captured, according to the US officials.
The killings were part of a massive bloodletting that took an estimated 250,000 lives.
The purge of the Partai Komunis Indonesia (PKI) was part of a US drive to ensure that Communists did not come to power in the largest country in Southeast Asia, where the United States was already fighting an undeclared war in Vietnam. Indonesia is the fifth most-populous country in the world.
Silent for a quarter-century, former senior US diplomats and CIA officers described in lengthy interviews how they aided Indonesian President Suharto, then army leader, in his attack on the PKI.
"It really was a big help to the army," said Robert J. Martens, a former member of the US Embassy's political section who is now a consultant to the State Department. "They probably killed a lot of people, and I probably have a lot of blood on my hands, but that's not all bad. There's a time when you have to strike hard at a decisive moment."
White House and State Department spokesmen declined comment on the disclosures.
Although former deputy CIA station chief Joseph Lazarsky and former diplomat Edward Masters, who was Martens' boss, said CIA agents contributed in drawing up the death lists, CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield said, "There is no substance to the allegation that the CIA was involved in the preparation and/or distribution of a list that was used to track down and kill PKI members. It is simply not true."
Indonesian Embassy spokesman Makarim Wibisono said he had no personal knowledge of events described by former US officials. "In terms of fighting the Communists, as far as I'm concerned, the Indonesian people fought by themselves to eradicate the Communists," he said.
Martens, an experienced analyst of communist affairs, headed an embassy group of State Department and CIA officers that spent two years compiling the lists. He later delivered them to an army intermediary.
People named on the lists were captured in overwhelming numbers, Martens said, adding, "It's a big part of the reason the PKI has never come back."
The PKI was the third-largest Communist Party in the world, with an estimated 3 million members. Through affiliated organizations such as labor and youth groups it claimed the loyalties of another 17 million.
In 1966 the Washington Post published an estimate that 500,000 were killed in the purge and the brief civil war it triggered. In a 1968 report, the CIA estimated there had been 250,000 deaths, and called the carnage "one of the worst mass murders of the 20th century."
US Embassy approval
Approval for the release of the names came from the top US Embassy officials, including former Ambassador Marshall Green, deputy chief of mission Jack Lydman and political section chief Edward Masters, the three acknowledged in interviews.
Declassified embassy cables and State Department reports from early October 1965, before the names were turned over, show that US officials knew Suharto had begun roundups of PKI cadres, and that the embassy had unconfirmed reports that firing squads were being formed to kill PKI prisoners.
Former CIA Director William Colby, in an interview, compared the embassy's campaign to identify the PKI leadership to the CIA's Phoenix Program in Vietnam. In 1965, Colby was the director of the CIA's Far East division and was responsible for directing US covert strategy in Asia.
"That's what I set up in the Phoenix Program in Vietnam – that I've been kicked around for a lot," he said. "That's exactly what it was. It was an attempt to identify the structure" of the Communist Party.
Phoenix was a joint US-South Vietnamese program set up by the CIA in December 1967 that aimed at neutralizing members of the National Liberation Front, the Vietcong political cadres. It was widely criticized for alleged human rights abuses.
'You shoot them'
"The idea of identifying the local apparatus was designed to – well, you go out and get them to surrender, or you capture or you shoot them," Colby said of the Phoenix Program. "I mean, it was a war, and they were fighting. So it was really aimed at providing intelligence for operations rather than a big picture of the thing."
In 1962, when he took over as chief of the CIA's Far East division, Colby said he discovered the United States did not have comprehensive lists of PKI activists. Not having the lists "could have been criticized as a gap in the intelligence system," he said, adding they were useful for "operation planning" and provided a picture of how the party was organized. Without such lists, he said, "you're fighting blind."
Asked if the CIA had been responsible for sending Martens, a foreign service officer, to Jakarta in 1963 to compile the lists, Colby said, "Maybe, I don't know. Maybe we did it. I've forgotten."
The lists were a detailed who's-who of the leadership of the party of 3 million members, Martens said. They included names of provincial, city and other local PKI committee members, and leaders of the "mass organizations," such as the PKI national labor federation, women's and youth groups.
"I know we had a lot more information" about the PKI "than the Indonesians themselves," Green said. Martens "told me on a number of occasions that... the government did not have very good information on the Communist setup, and he gave me the impression that this information was superior to anything they had."
Masters, the embassy's political section chief, said he believed the army had lists of its own, but they were not as comprehensive as the American lists. He said he could not remember whether the decision to release the names had been cleared with Washington.
The lists were turned over piecemeal, Martens said, beginning at the top of the communist organization. Martens supplied thousands of names to an Indonesian emissary over a number of months, he said. The emissary was an aide to Adam Malik, an Indonesian minister who was an ally of Suharto in the attack on the Communists.
Interviewed in Jakarta, the aide, Tirta Kentjana ("Kim") Adhyatman, confirmed he had met with Martens and received lists of thousands of names, which he in turn gave to Malik. Malik passed them on to Suharto's headquarters, he said.
Embassy officials carefully recorded the subsequent destruction of the PKI organization. Using Martens' lists as a guide, they checked off names of captured and assassinated PKI leaders, tracking the steady dismantling of the party apparatus, former US officials said.
Information about who had been captured and killed came from Suharto's headquarters, according to Joseph Lazarsky, deputy CIA station chief in Jakarta in 1965. Suharto's Jakarta headquarters was the central collection point for military reports from around the country detailing the capture and killing of PKI leaders, Lazarsky said.
"We were getting a good account in Jakarta of who was being picked up," Lazarsky said. "The army had a 'shooting list' of about 4,000 or 5,000 people."
Detention centers were set up to hold those who were not killed immediately.
"They didn't have enough goon squads to zap them all, and some individuals were valuable for interrogation," Lazarsky said. "The infrastructure was zapped almost immediately. We knew what they were doing. We knew they would keep a few and save them for the kangaroo courts, but Suharto and his advisers said, if you keep them alive, you have to feed them."
Masters, the chief of the political section, said, "We had these lists" constructed by Martens, "and we were using them to check off what was happening to the party, what the effect" of the killings "was on it." Lazarsky said the checkoff work was also carried out at the CIA's intelligence directorate in Washington.
By the end of January 1966, Lazarsky said, the checked-off names were so numerous the CIA analysts in Washington concluded the PKI leadership had been destroyed.
"No one cared, as long as they were Communists, that they were being butchered," said Howard Federspiel, who in 1965 was the Indonesia expert at the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research. "No one was getting very worked up about it."
Asked about the checkoffs, Colby said, "We came to the conclusion that with the sort of Draconian way it was carried out, it really set them" – the communists – "back for years."
Asked if he meant the checkoffs were proof that the PKI leadership had been caught or killed, he said, "Yeah, yeah, that's right,... the leading elements, yeah."
[This article appeared in the Spartanburg, South Carolina Herald-Journal on May 19, 1990, then in the San Francisco Examiner on May 20, 1990, the Washington Post on May 21, 1990, and the Boston Globe on May 23, 1990. This version is from The Examiner.]