The Balyoz case is actually starting now

The Balyoz case is actually starting now

When the “Balyoz” (Sledgehammer) indictments were announced in July 2010, after examining both the text of the indictments and the additional files from the defense, I wrote my opinion in this column on Sept. 9, 2010. I was not convinced by the coup attempt thesis given in the indictment. I have repeated this opinion on several occasions throughout the past two years.

When the court’s verdict was issued Sept. 21, I didn’t see any reason to change my opinion. I am not convinced by the announced verdict either. Since several favorable pieces of evidence that emerged during the course of the case after the indictment was made public were not taken into consideration by the panel of judges, I believe the verdict is not a just one.

Problematic actions of the military
My opinion does not mean that there was nothing to the incidents around which the indictment was framed. There are many problematic chapters in Balyoz. The facts that before the planning seminar held on March 5-7, 2003 at Istanbul’s First Army Command headquarters, there were very serious hierarchic command problems, that a domestic threat scenario that was ordered not to be discussed was discussed, and that some officers openly expressed their opinions on domestic political topics in the meeting can be counted among these. Another problematic facet of the seminar was that the exercise scenario was played out using the actual names of some public employees. However, despite these excesses, despite these exceptional situations, was the planning seminar a coup rehearsal? The prosecutors in Balyoz were of this opinion, and the panel of judges has also supported this opinion.

However, among the total of 365 defendants tried, those who actually participated in this seminar number around 50. Most of those who were convicted yesterday did not even participate in this seminar. Well, then, why is the number of defendants so high? This is one of the most troubling aspects of the Balyoz case.

The vast majority of the defendants convicted by the court at Silivri were found guilty because their names were included in the “assignment documents” alleged to have been prepared as part of the coup planning connected to this seminar.

Unusual practices
Most of these are unsigned Microsoft Word documents produced in a digital environment. There were also numerous pieces of counter-evidence presented during the trial that rebutted the authenticity of a significant portion of these Word documents with mathematical precision. One striking example is the appearance of the names of some legal entities that were established in 2007 on an assignment document said to have been prepared in 2003.

Despite the submission of hundreds of pieces of counter-evidence during the past two years, and despite the fact that books have been written on this topic, these developments did not affect the stance of the panel of judges, and the majority of the defendants in the case remained under arrest.

Such practices as not citing the favorable evidence in the indictment, but instead putting it aside at the judicial depository and not sharing them with the panel of judges are not usual under the rule of law. The outcome of the investigation the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) opened into these issues about a year ago is unknown.

A grave procedural problem was also encountered when, despite legal practice and the clear provision of the law, the panel of judges skipped the phase of assessing evidence during the trial. When this occurred, the lawyers for the defense protested by refusing to attend hearings in the case, because their clients’ right to a defense was being obstructed. The last phase of the case was finalized without the participation of most of the defense attorneys.

Wherever you look, every stage of the trial process was troubling.

A mission for a higher court
After a trial as painful as this one, Sept. 21’s verdict was reached. It is inevitable that this verdict will cause just as much debate as the indictment and the trials did.

With its verdict session yesterday, the Balyoz case – as was expected -- has left behind only one of its phases. Now a long and winding road awaits the defendants, which could lead to the Supreme Court of Appeals, the Constitutional Court and maybe even the European Court of Human Rights. Actually, with the verdict reached on Sept. 21, Balyoz has not been removed from Turkey’s agenda but rather has settled on the country’s agenda in a broader manner.

Now the spotlight turns to Ankara, to the Supreme Court of Appeals. The high court has to win the trust of the Turkish public in the appeals stage by handling this case with the necessary impartiality, precision and objectivity. The test the Supreme Court of Appeals will undergo in this case will constitute a benchmark for Turkish society’s belief in the justice system.

Sedat Ergin is a columnist for daily Hürriyet, in which this piece was published on Sept. 22. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.