Pieces of History

How would one make a choice, a correct one, without an all round appreciation of one’s own history? How can one find his own place in the handed down history and determine steps of the future without actually breathing and living it? Compilations like this, at least to an extent, are expected to facilitate that process of reckoning while the facts are still verifiable […]

On 8 September 2010, International Crimes Strategy Forum (ICSF), as part of its ongoing documentation work, has released an E-book that documents news-coverage of 1971 Liberation War of Bangladesh in the US electronic media. The 363-page edited compilation is based on ICSF member MMR Jalal’s rigorous archive research, providing abstracts and details of the broadcast-footage from three US TV channels, namely, CBS, NBC and ABC. Divided in three parts, the E-Book covers the period between March and December 1971. A downloadable pdf version of the book has been made available to the public through ICSF’s fully digitised E-Library 1971 . Compiled mainly to facilitate acquisition of original copies of the news footage from their source, it is expected to be an useful resource in the study of 1971 history.

Roles and contributions of individuals, groups and institutions during and after the Liberation War always had a special place in Bangladesh’s history and politics. Historical facts, including their distortions, have supplied the fuel on which party politics in Bangladesh thrived. As can be expected, distortions of historical facts and revisionist constructions played a potent role in perpetuating divisiveness. Two whole generations of Bangladeshi men and women have grown up, either not knowing their true history, or knowing its tampered version. Between these two groups, a cynical group of young Bangladeshis has also emerged, who learned to not care at all, or at least to be ever skeptical of any version of history. Politics is not perfect in this country, it seldom is in any country. People are not without flaws, they seldom are in any society. But even in the midst of all imperfections, all controversies – there comes a time in a nation’s life when every citizen is faced with the challenge of making a choice. 40 long years after the crimes of war (ie, International Crimes) have been originally committed in 1971 against our people, a justice process has finally started to bring an end to impunity, to bring closure. Now is, by all definitions, one of those crucial times in our history that we are witnessing being unfold as a nation. There are many, particularly in the younger generation, who have already begun to view this justice process as something of an “unfinished task” of the Liberation War. While the spirit is commendable, we also need to realise – it is easy to use war-time rhetoric, but difficult to join one, as that requires taking a stand. But how would one make a choice, a correct one, without an all round appreciation of one’s own history? How can one find his own place in the handed down history and determine steps of the future without actually breathing and living it? Compilations like this, at least to an extent, are expected to facilitate that process of reckoning while the facts are still verifiable.

As a starting point, this compilation of media-reports confirms some of the crucial historical facts and sheds light on some that are less known. It also provides evidence and references that may be helpful to set the records straight against the misconceptions and onslaught of revisionist propaganda that have taken root in our political arena over the decades. While the compilation presents only a fractional picture of 1971 as viewed through the eyes of a particular section of foreign media, it is nevertheless useful. The following is a list of facts that emerges from the entries of the E-Book compilation:

1. 1971 War was an “international war”, not a “civil war”

From a Statehood perspective of international law, it is significant how the 1971 war is categorised as a conflict, as that would dictate the range of legal norms applicable to the conflict and the atrocities. Media footage reveals, even long before the military crackdown by West Pakistan, by mid-March 1971, East Pakistan’s political autonomy became established and evident. International media already started to report about Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s “political power autonomy in the East”1. There were already talks about preparations for guerrilla style warfare against West Pakistan, if situation calls2. This particular fact goes  to the very heart of Bangladesh’s Statehood debate which presents the whole period of Liberation War in a new, and perhaps a more accurate light. The fact of this “political power autonomy” affirms – the Liberation War of 1971 was indeed an international war between two separate countries, that was, between Pakistan and Bangladesh, and was definitely not a civil war or a separatist movement between two parts of the same country. The historical fact that political monopoly shifted to East Pakistan’s administration with absolute support from its populace, combined with the fact that independent Bangladesh started its journey through the Mujibnagar Government should eradicate all misconceptions regarding the nature of the conflict. Bangladesh’s emergence as a sovereign State effectively makes the West Pakistanis an invading force, and therefore, in serious breach of international law norms. Interestingly, even in those early days, some media reports correctly described West Pakistani army as the “invaders”3.

