Monthly Archives: August 2011

My response to Mahcupyan

An article I wrote for the Times about the doctoring of evidence in the Sledgehammer trial has been widely picked up in the Turkish press (see previous posts on the issue here and here).

This is a very politically sensitive trial, and I was aware that I might be attacked in some sections of the media as a result of the article.

Even so, I was slightly taken aback to find myself compared to Norwegian terrorist and mass murderer Anders Breivik in a column by Etyen Mahcupyan in Today’s Zaman.

After accusing both the Economist (see their offending article here) and myself of showing ‘categorical bias, reminiscent of Brevik’, Mahcupyan went on to brand my story ‘disgusting’ and ‘offensive’.

Mahcupyan claims that the allegations in it are propaganda ‘concocted by the daughter and son-in-law of the number-one suspect’.

This is, simply, wrong. There is clear evidence, from independent sources, that elements of the Sledgehammer coup plot have been doctored.

Specifically, the CD containing most of the incriminating evidence in the trial was manipulated, apparently to augment the case against the defendants.

The creation date shown in the metadata of the CD in question was March 5, 2003, the starting date of a military seminar, a recording of which forms part of the evidence in the case, and which prosecutors claim was a coup rehearsal.

This date is confirmed by a police forensic report, a TUBITAK report, and in the indictment itself. It was even reported by Today’s Zaman.

If you’re looking at the indictment, which I hardly need point out was prepared by prosecutors, check page 60, the CD in question is number 11.

But CD 11 also contained lists of institutions and places, many of which did not exist on March 5, 2003. In some cases, they did not exist until up to six years later.

This can only mean that creation date shown on the CD was faked (easily done by changing the date settings on the computer used to burn it). 

For an example that proves this creation date was faked, look again at the indictment. Page 116 contains a citation of the main coup plan, found on CD 11, containing a reference to Turkiye Genclik Birligi, established May 19, 2006.

There are dozens of examples like this, and although it’s true that many were first exposed by defendants’ lawyers and family members, no one has disputed that the lists from which they are drawn are genuine.

Supporters of the trial more familiar with the details acknowledge that there may have been tampering.

When I interviewed him back in December, Emrullah Uslu (a Zaman columnist himself) suggested military officers may have tampered with the files as part of some internal plot. Henri Barkey thought it likely that officials in the judiciary may have fiddled with the evidence. See the story here.

There are, of course, the documents from the Golcuk naval base, which were discovered after these two interviews, and which Mahcupyan mentions.

But even if these do show that plans were updated, as Mahcupyan claims, they cannot alter the simple fact that the creation date of the original CD was faked.

Also, given the fact that the Golcuk documents are largely identical to the ones on the CD, and are all in the form of digital unsigned word files and spreadsheets, it is hard to see what makes them ‘originals’, or indeed what they add to the case at all.

Of course, people will fiercely debate the significance of these problems. Are we talking minor inconsistencies or outright fabrication? What does this say about the culture in the judiciary?

These are healthy and important questions to ask, and I don’t think anyone can dispute that there is an evidential basis for asking them.

What no doubt made Mahcupyan’s blood boil was that my story placed a strong emphasis on the problems with Sledgehammer.

I make no apology for this. The doubts over the Sledgehammer plot have been woefully under-reported in the international media, and I believe they need to have a proper airing.

As for Mahcupyan’s ‘Breivik’ claim, common sense tells me that I shouldn’t even waste my time refuting such an idiotic statement.

But then this is slander, and the assumption underlying his stupid comparison is even more offensive.

I’m proud to be part of a multi-cultural society (The UK). I’d also agree with Today’s Zaman that a racist fear of Islam has gained ground in Europe in recent years and that it needs to be exposed, analysed and fought (though the paper itself sometimes seems content simply to gloat about it).

More importantly, I did not write about the Sledgehammer case because I support the Turkish army, or because I fear the Islamist tendencies of the AKP.

I wrote about it because now that the army is a spent force, judicial and police corruption have, in my view, replaced it as the biggest threat to Turkish democracy.

What I believe the Sledgehammer, Ergenekon, and KCK trials suggest is that the judiciary and the police are rotten institutions deeply vulnerable to manipulation by the powers that be.

I’m not pretending that this is a new thing, but as someone who believes Turkey has made genuine democratic progress in recent years, I think now is the time for the media to start seriously probing current judicial malpractice, regardless of how unsympathetic they may be to the victims.

Perhaps I’m naive to think we can do so without being likened to racist terrorists.


Fact and fabrication

Perhaps against my better judgement, I’ve come back for another helping of the extraordinary fiasco that is the Sledgehammer case.

I’ve written about the issue before in detail on this blog (see also a lengthy response to a comment). You can see the recent piece I wrote for the Christian Science Monitor here.
The headline – “Turkey’s military defanged: Is it good for democracy?” is somewhat unfortunate, as few people doubt this, and the article was not raising that question.
It was rather looking at the implications of the obvious and possibly wholesale fabrication of evidence in Sledgehammer, a issue I believe is of great significance and has been wholly ignored by the Turkish press, and- less understandably- by the international press.
The problems of the case are not just of significance for the 195 people on trial, but the apparent scale and blatantness of them reveals the extent of the corruption across Turkey’s police and judicial system.
Perhaps more worryingly, the press is largely unwilling to discuss and expose these problems, either through fear or indifference.
Milliyet columnist Asli Aydintasbas said something particularly memorable and disturbing:

“It’s sad that we now have a media environment in which no one wants to touch this stuff,” says Ms. Aydintasbas. “I don’t want to touch it anymore, because who knows that I won’t be included in the next roundup?”

She also hit the nail on the head, in my opinion, when she said:

“This is not about whether you’re pro-military or antimilitary, it’s about the rule of law. Do we want to live in a country where political opponents are eliminated by trials that are unconvincing?”

She gave an illuminating analysis, which did not make its way into the story, of how to understand the power shift from military to civilian authority that Turkey has been undergoing over recent years, describing it as a ‘slow motion revolution’.

Many commentators describe it instead as an inevitable, though fitful, march towards European-style democracy.

But I like Aydintasbas’ ‘revolution’ comparison better, because it shows up the risks of the process. As we all know, revolutions often start out well, and end badly.

It may well be, as some people argue, that the extraordinary economic progress Turkey has made over recent years has strengthened and deepened civil society enough to secure a bright future.

However it may also be the case that the now-finished power struggle between the AKP and the military has merely opened a temporary window of opportunity for civil society to assert itself.

Either way, Turkey’s civil society is ill-served by turning a blind eye to the massive dysfunctionality that has long made Turkey’s courts and police a crude weapon of the establishment with which to bludgeon supposed enemies of the state.