MURAT YETKİN > Generals under arrest and others

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Retired general Ergin Saygun had a serious heart operation on Feb. 7. In a letter he left to his daughter Ece before the operation he wrote that if the 10th Criminal Court had taken the medical reports on his health situation seriously, he wouldn’t have needed this critical operation. The operation was necessary because of exactly what was written in the medical report - that under prison conditions his already operated on heart might get infected. Ironically enough, the court ruled for his release during the operation, so that if something worse happened to him in the meantime, Saygun would not become another number who had lost their lives under prolonged arrest periods since 2008 without being sentenced.

He had been in jail since he was arrested in March 2012 on charges of being a member of a terrorist organization aiming to overthrow the Tayyip Erdoğan government in Turkey. He was among those who had spent perhaps least amount of time under arrest. Journalist Mustafa Balbay for example, who is an elected member of Parliament from the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), has been there for nearly four years now, also without conviction.

On Friday, information was leaked from the Prime Minister’s office that Erdoğan had called Saygun’s family to express “get well soon” wishes. That is not only a humanitarian gesture from Erdoğan, but also perhaps a gesture for the sake of former comradeship as they belonged the hierarchies of the same organization in the past: the Turkish Republic.

General Saygun took part in a handful of Erdoğan’s teams during critical talks with then U.S. President George Bush in the White House on Nov. 5, 2007, which resulted in clear U.S. support, especially on intelligence sharing in Turkey’s fight against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). As the Deputy Chief of General Staff, Saygun was the contact point in Turkish-American (and NATO) relations. The Turkish Staff’s Operations Chief and Prime Minister’s chief military advisor, Lituenant General Nusret Taşdeler, also took an important role in that process, and he is also in jail now on similar charges.

It is not only them either. General İlker Başbuğ was the Turkish Land Forces Commander at the time too. Following a Supreme Military Council meeting chaired by Erdoğan, Başbuğ was appointed by President Abdullah Gül as Chief of General Staff in 2008. Başbuğ, the former leader of the Turkish military, has been under arrest since Jan. 6, 2012, on charges of being the leader of a terrorist organization to overthrow Erdoğan.

Erdoğan himself has gone public at least five times since, saying that he could not see why the trial was being carried out while he was being kept under arrest. After all, he would not have escaped; he had abided by the prosecutor’s call when asked for his testimony, like the others. Erdoğan also complains about judges’ and prosecutors’ inflexible stances against the accused, as well as the prolonged arrests - not only of military officers but also for journalists, politicians, lawyers, and academics – which are becoming a bigger headache for the government every other day. The ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) government got very uncomfortable when U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Francis Ricciardone criticized the judicial situation in Turkey, but actually Erdoğan’s own criticism of the judiciary is no milder.

The problem is complicated. Erdoğan needed extraordinary measures to tame the soldiers from getting involved in politics, and giving extraordinary power to judges and prosecutors was a part of the plan. But it seems that the mighty monster is now not under the control of the Justice Ministry mechanisms any more, and it has became another source of illegitimate power. 

What Erdoğan can do now, besides being critical of the system that has his signature on it, is to lead legal amendments in anti-terrorism laws and the criminal code, in order to bring inner control mechanisms back to the judiciary and to take off the excessive pressure. Otherwise, the problems generated within the judiciary will cost the Turkish government a lot, and take back at least some of the critical democratization points it had previously received in the international forum in the near future.


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Notice on comments

Faruk Timuroglu

2/10/2013 11:07:47 PM

Thus far, RTE & Gulenists partnership – which makes the AKP government – achieved successfully dismantling Turkish state’s self-defense apparatus, thanks to furtive nature of Gulenists. With “needed extraordinary measures”, grave crimes have been committed against the Turkish state to replace it with something else. Can RTE put the crime bill on his partner and found the what ever the regime he dreams of on the ruins of Turkish state we will see.

Hakan Salci

2/9/2013 7:19:52 PM

The situation regarding arrested officers, MP's and journalists is a national disgrace all thanks to the AKP leadership and its hidden agenda. What the article correctly points out to is that our Great Leaders signature is all over this shame; there is no doubt a game of 'good cop, bad cop' being played out here recently what with Erdogan's remarks about the legth od detentions etc., however what is clear is that the monster created by the government is getting out of control and will bite back

Blue Dotterel

2/9/2013 7:16:46 PM

Erdogan's about face comes as it has finally occurred to him that if you want to wage wars (eg. Syria), you need talented and experienced officers to do so successfully. Gutting your officer corps of some of your best men is neither going to do this or help the morale of the rank and file, let alone other officers who are waiting to potentially be rounded up and incarcerated indefinitely. The US would like these officers leading Turks in a war against Iran, not for any reasons of justice.

suat yildirim

2/9/2013 12:16:38 PM

We must have a law saying that you can't hold a suspect longer den such a time with out charge.How come some body stay in prison for 4 years ore more no charge. This is inhuman treatment of all the suspect and their family's. It is time now to do some think solve this cruel practice.


2/9/2013 4:59:12 AM

This has become a bizzare Republic. What is taking place in the name of justice is a surreal theater. No insitution is more backward, less developed than our so-called justice sytem. Deeper than lies the sad fact that Turkish officials of any rank can not seem to handle power and authority of any kind, from the police to prime minister to the general. No amount of precaution to limit hegomonic tendencies seem to prevent other new tyrants.

Kevin Snapp

2/9/2013 3:48:35 AM

Good advice, but a bit late. PM Erdoğan's criticisms of the judicial system sound political and hypocritical. As I recall, the AKP was able to pass legislation "reforming" judicial procedure very quickly when Hakan Fidan was summoned for questioning a year ago. Who is preventing reforms to accelerate procedures? Prosecutors fearing embarrassment for charging the innocent, and their patrons?
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