2. Declaration of independence

Even early dispatches in the international media on the events of 26 March confirms that it was Sheikh Mujibur Rahman who declared the region an “independent republic”4. There was no attribution, and correctly so, to any Army Major’s or local AL leader’s radio announcements, since those announcements did not deserve any more historical significance than did ABC/CBS newsreaders’ evening broadcasts, as far as the credit of declaring independence is concerned. Unfortunately, this rather straight forward historical fact (and its subsequent distortion) continued to remain one of the contended issues in Bangladesh’s politics, until the Supreme Court intervened to set the historical record straight5.

3. Refugee situation

By the end of April, pleading for international aid, Indian government sources reported at least 260,000 refugees fleeing from West Pakistan’s carnage and destruction and taking shelter in Indian refugee camps6. By early June, media reports estimated the number of refugees to be between three to five millions7. By the time Indira Gandhi met President Nixon in November, the total number of refugees reached 9 millions8. There were reports of Cholera epidemic in the Indian refugee camps9 for which urgent appeals for foreign aid were made from a number of international quarters. There were also reports on US Senator Edward Kennedy’s high-profile visit to the refugee camps in August inspecting the situation. His visa was eventually cancelled by the Pakistani government for his stinging criticism of Pakistani atrocities, and perhaps to prevent further inquiries on his part10.

4. Evidence of genocide and massacre perpetrated by Pakistan Army

Immediately after the military crackdown by West Pakistan army of 25 March, all foreign reporters were expelled from East Pakistan11. Reports of mass killings still came out of the region prompting response even from the UN at such an early stage of the genocide12. US State Department ordered evacuation of all US personnel from East Pakistan13, and it was they who carried the early news of genocide as they recounted their experience of witnessing deadbodies of civilians shot dead in thousands14. One such eye witness (Leon Lumsden) described witnessing five Bengali civilians being executed by members of West Pakistan army15. Even in the early days of war, one House of Commons member from Britain, upon return from his visit to the Indian refugee camps, clearly accused West Pakistan army of “murder and terror”16. Reports on casualty figures varied17, but the patterns of genocide and systematic rapes were evident. One news footage quoted a West Pakistani military officer bragging how they intend to feed the deadbodies of Muktibahini members to the dogs and of taking beautiful mistresses from East Pakistan18. It was only after two months since the beginning of the atrocities when some foreign reporters were allowed re-entry to East Pakistan19. Through their reports, the real extent of atrocities began to emerge as can be noted in one early May report claiming the casualty figure to be at least 400,00020. Reports revealed how the Pakistani army as part of their terrorising policy destroyed villages (eg, Nalchanda in one report) near scenes of MuktiBahini activities21. By the end of November, MuktiBahini took control of more areas. This facilitated greater access to the international media in those areas. From that point on, media reports began to unearth the true extent of the carnage and killings by the Pakistani army22. Shorthand abstract of one such report read:

Govt. troops came in village in Dacca area at sunset and carried out burning and killing of Mukti Bahini or their sympathizers. 75 killed, including, women and children. All women reported raped and husbands and children made to watch before they died. Bodies shown.23

Referring to the extent of shocking brutality and its impact on the villagers who survived, Howard Tuckner, ABC’s journalist, concluded his on-site report with the comment: “If they were not Muktibahini guerillas before, they almost certainly will be now”24. After Pakistan’s surrender on 16 December, more evidence of genocide began to surface as a result of discovery of the mass-graves and killing fields. Even early post-war media-reports confirmed the killing of prominent intellectuals, a vengeful operation that was carried out by Pakistani Army with the aid of their local collaborators (eg, Al-Badr) shortly before the war’s end. This operation involved abduction and killing of hundreds of university teachers, doctors, engineers, journalists, editors and artists25.

