The denial strategy of Turkey’s coup suspects

The denial strategy of Turkey’s coup suspects

In Ankara this week I closely followed the defense and questioning of Ahmet Tosun, one of the most critical suspects in the Akıncı Air Base case trial.

Staff captain Tosun, who was discharged from the army with a state of emergency decree law after the coup attempt, is one of the two coup plotting officers who gave the order to the F-16 aircrafts taking off from the Akıncı Base on the night of July 15, 2016. He gave that order from the transmitter on the main table of the 141st Fleet at the base. 

According to the indictment, Tosun gave detailed instructions about where the aircrafts will land, at which fleet they would fly, where they would bomb, and even what type of bomb they would use.

But none of these instructions were a result of decisions by Tosun. They were reported to him over the telephone by Staff Colonel Ahmet Özçetin at the 143rd Fleet, which was the central chain of command hub of the coup attempt. Tosun forwarded these orders to the pilots.

Fleet transmitters record every speech automatically in the system room, and the indictment includes 14 pages of Tosun’s transcripts. Tosun’s conversations with the pilots match exactly with the reality of what happened above Ankara on the night of the coup attempt.

In the recording at 11:15 p.m. on the evening of July 15, when the pilot Ekrem Aydoğdu, flying over the Security General Directorate Aviation Department in Gölbaşı, asked Tosun whether they should shoot a helicopter taking on fuel for probable flight, Tosun answered as follows: “If you see movement, shoot.” Three minutes later on the record Aydoğdu states: “One helicopter is destroyed.” In response, Tosun answers: “All right, thank you.” Indeed, the helicopter in front of the Security General Directorate was shot and seven security officers were killed at that exact time. 

The evidence related to Tosun covers a total of 29 pages, making it one of the strongest documented parts of the indictment. In addition, the eight F-16 pilots taking off from the Akıncı Air Base that night say they took instructions through the transmitter from Tosun, while 12 other suspects testify that he was sitting at the desk and gave instructions to the pilots on that night.

Tosun has also confessed in three different statements that he gave these instructions from the desk to the pilots, but he said he took the instructions from Özçetin. 

Tosun testified to police on July 19, 2016, to the prosecution on Oct. 6, 2016, and finally to the judge through a video testimony on Dec. 1, 2016 in the trial into the bombing of the Security Aviation Department. Four and a half months after the attempt, in his last testimony, Tosun said he “gave almost a nine-hour testimony to prosecutor Abdullah. I now repeat exactly the same things. The testimony I gave to the prosecutor is detailed and accurate.”

However, Tosun then withdrew a significant part of his testimonies, including the last one, at the trial on Sept. 8.

He said he gave the initial testifimonies under pressure and ill treatment from prosecutors. He said it was not actually he who gave the instructions to the aircrafts and he also claimed it was technically impossible to speak with the aircrafts from the transmitter on the desk of the fleet. “I believe the aircrafts were operated from another place, another operations center,” he added.

Tosun took this line to such a point that the lawyer of one of the pilots had to ask him: “Should we think the pilots took off with their own free will?” and even: “Did these aircrafts ever take off?” In response, Tosun answered: “I saw pilots leaving the fleet and heard the sound of the aircrafts.”

Tosun’s defence is one of the most striking examples of the strategy of withdrawing previous testimonies and denying accusations in a categorical way. This strategy has been adopted by most of the suspects, who can follow such defense tactics in order to protect themselves. 

This being the case, it is very important that the court board, prosecutors and the complainant lawyers expose the real evidence. My impression from the courtroom is that Tosun left the defense stand without having undergone much genuine scrutiny, despite all the powerful evidence against him.

It is possible to explain this with a couple of examples. One of the most groundless points in his defense is that he claimed it was impossible to speak with the aircraft from the transmitter at the fleet. This is not true. If the aircraft is not very far, it can easily be contacted through the transmitter, as long as it is the right frequency. Many war pilots I spoke with told me Tosun was not telling the truth.

There was no one at the trial, especially among the complainant lawyers, who could disprove his testimony. There were also no experts who could contribute regarding the military issues during the trial.

Here is another problematic area. Many F-16 pilots say they took instructions in the air from Ahmet Tosun.  All of these pilots were ready as suspects on Friday. There was no confrontation by cross-questioning pilots when Tosun denied he gave the instructions to the pilots. Criminal Court Law No. 201 clearly allows this method. 

It is striking that the prosecution abstained from interrogating the suspects. This is a main problem in the trials in Turkey. The prosecutor withdraws from the case after preparing the indictment. It takes another prosecutor to defend the indictment, to examine the files much later and learn about the case.

Another point is about the rhetoric that represents the presidency, organizations like the Grand National Assembly and the relatives of the those killed. 

Just as there are those among them who have worked on the file and who have tried to reach an outcome from details and physical evidence, there are some who prefer to be demagogic. For example, there are also those who ask questions like: “Do you think the person who gave the pilots these orders is responsible for the killing of these people?”

When questions like these are expressed, the focus on the interrogation takes away from the evidence of the crime.