Get the coup plotters, but don’t forget the torturers

Get the coup plotters, but don’t forget the torturers

That former generals accused of undermining the democratic process by taking over power illegally should be investigated is good for Turkey, even if it took three decades to get to this point. It is easy to say that there is little point in legally hounding men who are 80 or 90 now, given all the water that passed under the bridge.

If I, for one, were to say so, I would be betraying the people that I and my (left wing) family knew and who suffered under successive military administrations in this country. Some of them were badly tortured, others were left little choice but to flee the country and pursue their careers elsewhere.

This is why it is also good that Parliament agreed unanimously on Wednesday to establish a commission to investigate all military coups in Turkey. It is also interesting to note that the judiciary acted immediately after this commission was established by rounding up retired generals implicated in the “post-modern coup” of 1997, when the coalition government led by the Islamist Necmettin Erbakan was toppled by means of a memorandum.

Of course, there is also the fact that there were newspapers, as well as members of the bureaucracy and business community who supported this “post modern coup.” But that appears a moot point at this stage, since the real source of this interference in the democratic process was the military.

What is not a moot point, however, is the fact that there are hundreds of officials, military or otherwise, who tortured and perpetrated other inhuman acts, especially after the Sept. 12, 1980 coup, and who should not be overlooked. One of the main advantages of the cases brought against Kenan Evren, the Chief of Staff who led the 1980 coup, and Tahsin Şahinkaya, the commander of the air force at the time, is that we are hearing a litany of these inhuman acts.

While Evren may not have tortured anyone personally, he too has to answer charges of crimes against humanity since he was the man at the top. He is also notorious for saying chillingly, in response to those questioning the legality of death sentences issued after the 1980 coup: “What do you expect us to do but hang them, feed them?”

The bottom line is that the cases brought against those accused of perpetrating the Sept. 12 1980 coup should not stop at Evren and Şahinkaya. There is no statute of limitations as far as crimes against humanity are concerned. All those who tortured thousands of people from all walks of life, killing and maiming many in this way, also have to account for their acts.

Equally important, however, is the fact that knowledge of what was done in the past should provide a blueprint for what should not be done in the future. Otherwise there is little point in these trials, which will merely turn into revanchist showcases. These cases should make people think twice about perpetrating such crimes in the future.

The penalties should be so tough that the traditional impunity that has worked itself into the marrow of the established order in this country in this respect should be excised once and for all. Individual cases of torture – as can be found in any country in the West also - on the other hand, should be dealt with by bringing the full power of the law to bear.

This, however, is where the Turkish public has continuing doubts, because the sad fact is that there is still torture and maltreatment in this country. When these acts are revealed by a watchdog media or human rights group, it is more often than not the case that the authorities still close ranks and try to protect the perpetrators.
The long and short of it is that it is very unlikely that any military official will even think of perpetrating a coup in Turkey anymore, after all that has happened. That side of the equation seems settled. But there is still a way to go before the “crimes against humanity” side is also fully eradicated.