5. Weapons aiding genocide

On the one hand, United States protested use of US made arms by Pakistan military against the Muktibahini26 which seemed consistent with its decision to ban arms shipment to Pakistan27. On the other hand the State Department, rather inconsistently, kept defending28 shipment of arms to Pakistan from New York City Harbour on mere technical grounds, possibly to honour its own side of bargain according to the existing military-aid agreement29. All these shipments took place30 at a time when it already became well known that West Pakistani army was carrying out genocide in Bangladesh. There were also demonstrations in New Delhi against arms shipments31. Indira Gandhi criticised H Kissinger for shipment of US arms to Pakistan32. Nixon Administration’s support for Pakistan’s genocide and arms shipment also received criticism in the US media33. In mid-October, US Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted to implement a 20% cut in military-aid which effectively killed all such aid to Pakistan34. Around November, perhaps due to all the protests and criticisms from different corners, US government halted some shipments of arms to West Pakistan35, but there were no media reports to suggest that such shipments were halted altogether. One early December report discloses US State Department’s decision to halt sale of ammunition to India as well36, which reveals that US had been selling arms to all sides in the conflict.

6. Diplomatic and strategic positions at the world political stage

Communist China pledged support, including military aid, to West Pakistan in the early weeks of Pakistani invasion37. USSR leaders Brezhnev and Podgorny criticised West Pakistan for civilian bloodshed in the East38. 14 Pakistani diplomats, including Counselor SAMS Kibria, resigned their posts in USA39. US State Department offered political asylum to the diplomats on condition of not running any foreign mission for independent Bangladesh government40. Diplomatic personnel in India, Switzerland and Japan from Pakistan’s foreign missions also resigned their posts protesting West Pakistan army’s civilian murders in the East Pakistan41. In early December, India stood as the first country to officially recognise Bangladesh as an independent Republic, a step that was followed by US State Department’s retaliatory suspension of all economic and military aid to India except refugee assistance42. By that time, it became apparent that Pakistan was losing the war. It was only then the USA and China moved for a UN Security Council Resolution for cease fire. USSR vetoed43. During this period, China’s strained relationship with Soviet Union on the matter of East Pakistan, despite the states’ ideological affinity, became more pronounced44. In the middle of December, there were news that both China and USA assigned separate naval fleet, overtly to rescue foreign nationals, and covertly to aid evacuation of Pakistani soldiers45. By the end of December, cracks appeared in Anglo-American relation as well. Britain turned to Europe and together with France refused to support US position on Indo-Pak war in the Western front46.

7. Conspiracies against independent Bangladesh

After surrender of the Pakistani forces, Yahya Khan resigned. Bhutto assumed power and promised “vengeance”47. Apparently the promise was not an empty one, as the footage showed new military training camps in Rawalpindi. This probably marked the beginning of the conspiracies that were hatched against independent Bangladesh even in those early hours of Pakistan’s defeat. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman along with the four top nationalist leaders were eventually assassinated in 1975 by an ISI-CIA backed military coup48 in an attempt to reverse what the liberation movement stood for.

I strongly recommend reading through the entries in this E-Book as it contains many oddly interesting but forgotten anecdotes of that time. There are also some very interesting news items that illustrate that beyond the corridors of power politics and diplomatic intrigues, ordinary citizens of many different countries also came forward and lent their support to the cause of Bangladesh’s liberation. Many of these contributions, at times, were perilous to their own life and liberty. Notable of these instances are: stealing of Jan Vermeer’s painting ‘The Love Letter’ by a Belgian steward who held it in ransom to raise $4m for the refugees49. Or the story of Jean Quai, a Frenchman, who attempted to hijack a jet liner to raise medical supplies for the refugees50. There were also Americans like Richard Taylor and his comrades who, in order to block shipment of military equipments to Pakistan, bravely organised protests with mere canoes, kayaks and rubber boats to stop loading and unloading of one large naval vessel in an American harbour.

