Category Archives: Sledgehammer trial

A trip to Silivri

Protestors have set up a camp outside the Silivri courthouse to show their opposition to the ongoing Ergenekon and Balyoz trials.

On Friday I travelled to Silivri, a seaside town a few miles outside Istanbul, to see for myself the ongoing trial of the alleged ‘Sledgehammer’ coup plotters.

The sight of the courtroom alone was enough to make the trip worthwhile. It is cavernous: the size of a gymnasium, and can seat up to 180 defendants, dozens of lawyers, and hundreds more observers.

It was purpose-built on the grounds of Silivri prison in order to accommodate these sprawling trials that are a defining – and controversial – feature of contemporary Turkey.

To supporters of the Sledgehammer and Ergenekon probes, the building no doubt symbolizes the country’s determination to come to grips with the crimes committed by its once-dominant military, and the so-called ‘Deep State’.

But as I’ve often written before, what interests me about Sledgehammer are the worrying and persistent signs that someone has fabricated evidence against the 200-odd defendants, possibly on a breathtaking scale.

How extensive is this fabrication? Who carried it out? What role have the police played? What role has the judiciary played? These questions have received little attention.

Around 150 of the suspects were sitting in the dock when I visited Silivri, presenting a sea of greying, balding pates. Almost the whole day was taken up by 30 or so defence lawyers requesting that their clients be released from custody.

Roughly summarized, the common thread ran something like this:
“We have shredded the prosecution case… There is no point discussing the substance of the evidence against our clients because we have demonstrated convincingly that that evidence is fake… The fact that our clients remain in custody shows that this is not an independent court.”

I can’t list all the examples with which they attempted to show the fabrication, but they included:

-Signs that the date codes on individual ‘coup’ documents had been tampered with;

-Some defendants were proven to be posted abroad at times when the prosecution evidence places them in Turkey;

-Many coup documents, supposedly written by different people, at different places, at different times, and handling very different subjects, were clearly taken from a single Microsoft Word template;

-A CD created by police and containing copies of alleged coup documents may have been created before the evidence itself was supposedly seized;

-Numerous anachronisms suggest documents were authored later than their ostensible creation dates;

I have no way of independently evaluating most of these claims. But as I’ve written before, some of these examples have been very clearly documented.

Throughout the day, the prosecutor and judges, perched close together on raised benches, listened in shifting attitudes of boredom.

What struck me was the utter lack of vitality in the whole procedure. The defence lawyers knew perfectly well their clients would not be released. They also knew perfectly well that their arguments would not provoke a flicker of interest. And it was all played to a virtually empty press gallery.

I know this trial has been going on for months now, but it still surprises me how little interest the actual proceedings are generating.

Whether you see Sledgehammer as Turkey’s ‘truth and reconciliation’, or as a show trial orchestrated to destroy the government’s political enemies, you can’t deny that it’s important.

But with one or two honourable exceptions, the Turkish media has utterly failed to even analyse the defence’s quite serious allegations of judicial and police malpractice.

The overall experience reinforced what is perhaps obvious: this is a political trial, the outcome of which will likely not be decided on the merits of any arguments presented in the courtroom.


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.