Could there be monitoring with a law that doesn’t mention monitoring?

Could there be monitoring with a law that doesn’t mention monitoring?

The new National Intelligence Organization (MİT) law that is waiting for President Abdullah Gül’s approval introduces an important innovation: The formation of a parliamentary commission that will work for the first time in the field of intelligence units. This is a first for Turkey.

According to Cevat Öneş, who was a top executive in the MİT for years, the commission is a first, with question marks lingering in terms of monitoring functions.

At essence lies the fact that this commission was promoted by government circles at first as being a sign that the MİT would be opened up to parliamentary monitoring. At this point, Öneş’s criticisms have a particular importance. This is because after he retired from the MİT, he took a pioneering role that this topic should to be discussed in public.

In the introduction of the report of the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV) in 2008, Özeş defended the position that intelligence services should be monitored by the executive, the legislative and the judicial arms. Moreover, he suggested that nongovernmental organizations should be included in this monitoring/supervising.

Article 12 of Law No. 6532, which passed in Parliament last week, prescribes that a “Security and Intelligence Commission” be formed in Parliament. While the commission was initially expected to focus on the MİT alone, its jurisdiction was later broadened to cover the police, the gendarmerie, and the security and intelligence activities of the Financial Crimes Investigation Board (MASAK). According to the law, these institutions will submit their reports to the Prime Ministry, after which the PM’s office will prepare an annual report based on this and send it to the parliamentary commission in March. The commission will make its review and debates within 90 days of receiving this report.   

The commission will offer opinions and proposals on matters concerning national security, monitor international developments in this area, prepare a report on its own activities, and develop proposals protecting the rights and freedoms of the individual against the intelligence services.

Cevat Öneş, while evaluating the establishment of the commission, stressed that it was a first in the history of Turkey for security and intelligence activities to be opened to parliamentary monitoring. At the same time, he highlighted that the development had a separate significance in terms of adding a qualification to Turkey’s democracy and protecting individual and human rights, society and corporate structures.

However, Özeş’s first reservation concerning the law is that in the description of the commission’s duties the word “monitoring” is not used. On this shortcoming, Öneş said it introduced uncertainty in terms of the exact jurisdiction and it could also narrow the boundaries of authorization.

The former deputy head of the MİT also drew attention to another aspect, which is the image that the commission will work on the final report prepared by the Prime Ministry, based on the other reports.

“There is no explanation of which criteria these reports will be based on or about their coverage. Data that would enable the monitoring of budget expenditures and operational works is important.

Therefore, the content of the regulation that will be issued by the Prime Ministry becomes very important,” he said.  

Another matter that Özeş has reservations about is the article that says “information and documents that are state secrets should be excluded” from the reports prepared by institutions and the commission and from the commission minutes. “If this article is left to the initiative of institutions then it is possible that there will not be any monitoring,” he said.

The former MİT executive makes the following proposals for the commission: While the commission is conducting its monitoring of the report, it should have the authority to call the executives and relevant people to the institution over any topic that it feels is necessary, to ask for documentation and to be briefed by them. Also, the commission should have the authority to conduct monitoring/supervising in matters it finds necessary with experts within the commission or other relevant experts.    

The commission should be provided the means to call to its debates any private, legal and state officials whose opinions are needed. Actually, when the importance of human rights monitoring is taken into consideration, a joint working mechanism to be developed in this area may open new horizons in Turkish democracy.

So, the significance of the work of the commission obligates the members of the commission to be made up of reliable, qualified, respectable and wise people.