The martial law regime of Bangladesh has executed either 217 rebels or somewhat more than the officially acknowledged 37, depending on which State Department document you read.

The disrepancy illustrates some of the complexities and contradictions in the human rights reporting process which has been established by the Carter administration.

In its long-awaited human rights reports, released yesterday by Congress, the State Department quoted the regime in Dacca as having executed 37 rebels following an abortive coup attempt last Oct. 2.

"We believe there may have been others," the report stated.


However, in a confidential cable to the State Department on Jan. 19, the charge d'affaires of the U.S. embassy in Dacca wrote, "as has been reported in several channels, our best estimate, drawn from sources available to the embassy as a whole, is that 217 military personnel were executed in the aftermath" of the coup attempt.

Charge d'affiares Alf E. Bergesen also reported that "we think it is possible that 30-34 of these may have been executed prior to formalization of military courts." This supported reports by journalists in Dacca that forces loyal to President Ziaur Rahman had slain large numbers of suspected rebels without bringing them before courts-martial.

(The explanation for the discrepancy between the embassy's figure of 217 and the final report's mild "we believe there may have been others" beyond the officially acknowledged 37, supposedly is a technical one.

The deadline for the report being placed before Congress was Jan. 31. And, according to an informed source, the embassy cable, which reached the State department on Jan. 19, was too late for inclusion.

"The discrepancy deals more with timing than anything else," the source said. "If we were rewriting it again, we would be obliged to check the figures again and use the 217 if it checked out."

The Bangladesh section, as most other country reports in the final document, was originally drafted several months ago. It subsequently was submitted to elaborate clearance procedures and repeated rewriting.

"We redid various aspects for style, format and substance many times," the source said. "I'm not certain what was the last time, but it was well before Jan. 19."

The disclaimer suggests rather strongly that other discrepancies, either intentional or accidental, exist in the massive, 105-nation report.

The confidential cable from the embassy in Dacca, copy of which was made available to The Washington Post, was sent in response to a State Department query regarding a report of widespread violations in Bangladesh by the London-based human rights organization, Amnesty International.

The organization also claimed tht the Bangladesh regime was holding between 10,000 and 15,000 political prisoners. The State Department report states that "while the Bangladesh government has never stated how many political prisoners it holds, we estimate that up to 2,000 remain incarcerated."

The embassy's cable was leaked in advance of the report's publication by a State Department source who said he believed the department would "try to cover up human rights violations" in Bangladesh.

Why the State Department should attempt such an alleged cover-up isn't clear. Although the United States has contributed well in excess of $1 billion in aid to the impoverished nation since its founding in 1971, officials continually stress that U.S. interests are "strictly humanitarian."

The 1978 aid budget for Bangladesh is $128,816,000 and the proposal for next year is $144,751,000 making Bangladesh the fourth largest recipient of aid for development purposes after