Date posted: March 3, 2014
ALİ H. ASLAN
The harshest explicit criticisms against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government’s latest efforts to undermine democracy and the judiciary have been voiced by the US Department of State in its annual human rights report issued on Feb. 27, 2014. The Obama administration described the developments following a Dec. 17, 2013 anti-corruption operation in Turkey as a “scandal.” The Erdoğan government, which makes a new scandalous action every day, has so far effectively taken over the judiciary thanks to new legislation, freed all suspects of the corruption investigation from jail and is about the lose its legitimacy and credibility in the international arena. It’s gradually becoming a burden on the shoulders of Turkey and even undermining national security.
Although US President Barack Obama agreed to speak with Erdoğan over the phone after six months, as a result of the Turkish government’s insistent demands, this does not mean that Obama approves all actions of Erdoğan’s government. Obama spoke with Erdoğan because of Turkey’s strategic importance in the region, not to lend political support to Erdoğan’s government. The US needs Turkey’s position in the region, especially in terms of the Syria, Iraq and Cyprus issues. In the future, Obama may talk to Erdoğan over the phone in order to discuss the recent developments in Ukraine as well, because the US can speak to, cooperate with and even establish alliances with strict, repressive regimes if its interests are in question. For example, the Obama administration does not refuse to speak with the king of Saudi Arabia, which has been performing poorly in the area of human rights, in order to protect the nation’s crucial economic and security interests. Although the US has not fallen in love with the military regime in Egypt, they still maintain strong relations. The same applied for the military tutelage in Turkey.
If Erdoğan complained to Obama about Gülen
Despite Erdoğan’s request that the US not comment on Turkey’s domestic affairs, the statement made by the White House said, “Obama and Erdoğan discussed the need for strong, sustainable and balanced growth in the global economy, and the President noted the importance of sound policies rooted in the rule of law to reassure the financial markets, nurture a predictable investment environment, strengthen bilateral ties, and benefit the future of Turkey.” And it seems that Obama did not choose a soft approach while saying these things. Circles close to the Turkish government were disturbed by the image of Erdoğan being chided by Obama, and the pro-government media published news reports claiming the following: Erdoğan told Obama that Turkey does not interfere in the US’ internal affairs but that the US is hosting someone — Fethullah Gülen — who is interfering in internal Turkish affairs. Obama reportedly replied, “I got the message.” The White House has neither confirmed nor denied this. However, I think that if Erdoğan desperately complained to Obama about a civil society and opinion leader without providing any legal justification for his complaints, then his credibility in the eyes of Obama must have further eroded.
I suppose the prime minister did not ask Obama to send a warplane to Pennsylvania, where Gülen currently resides, and shower bombs over the religious scholar. According to the information leaked to the press, the government has rolled up its sleeves to request the extradition of Gülen. Sources in Washington say the US administration also expects Turkey to make such a move. There is no crime attributed to Gülen and no investigation or court ruling against him. But one thing is certain: It is almost impossible that the US will respond positively to the Turkish government’s demand that Gülen be extradited. None of my sources in Washington have said something that might give hope to Erdoğan on this issue.
Gülen was residing in the US during the trials launched against him; he was accused of “leading a terrorist organization” during the Feb. 28, 1997 post-modern coup process. Within the scope of an agreement between Turkey and the US on judicial cooperation, he offered his defense through the US Department of Justice and was acquitted. Now we are going through an interim regime that is no different from the Feb. 28 process. This time, those who claim to be religious people are attacking Gülen, and their claims are no different from those of the old coup supporters.
Now Gülen is a green-card holder; in other words, his permanent residence has been approved. Thus, comparing this process to that of Feb. 28, he has more legal rights in the US. In theory, the US can also extradite green-card holders to their countries. In cases where the act in question is considered a crime under the laws of both the US and the country of the green-card holder, the offense is not a political one, there are no concerns about a fair trial and the political authority agrees to do so, extradition can take place. Under these conditions, it’s almost certain that the Turkish government’s demand for Gülen to be extradited will go up in smoke.
Extradition seems difficult with this poor judicial system
The extradition treaty between Turkey and the US is not completely binding because, as a result of the principle of national sovereignty, each government has the right to make its own decision on the extradition of a person. One of the most important articles of the treaty states, “Extradition shall not be granted: If the offense for which extradition is requested is regarded by the Requested Party to be of a political character or an offense connected with such an offense; or if the Requested Party concludes that the request for extradition has, in fact, been made to prosecute or punish the person sought for an offense of a political character or on account of his political opinions.” Howard Eissenstat, a Turkey specialist at the US’ St. Lawrence University, says: “I can’t imagine Turkey would want this being determined by an American court.” Why? Because the Turkish justice system has a bad image in the US.
As a matter of fact, the US State Department’s latest human rights report clearly shows how the US perceives the state of the judiciary in Turkey. In the report, a large chapter is dedicated to explaining how the judiciary in Turkey is being politicized, how politically motivated arrests have been conducted and how politically motivated lawsuits have been launched. “Of particular note, law enforcement and the judiciary were subject to executive branch influence as the government reassigned thousands of police and prosecutors during the December 17 anti-corruption operation and subsequent scandal,” said the annual human rights report. In other words, this is not an image that Turkey can feel proud of.
If the Erdoğan government, which has crowned its authoritarianism with the corruption scandals and judicial interventions, requests Gülen’s extradition from the US, it will further bring shame to its name. They should thank God that they are ruling a country that is strategically very important. Otherwise — let alone discuss the extradition of a hero of peace and faith — democratic Western countries would not even return their greetings.
Source: Todays Zaman , March 3, 2014