Cables of genocide
We present this part of our rebuttal of Pakistan's insolence with descriptions of Pakistani atrocities by the US Consul General Archer K Blood in his diplomatic cables to Washington in those fateful days in 1971. Consul General Blood vividly described the Pakistan army's genocidal attack on Dhaka city on March 25-26 in his cables.
Archer Kent Blood, a career diplomat, came to Dhaka in 1970 and was recalled to Washington before his tour was over because the US didn't want to anger Pakistan and jeopardize their efforts of opening a diplomatic dialogue with China. His career suffered greatly because of his telegrams.
Archer Blood received the Christian A Herter award in 1971 for "extraordinary accomplishment involving initiative, integrity, intellectual courage, and creative dissent."
It was a pleasant dinner at American Consul General Archer K Blood's residence on March 25, 1971. The guests watched a movie "Cass Timberlane" about the consequence of a failed marriage.
Suddenly Blood received a phone call from a colleague who said students were felling trees on the street to block any army movement. President Yahya Khan, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and other West Pakistani leaders have left Dhaka, calling off a dialogue with Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on power transfer.
Alarmed, the guests wanted to get away quickly but they had to stay back as they found bodies strewn on the streets.
For the rest of the night, they stayed up and watched the horror that was being let loose on Dhaka.
Blood, in his book "The cruel birth of Bangladesh" describes the night: "Together with our house guests, we spent a good part of the night of March 25-26 on the flat roof of the house, watching with horror the constant flash of tracer bullets across the dark sky and listening to the more ominous clatter of machine gun fire and the heavy clump of tank guns. We were able to establish that there was particularly heavy firing in the vicinity of the police lines and the East Pakistan Rifles barracks. We could see many fires burning, some of them in old Dacca. Our head bearer told us that one particularly large fire was burning in poor bazar area where many of his family lived."
In the following weeks, Blood started sending cables to the State Department about the genocide that was being perpetrated by the Pakistan army in Bangladesh.
His strongest cable on the massacre in Dhaka was titled "Selective Genocide" in which he wrote: "Here in Dacca we are mute and horrified witnesses to a reign of terror by the Pak military."
His telegrams were met with silence in the beginning and later with resentment in the State Department mainly because the US was Pakistan's strong ally as a member of Southeast Asia Treaty Organisation (SEATO) and also because US was trying to open a diplomatic channel with China with the mediation of Pakistan.
Therefore, the State Department wanted limited distribution of the genocide telegram to a few selected persons on a need-to-know basis. However the telegram was leaked and the US media took it up to raise voices against the genocide being perpetrated in Bangladesh.
Blood's descriptions of the massacres were vivid and exact. He later compiled these telegrams and wrote his book. Although he was scolded for his reports, the US embassy in Dhaka later renamed its library as Archer Blood Library in honour of this brave soul who exposed to the world what the Pakistan army did in 1971.
In the first situation report on March 27, Blood wrote: "Indian Deputy High Commissioner told us that about 10,000 Hindus are residing in Tanti Bazar and Sankhari Bazar Mohallas in Old Dacca. He said this area has been surrounded by the military and houses have been burnt and people butchered. Large number of casualties feared. Residents fleeing from this area were also not spared."
People of these two neighbourhoods in Old Dhaka still cringe at the nightmare of March 25.
On the same day, US embassy Public Affairs Officer Brian Bell toured the city with a Bangali journalist and gave the following description that Blood cabled to the State Department:
"Police barracks at Rajarbagh police camp levelled, apparently by heavy guns. Army occupying camp. Told was two hour battle Thursday night between Army and police with heavy causalities on police side.
"Iqbal Hall at Dacca University, said be headquarters Awami League student activities and rumored recent days be stocked with firearms and ammo, badly damaged, appeared by mortar fire, dead body lies 10 feet from entrance. Inside burned in places.
Large area on outskirts Old Dacca gutted. Area contained markets, shops, dwellings, railroad workers' dormitory. Latter building badly damaged: Almost nothing left of others which were flimsy structures. Estimate area gutted about size of two dozen US city blocks."
Just a day later, he reported "Apparently large scale looting, pillaging and murder on part of non-Bengali people against Hindus and Bengalis taking place and Army standing by watching. Last night Hindu village at Dacca Club golf course burnt. Twelve bodies seen by American warden. Dacca rife with similar atrocity story."
Blood started collecting stories of atrocities from all sources. American priests at various churches worked as invaluable source of information for him, which he started sending to the State Department in a frantic effort to stir up American conscience so that something could be done to stop the killings but to no effect.
In another telegram he made it clear what the fire he saw on March 25 night was all about: "American priests in Old Dacca tell us that the Army had been exclusively responsible for all fires in that section on March 25 and 26. The Army's technique was to set houses afire and then gun down people as they fled their homes."
"A well connected Bengali whom we have always considered reliable tells us that he was an eye-witness to the wiping out of family with no Awami League or government connections. He also claims that the Army entered the houses of three or four senior Bengali civil servants of the Government of East Pakistan and killed all the inhabitants."
In his later cables Blood also highlighted the criminality of the Pakistan army by describing how it had aided and abetted looting.
In one cable he wrote: "Pakistani soldiers are reportedly standing by while non-Bengalis (Bihairs) loot Bengali dwellings."
Following the crackdown, a major target of which was the Rajarbag police line where the Bangali policemen put up a brave resistance to the marauding Pakistan army, Blood saw truckloads of prisoners being taken to the East Pakistan Rifles headquarters at Peelkhana.
On April he cabled: "…US citizens eyewitness to numerous incidents of cold blooded murder of unarmed Bengalis by Pak military…. one of our officers heard steady firing of approximately one shot per ten second for a thirty minute period (at Peelkhana). Our inference was that captured Bengali members of the East Pakistan Rifles were being executed."
Later, he tried his best to calculate how many were butchered that night in Dhaka during the Operation Searchlight.
"The casualty toll at the University was particularly difficult to ascertain, with estimate ranging from several hundred to over one thousand. What was generally believed that the Army plan of attack at the University was to take no prisoners and to kill all students present in the dorms. We saw traces of two mass graves on the campus, one near Iqbal Hall, the other near Rokeya Hall," he wrote to Washington.
Blood actually sent numerous such telegrams deliberately putting them on high visibility so that the world gets to know about this massacre. But he had to pay for his action. BBC, VOA and All India Radio picked his telegrams and reported on the March 25 massacre citing the American Consul General as the source of information.
This led to a huge diplomatic crisis between Pakistan and the US and the Pakistan foreign ministry called US Ambassador Farland and expressed its deep dissatisfaction over the mentioning of US Consul General as the source of the news.
Actually his cables also came to the notice of US president Richard Nixon. Journalist Gary J bass in his book "The Blood Telegram" wrote about a meeting between Nixon and US secretary of state Henry Kissinger.
He wrote: "Kissinger told Nixon, 'Dacca consulate is in open rebellion'."
Finally in April Blood was asked to request home leave and transfer to State Department.
"In other words, I was being dismissed from my post in Dacca," Blood writes. "…It came as no surprise after the dissent cable."
However, nine months later Blood was proven correct in exposing the Pakistan genocide with the birth of a new nation – Bangladesh.