No one is above the law. Neither is there any law – natural or otherwise – that says people who have served in high office are immune to punishment if they break the law. Be this as it may, something just doesn’t feel right in the detention of former Chief of General Staff İlker Başbuğ on “terrorism” charges. Of course there are Islamists and liberals in this country who are overjoyed over this development. For them this shows just how democratic Turkey is becoming.
But this appears to be an oversimplification. Even former U.S. Undersecretary for Defense Eric Edelman, who also served as ambassador to Turkey, was quoted in yesterday’s daily Milliyet saying all those who have had dealings with Başbuğ in the past are “flabbergasted” over his detention on terrorism charges.
Officially, both Washington and the EU have said they are following developments closely and have expressed their hope, in so many words, all will be in line with standard legal practices to be found in democracies. This appears to be wishful thinking for many in Turkey, however, who unlike the Islamists in particular believe there is more than meets the eye in Başbuğ’s detention.
No one can argue it is democratic and legal for Başbuğ to have authorized Internet sites aimed at discrediting the Erdoğan government while he was still in office, which is what the terrorism charges against him are being based on. No one who believes in the rule of law and democracy can condone this, and Başbuğ would have to answer for this in any democracy.
But to accuse the former chief of General Staff of being a “terrorist” appears to be an exercise in “reductio ad absurdum,” because it means a “terrorist” – with access to the most secret and sacred of state intelligence – was running the Turkish military. No wonder Edelman and others in Washington are “flabbergasted.”
So what’s really going on? The answer appears less complicated than government circles would like to present it. What we seem to have is a case of pure “revanchism,” a historic settling of accounts, especially by Islamists who the staunchly Kemalist military opposed and oppressed in the past in ways that still reverberate.
This is probably why the government is merely shedding “crocodile tears” for Başbuğ and others in detention under the by now notorious “Ergenekon” and “Sledgehammer” cases. When government officials say, “Everyone is innocent until proven guilty” or “long detention periods during the pretrial and trial periods should not turn into a punishment in themselves,” it is not possible to take these as sincere remarks of sympathy for those being tried.
If we just look at the journalists in detention, accused of anti-government sedition, the fact some have been in prison for four years now indicates their detention has already become a punishment in itself, and they will probably get no restitution for this if proven to be innocent in the end, unless they go to the European Court of Human Rights.
A government truly sincere about democracy, human rights and freedom of the press, especially one as strong as the AKP is in Parliament, would have long since enacted the laws necessary to prevent the legal oddities we are facing now and giving Turkey a bad name. But it has not.
For all its talk about “advanced democracy,” it is becoming harder to believe the AKP will make Turkey more democratic. Especially when the appearance is of a party more concerned with settling old scores than laying the ground for a Turkey truly democratic in an advanced way.