DALLAS, January 9, 2013 – The letter in my inbox from Captain Yasin Türker came the day after Washington’s Misplaced Support for Turkey’s Erdogan ran here. It was a simple plea for justice, an appeal to the international community from a man sentenced to 16 years in a Turkish military prison. It had to be hard, really hard, for this proud Turkish solider to write that letter asking us foreigners for help, but this is what the authoritarian tactics of the current Turkish government have resulted in - Turkish soldiers appealing to the international community for aid. In plain English, hell has frozen over.
Today, the Office of the President of the Turkish Joint Chiefs of Staff issued a statement that will continue to fuel the fires of conspiracy in the case that may turn out to be an embarrassment for the Erdogan’s AKP. On September 22, 2012 the court handed down convictions for 328 of the 365 defendants, mostly generals and senior officers, in the “Sledgehammer” (Balyoz) case, an alleged plot to “crush” the elected government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) in a military coup back in 2003.
The statement from the Turkish Joint Chiefs of Staff came one month after the court’s reasoned decision of almost 1,500 pages was released December 5, 2012.
The reasoned decision said, “Our court was informed by the Office of the President of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that the original copies of the scanned documents found in the digital (files) seized at the Gölcük Naval Base, and from defendant Hakan Büyük in Eskişehir, could be found at the units in question.” Today, however, the military denied this claim in the strongest possible language.
The statement released by the Joint Chiefs of Staff today said,
“In response to a request from the Chief Istanbul State Prosecutor during the investigation phase of the case, the Office of the President of the Joint Chiefs of Staff sent a letter dated February 22, 2010 informing the Prosecutor that the Planning Seminar conducted at 1st Army Command did not have a section or attachment named ‘Sledgehammer Security Action Plan’, nor did it contain the ‘Oraj’ or ‘Suga’ action plans. However, the court’s reasoned decision says, ‘Our court was informed by the Office of the President of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that the original copies of the scanned documents found in the digital (files) seized at the Gölcük Naval Base, and from defendant Hakan Büyük in Eskişehir, could be found at the units in question.’ Based on this language, there have been claims in the media that the originals of all the evidence in the case exist and that they were sent to the court by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. These claims are false.”
The court’s reasoned decision said that the existence of the originals of the scanned documents, “refuted the opposing arguments of the defendants regarding the veracity of the evidence and led to a firm conviction being formed on the court.” The only problem is that the originals don’t exist!
This is only the latest in a long string of inconsistencies in the case, which has been appealed and will be heard by the Turkish Supreme Court of Appeals. Meanwhile, some of the defendants, such as Captain Yasin Türker, formerly with the Turkish Navy and now serving in the Maltepe Military Prison, are appealing to international justice. Petitions have been submitted to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions and the European Court of Human Rights.
In a letter to various foreign news agencies, Türker said, “Before being accused, I was never aware of the files and lists, nor consented to the inclusion of my name in any such list. In fact, during the period in which these files were created I was in hospital for an operation and subsequently on medical leave.”
The main evidence in the trial consists of digital files on CDs, which were withheld from the defense for 22 months. Turkish, American and German forensic experts and universities have concluded that the CDs allegedly created in 2003 are indeed forged because they contain the digital fingerprint of Microsoft Word 2007 and the font Calibri, which did not exist in 2003. There are numerous other anachronisms and inconsistencies, such as names of hospitals that did not exist until after the fact.
The “We’re On Duty Now” Platform (Vardiya Bizde) has obtained 23 separate scientific expert witness reports showing that the evidence used in the trial has been fabricated. The European Union parliament committee on foreign affairs addressed the Sledgehammer case in its 2011 progress report on Turkey, noting that it was “concerned about the allegations regarding the use of inconsistent evidence against the defendants in these cases,” and by the use of “mass trials.”
Violations of Due Process
The court not only refused to investigate the authenticity of the evidence submitted by the prosecution, it also refused to call the defendant’s witnesses, most notably two key witnesses, former Commander of Land Forces, General Aytaç Yalman, and former Chief of General Staff, General Hilmi Özkök. Statements from both of these men were used by the prosecution as evidence against the defendants. The defense insisted that the men take the stand to clarify the context of their statements under oath, claiming that this would exonerate their clients. The court denied them this right.
According to Captain Türker, the court refused only one request from the prosecution but granted only six of the 980 requests made by the defense. The court also refused to permit the defense to cross-examine the experts called by the prosecution.
It makes one wonder what part of “fair trial” got lost in the translation of the European Convention on Human Rights to which Turkey is a signatory?
It makes one wonder who is wielding the sledgehammer in this case. Secularists have long maintained that the Sledgehammer case is being used to crush the military’s power.
The future of Turkish democracy
Erdogan’s AKP came to power in a stunning landslide victory in 2002, a victory won while he was still banned from political life in his own country. The ban was handed down by the secular military establishment, which also gave him a ten-month prison sentence for reading a poem. Yes, the Turkish military has been known to be a bit heavy handed in the past.
In the first few years of his administration, rumors and speculation about a possible military coup were common. Still, Erdogan implemented a series of stop-gap measures that alleviated some of the country’s pressing human rights problems and even promised a new constitution to ensure much-needed and long-overdue democratic reforms.
Many in the West have expressed great hope that Erdogan’s ‘moderate Islam’, a term he himself disavows, can be a model for other Muslim nations. God knows the region needs an ideology that can sculpt something beautiful out of the dark, bloody stone of the Middle East. And so far, Erdogan’s strong, forceful leadership has proven to be not only popular with his own people but with many other countries in the region.
Yet, there is truth in the old Turkish proverb. “Beauty cannot be achieved by force.” Sledgehammers are not good tools for carving out open, democratic societies characterized by liberty, justice and equality. And innocent men should not be sacrificed to make a point.
Luke Montgomery, author of A Deceit To Die For, lived in the Middle East for over a decade. He holds an MA in Linguistics, speaks fluent Turkish and writes on foreign policy, religion and culture. You can follow his work at www.lukemontgomery.net, or find him on Twitter at @LookingFor_Luke and on Facebook.
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