BANGKOK, Thailand -- One of Indonesia's worst death squad leaders,
78-year-old Anwar Congo, has died decades after executing at least
1,000 suspected communists and others during a U.S.-backed purge which
killed more than 50,000 people during the 1960s.

Mr. Congo died in a hospital on Oct. 25 of undisclosed causes.

As a young man, he was hired as a deadly enforcer for a newspaper
publisher and paramilitary gang boss in Medan city, in the north of
Sumatra island.

In a 2012 documentary titled, "The Act of Killing," Mr. Congo proudly
re-enacted his favorite execution method -- strangling victims with a

In the non-fiction film by dual American and British citizen Joshua
Oppenheimer, Mr. Congo enthusiastically described hanging, strangling,
decapitating and driving automobiles over victims.

Mr. Congo also acted as an execution victim and let a wire be gently
laced around his neck to demonstrate garroting.

He and other death squad members said they believed torturing and
murdering suspects helped Indonesia's U.S.-backed military defeat

In a 2014 interview with this reporter, Mr. Oppenheimer said he
unsuccessfully petitioned Washington "for the CIA (Central
Intelligence Agency) job documents pertaining to Indonesia 1963-1966
to be declassified, and also for U.S. Embassy defense attaché
documents to be declassified.

"In the late '50s and early '60s, the U.S. advised and funded the
Indonesian army's deployment like an octopus with tentacles reaching
into each village. This was done so that the army would be effective
in exterminating the communists when the opportunity arose."

Robert J. Martens, an American Embassy political officer in
Indonesia's capital Jakarta from 1963-1966, gave lists of suspects
totaling 5,000 names to Indonesia's military.

"I, and I alone, decided to pass those 'lists' to the non-communist
forces," Mr. Martens wrote in a letter to The Washington Post in 1990,
attempting to limit blame after retiring in Maryland.

The doomed individuals were described as Indonesian Communist Party
(P.K.I.) members or suspected sympathizers.

It was an "unmistakable signal from the U.S. that the army should kill
all potential opponents of the new regime," the filmmaker said.

Of the 5,000 names, "my understanding is that 100 percent were killed.

"They were killed because they were potential enemies of the emerging
Suharto dictatorship. The U.S., by providing the lists, made it very
clear that we wanted these people killed.

"Were they communists? Some of them, but many would have been
journalists, intellectuals, artists, trade unionists, leaders of the
ethnic Chinese community, land reform advocates, loyalists to
President Sukarno," who was ousted in a coup when Gen. Suharto gained

"The U.S. wanted the army to go after any potential enemy of the regime."

In 1957, a CIA-supported coup attempt failed against President
Sukarno, who was perceived by Washington as soft on communism.

In 1965, a bloodier strategy enabled U.S.-backed General Suharto to
gain power from Sukarno and, in 1966, orchestrate more massacres.

Meanwhile, the army and its civilian death squads lost count of how
many people they killed.

"Of course, nobody knows," said Marshall Green, the American
ambassador to Indonesia during those years.

"We merely judge it by whole villages that have been depopulated," Mr.
Green told a secret Senate Foreign Relations Committee according to
Tim Weiner's book, "Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA."

When Mr. Oppenheimer interviewed Mr. Martens, the filmmaker also
interviewed Joseph Lazarsky who was CIA deputy chief of station in
Jakarta in 1965.

"Notes from [my] phone call with Lazarsky on 15 April 2004 shows he
confirmed ticking the names off the list of those who were confirmed
by T.N.I. -- the Indonesian army -- as killed," Mr. Oppenheimer said.

"The [Indonesian] army returned the lists with the names of the dead
checked off."

Britain's Economist magazine reported in its obituary of Mr. Congo:

"As America became enmeshed in the Vietnam war, and the fear of
communism’s possible domino effect across Asia took hold in the West,
President Lyndon B. Johnson and his allies were happy to look away as
more than a million alleged communists were tortured and killed, many
of them Chinese Indonesians.

"In the early days, he [Mr. Congo] beat his victims to death. But
there was so much blood. Even after it was cleaned up, it still stank.
To avoid the mess, he switched to wire. With a wooden slat at either
end, it was quick and clean.

"He is reckoned to have murdered at least 1,000 people with his own
hands, and soon had his own gang known as the Frog Squad.

"Aided by a fat sidekick in drag with bright lipstick and lime eye
shadow, they even re-enacted a beheading, and how afterwards they ate
the victim’s liver," The Economist said.

"This thin man with white hair is thought to have killed at least
1,000 people, although some estimate his personal death toll was even
higher," the British Broadcasting Corp. reported.

"The Act of Killing" was horrific to film.

Mr. Congo and others "were boastful and open, and would tell the most
horrible details of the killings," Mr. Oppenheimer warned an audience
at a screening.

"When I started hearing the perpetrators speak this way, I felt that
the big story, certainly the overwhelming story, was the one right now
in front of me -- impunity today. It was this feeling of wandering
into Germany 40 years after the Holocaust, only to find the Nazis
still in power."