And there is more.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article or in the comment section are those of the respective authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of International Crimes Strategy Forum (ICSF).
  1. NBC Evening News, 2, 9 and 15 March 1971; ABC Evenening News, 19 March 1971 []
  2. ABC Evening News, March 25 1971 []
  3. See: Howard Tuckner’s report on ABC Evening News, 7 December 1971 []
  4. ABC Evening News, 26 March 1971; CBS Evening News, 26 March 1971; NBC Evening News, 26 March 1971. This point has been further elaborated in a published piece jointly prepared by MMR Jalal and Mashuqur Rahman. link to be added []
  5. See- Dr M A Salam vs. Bangladesh (Declaration of Independence Case), Writ Petition No. 2577/2009 (2009). The High Court Division’s judgement can be downloaded from ICSF’s E-Library through this link []
  6. CBS Evening News, 21 April and 16 May 1971. []
  7. CBS Evening News, 9 June 1971; NBC Evening News, 7 June 1971 []
  8. ABC Evening News, 4 November 1971 []
  9. NBC Evening News, 7 June 1971; ABC Evening News, 8 and 15 June 1971; CBS Evening News, 9 and 14 June 1971 []
  10. CBS Evening News, 10 and 11 August 1971 []
  11. ABC Evening News, 29 March 1971 []
  12. NBC Evening News, 29 March 1971 []
  13. ABC Evening News, 31 March 1971 []
  14. ABC Evening News, 7 April 1971; CBS Evening News, 7 and 9 April 1971 []
  15. NBC Evening News, 9 April 1971 []
  16. NBC Evening News, 23 April 1971 []
  17. ABC Evening News, 29 March 1971 []
  18. CBC Evening News, 12 April 1971 []
  19. CBS Evening News, 25 June 1971 []
  20. CBC Evening News, 12 May 1971 []
  21. ABC Evening News, 19 August 1971 []
  22. ABC Evening News, 22 and 30 November, 3 December 1971 []
  23. ABC Evening News, 30 November 1971 []
  24. ABC Evening News, 30 November 1971 []
  25. NBC Evening News, 20 December 1971 []
  26. ABC Evening News, 7 April 1971 []
  27. CBS Evening News, 22 June 1971 []
  28. CBS Evening News, 22 June 1971 []
  29. see also: CBS Evening News, 10 August 1971 []
  30. NBC Evening News, 19 July 1971 []
  31. CBS Evening News, 24 June 1971; ABC Evening News, 25 June 1971 []
  32. ABC Evening News, 7 July 1971; CBS Evening News, 7 July 1971 []
  33. ABC Evening News, 13 July 1971 []
  34. CBS Evening News, 14 October 1971 []
  35. ABC Evening News, 4 November 1971; CBS Evening News, 4 November 1971 []
  36. CBS Evening News, 1 and 3 December 1971 []
  37. ABC Evening News, 12 April and 24 November 1971; CBS Evening News, 12 April and 1 May 1971; NBC Evening News, 12 April 1971 []
  38. ABC Evening News, 12 April 1971 []
  39. ABC Evening News, 4 August 1971; CBS Evening News, 4 August 1971 []
  40. ABC Evening News, 5 August 1971 []
  41. ABC Evening News, 2 November 1971 []
  42. ABC Evening News, 6 December 1971; CBS Evening News, 6 December 1971 []
  43. NBC Evening News, 5 December 1971; ABC Evening News, 7 December 1971; CBS Evening News, 7 December 1971 []
  44. ABC Evening News, 9 December 1971; NBC Evening News, 27 October 1971; CBS Evening News, 17 December 1971 []
  45. ABC Evening News, 13 and 14 December 1971 []
  46. ABC Evening News, 21 December 1971 []
  47. ABC Evening News, 20 December 1971 []
  48. For details on this, read L Lipshulz. []
  49. CBS Evening News, 4 and 6 October 1971; NBC Evening News, 6 October 1971 []
  50. Jean Quai hijacked a PIA flight in Orly Airport (Paris). ABC Evening News, 3 December 1971; CBS Evening News, 3 December 1971; NBC Evening News, 3 December 1971. Quai was, eventually captured by police while the plane was boarded with tons of medical supplies that were voluntarily provided by many aid agencies. []


  1. আলতাফ হোসেন Reply

    খুবই গুরুত্বপূর্ণ ও কাজে লাগাবার উপযুক্ত এইসব দলিল। আশা করি যথাজায়গায় পৌঁছবে। অভিনন্দন রায়হান রশিদকে।

