Vol. 5 Num 985 Thu. March 08, 2007  

The truth, twisting in the wind

Major General Manzoor has been on my mind lately. The Manzoor of the morning of May 30, 1981. The man whose team assaulted Chittagong Circuit House with rocket launchers, made Ziaur Rahman's body jahjhra with bullets, in pursuit of another bloody coup. But also, the Manzoor of June 1, hiding in the tea garden coolie quarters, watching his rebellion fail as troops defected and crossed over into Suvapur, all his plans of starving Dhaka into submission falling apart.

What were the last thoughts that went through his head as he was dragged blindfolded into that army jeep? Regret? Fear? Shame? Or did he think, I didn't do this alone...I need to name names...

I remember hearing on the radio that Manzoor was captured. It seemed only moments later that another announcer said he was dead. How, when, why? The conventional narrative was that a group of angry troops surrounded the jeep and dragged him out -- "khunike payyachi!" Later he was found face-down in a drain, with a gaping hole in the back of his head. No sign of the mob.

The thing that sticks in my throat is the post-mortem report, signed by Lt. Col. A. Z. Tufail Ahmed (reproduced in Mascarenhas' book) -- "a big gaping hole 4"x2"" from a shot to the head and "no other injury on the body." A smooth one-bullet execution, and not a single achor on his body -- by an angry mob? No, somehow, something about it never seemed right.

No tears for Manzoor. But weep for the truth. Our history is littered with dead men -- Khalid Musharraf, Abu Taher, Mohammad Abul Manzoor -- always taking uncomfortable stories to the grave.

From 1972 onwards, this country was rocked by intrigue, agitation, and violence. Somehow we muddled through, and here we are, still standing, still shadhin. But who did what, who knew what, and who kept silent and watched? We don't even know what we don't know.

You're too skeptical, said a friend. Maybe the truth is exactly what we know. The public narrative is the only narrative. Maybe so, but at every wrenching historical turn, the people who planned intrigue always seem to conveniently die before they can name their partners. And when you read books about that period, every eyewitness is dead, or out of the country, or someone who has incentive to exaggerate or downplay his own role.

Manzoor has been on my mind again because of the JMB verdicts. After exhausting all legal channels, their request for clemency has now been turned down by President Iajuddin. The JMB convicts have repeatedly said they want to talk to the media and name their patrons, but Law Adviser Mainul Hosein said that won't be allowed, because there's no precedent.

If nothing else changes, they will hang by April, and I bet there won't be outraged reactions from rights activists (the same people who were shocked by the Saddam snuff video). Personally, I've always opposed the death penalty -- it does nothing for justice but everything for our bloodlust and revenge mentality. But that's not even where I'm coming from today, I want these men to be spared, because we need to get to the whole truth.

Let's just spell it out. Do we really believe that a fantastically well-coordinated, accurately planned, micro-second timed, nationwide bombing campaign in 64 districts was pulled off by this small group of "radical Islamist" cells? Do we really believe that the government, after denying the existence of militant groups for so long, suddenly transformed into an ultra-efficient Swat team that managed to scoop up the entire militant ring, as soon as international pressure became a bit too much?

All that chatter about the new breed of suicide bombers, ready to blow themselves up to establish khilafat, and suddenly they all surrendered? How come none of those bagha bomaroos blew themselves up when the police surrounded them? The government was so sure that things would go according to plan, a three-ring circus of TV cameras was even invited along to capture every moment of Bangla Bhai's capture. And thrilled by "breaking news" coverage, we forgot to ask any hard questions.

Like, where are the real puppetmasters?

The JMB captures are super-convenient for all concerned. Attacks on cultural functions? Machete attacks on Humayun Azad and Shamsur Rahman? Mysterious Chittagong arms drop? Forget all that. We've got JMB, all is well. An all-purpose monster under the bed, the solution is also childlike simplicity -- hang 'em high, and we can have shonar Bangla back.

In a country where bureaucracy moves at molasses pace, and cases can hang in court for years, why did the JMB case get such speedy treatment? Why the mad rush to hang them before the caretaker government took office? After a BNP MP's explosive allegation of links between JMB and high-ups in BNP, and press reporting of the same, Advocate Z.I. Khan Panna filed a Public Interest Litigation (WP No. 8621 of 2005), asking that investigations regarding the bomb attacks also take into account such allegations.

After the High Court gave a positive direction to the police and others to extend the range of investigation, the former Attorney General A.J. Mohammad Ali, on behalf of the 4-Party Alliance, appealed and got a stay order from the Appellate Division. What are they all so afraid of? And whatever happened to FBI, Singapore, Interpol, and Scotland Yard investigation reports, results of searches and seizures, information gathered by investigating officers, sources of supply of weapons, financing source investigations, etc. None of those were ever made public.

The death penalty is wrong on humanistic grounds, but also tactically in this case, because it chokes off the investigation trail. There is still time for this CTG to commute the sentences to life imprisonment, make public all documents from investigations to date, and continue interrogating them, through neutral, non-partisan investigation officers -- until we get to the whole truth.

Maybe some people are lusting to see bearded faces turn black and blue, tongues bulging out, twisting in the wind. Mar shala gulo ke. The truth would be the real casualty. Once again, chuno putis would die, while puppetmasters roam free.

Naeem Mohaiemen does film/art/text interventions in Dhaka and New York.