Date posted: August 5, 2016
Legal team for US-based cleric accused by Turkey’s president of orchestrating coup also says it ‘would bet any money’ intelligence agencies are monitoring him.
Lawyers representing Fethullah Gülen, the US-based cleric accused by Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of orchestrating the failed 15 July coup attempt, have said that they fear attacks against his life and suggested that multiple intelligence agencies – including American ones – have long been monitoring his electronic communications.
“We’re very concerned about his safety,” said Reid Weingarten, a member of Gülen’s legal team, at a press conference on Friday in Washington DC.
The Turkish government has informally requested that Gülen be returned to Turkey, though the US cannot initiate extradition proceedings until formal charges were brought against the cleric.
On Thursday, an Istanbul court issued a warrant for Gülen’s arrest, accusing him of orchestrating the attempted coup, which resulted in at least 238 deaths and led to the dismissal of tens of thousands of public servants.
Now that the warrant has been issued, the US Department of Justice will assess the evidence against him and determine whether, as the extradition treaty requires, the laws Gülen is accused of breaking are compatible with US legislation.
Gülen has lived in rural Pennsylvania since 1999, but does not have US citizenship.
Weingartern repeated Gülen’s denials that he was involved in the attempted coup attempt and suggested that the Turkish government’s evidence will fall far short of American legal standards. “For Mr Gülen to be involved, he would have to be acting inconsistent with everything he’s done his entire adult life,” he said.
He also said that Gülen’s supporters believe that all electronic communications in and out the cleric’s compound have probably been monitored for years, but no evidence of criminal activity had been revealed.
“I would bet a lot of money that there are probably three or four intelligence agencies that capture every electronic communication that comes out of the compound in Pennsylvania,” said Weingarten. “I would guess – and it’s an educated guess – that one or two of those intelligence agencies are ours.
“I bet if there were communications that Mr Gülen has assisted with wrongdoing, we would know about it,” he said, adding that the US director of national intelligence, James Clapper, has said that no such evidence exists.
“I’m also guessing that if the United States had evidence of Mr Gülen’s involvement with the coup or anyone whatsoever, their instinct would be to share it with the Turks,” Weingarten said.
Gülen and his Hizmet movement were once close allies of Erdoğan and his Justice and Development (AK) party, but relations have steadily deteriorated since the mid-2000s.
Weingarten said that he and his colleagues at Steptoe & Johnson had begun representing Gülen in 2014, as the Turkish government began making allegations that the lawyers viewed as “absurd”.
“On one day, Mr Gülen would be a protege of Osama bin Laden. On the next day, he was a Mossad agent. The day after that, he was sympathetic to Isis. The day after that, he was a cardinal for the pope,” he said. “Since [the coup], from our perspective, the crazy allegations only increased.”
Turkish officials have warned that a failure to extradite Gülen would have long-term consequences for Turkish-US diplomatic relations, but Weingarten stressed that extradition is a legal process, not a political one.
“In extradition proceedings, evidence matters, and due process matters,” he said.
That due process would have to begin with a determination from the Department of Justice that Gülen was eligible for extradition, after which the cleric would be allowed hearings in federal court to determine whether the evidence against him constituted probable cause for that extradition.
If the courts did find that the Turkish government had established probable cause, the US state department would have to certify that Gülen would face a fair trial if returned to Turkey.
Turkey is a Nato member and is seen by the US as a key ally in the fight against Isis, but Weingarten said he did not think that US foreign policy interests would trump the rule of law. “We understand and believe that the people making the decisions in the United States government know full well what the rules are and we have entire confidence in them that they will act appropriately,” he said.
But, he noted: “Britain has used rendition. The United States has used rendition. And once he’s on the plane, he’s gone.”
Source: The Guardian , August 5, 2016