    1. Rayhan Rashid Reply

      ধন্যবাদ, আলতাফ হোসেন। আশা করি ICSF এর এই ব্লগটি নিয়মিত পড়বেন। আমাদের চেষ্টা থাকবে বিচার প্রক্রিয়ার সাথে জড়িত কৌশলগত বিষয়গুলো নিয়মিত কাভার করার।

      ই-বুকটি সংশ্লিষ্ট কর্তৃপক্ষের কাছে পৌঁছে দেয়া হয়েছে। আমেরিকার ৩টি টিভি চ্যানেল থেকে প্রয়োজনীয় ফুটেজগুলো সংগ্রহের কাজও ICSF এর পক্ষ থেকে সমন্বয় করে এবং সেই সব দুর্লভ ফুটেজ সংশ্লিষ্ট কর্তৃপক্ষের কাছে পৌঁছে দেয়া হয়েছে। আমাদের গবেষণা টিমের স্বেচ্ছাসেবকরা সেই সব ফুটেজ বিশ্লেষণ করে তার ফলাফলও হস্তান্তর করেছে। এখন শুধু আশা করছি এই তথ্যগুলোর পূর্ণ সদ্ব্যবহার করতে সক্ষম হবেন সংশ্লিষ্ট ব্যক্তিবৃন্দ।

  2. Sharmin Ahmad Reply

    ICSF is a crucial addition to learning about the liberation war and history of 1971. It provides untainted facts for readers to form clear perspectives about this remarkable period in history. I extend my heartfelt thanks and best wishes to ICSF staff, dedicated volunteers and specially MMR Jalal for their diligent work in bringing the truth to light.

    1. Rayhan Rashid Reply

      Thank you for your kind comment. The E-Library site is currently going through a major reconstruction so the links are at present not operational. Let us get back to you asap with the documents you requested. Until then please bear with us.

      1. Shipu Chowdhury Reply

        Dear Rayhan Rashid:
        Thanks a bunch for your prompt response. It is deeply appreciated.
        Any idea of approximate time-frame when I should check back?

  3. Shipu Chowdhury Reply

    Dear ICSF/Rayhan Rashid:

    Recently I had a full hard-disk crash and lost everything. I suffered because I procrastinated and did not do a backup for quite some time. I could not remember this ICSF site and after looking here and there, I once-again luckily stumbled upon the great ICSF site and could re-connect back to my previous queries and just now saw your response to my earlier queries. I’m delighted to get these documents that I have been waiting for a very long…long time. Thank you Sir.

    …but Waiit…I’m still unable to get the documents.
    As I click on the links or try to downlaod them, I get “sorry. you don’t have necessary permission to download”

    Also, I tried to register as a member and the process seemed to be successful asking me to activate from link provided in an e-mail sent to the e-mail address that I provided during regostration. However, I checked my inbox and junk foldres but did not get any such e-mail. Maybe this is related to the ongoing work with the ICSF site. Your kind advise regarding this is appreciated.

    1. Rayhan Rashid Reply

      It should work now. Sorry for the inconvenience.

  4. Shipu Chowdhury Reply

    Today….finally….eventually….I got it!
    Thanks to Mr. Rayhan Rashid.

    I would like to be a memeber of the site and maybe I can somewhat contribute remotely. Please let me know how as I tried to register as a member but got not conformation/activation e-mail.

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Archive I: Media Archive

Archives news reports, opinions, editorials published in different media outlets from around the world on 1971, International Crimes Tribunal and the justice process.

Archive II: ICT Documentation

For the sake of ICT’s legacy this documentation project archives, and preserves proceeding-documents, e.g., judgments, orders, petitions, timelines.

Archive III: E-Library

Brings at fingertips academic materials in the areas of law, politics, and history to facilitate serious research on 1971, Bangladesh, ICT and international justice.

Archive IV: Memories

This archive records from memory the nine-month history of 1971 as experienced and perceived by individuals from all walks of life.