Neither justice nor democracy has been served

Neither justice nor democracy has been served

The harsh verdicts in the “Sledgehammer Case,” sentencing some of Turkey’s highest-ranking retired and active officers – for allegedly attempting to topple the government by illegal means – comes as no surprise. Normally it should be a matter of joy for democrats to finally see the Turkish military’s wings clipped in a way that it will not interfere in the democratic processes anymore.

But for those who followed it from the start, this case, as well as the parallel ongoing “Ergenekon Case,” has little to do with justice or advancing Turkish democracy, and everything to do with settling old scores.

Put another way, these verdicts are a concrete result of the postmodern civil war that has been raging in this country between hard-line secularist Kemalists and the supporters of the pro-Islamic government since the Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in 2002.

Apart from the hardcore supporters of the government, most people with a conscience feel there has been a serious miscarriage of justice which will not serve either democracy or justice. Dani Rodrik, the son-in-law of Çetin Doğan, one of the ranking officers sentenced to almost 20 years in prison for being one of the alleged leaders of the attempted coup, had a piece in Saturday’s Washington Post on why this is the case.

It is true that Rodrik, who is a professor of international political economy at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, can hardly be considered an impartial observer due to his ties with the Doğan family. The fact is, however, that much of what he says in his piece, “Turkey’s miscarriage of justice,” is corroborated by most respectable observers in Turkey.

The list of irregularities is headed by the fact that much of the accusations rest on a Microsoft Word document whose authenticity is suspect. The anomalies include the use of fonts that did not exist at the time the document – allegedly outlining a program for destabilizing Turkey in order to facilitate a military takeover – was said to have been written.

Not only does the document refer to other things that did not exist at the time it was said by the prosecution to have been written, but the defense was also denied the right to present the findings of independent experts hired by it to show that it was a forgery.

Put another way, if the standards in the West, which Turkey aspires to, were applied, this case would have been thrown out, not because those accused are necessarily innocent, but because of the anomalies in the evidence put forward by the prosecution.

Otherwise, it is not beyond imagination that certain soldiers considered it a duty to undermine and topple the AKP, which was, at least until recently, much despised by the Kemalist upper echelons of the Turkish Armed Forces.

In other words, an opportunity was missed, due to political motives, for determining true guilt or innocence. At least that is what most impartial observers in Turkey believe.

The AKP also had the opportunity to use this, and the Ergenekon case, to highlight its democratic credentials but missed it due to revanchist feelings.

It will be Turkey that loses out in the end because this case has merely contributed to deepening the divisions in society and adding to the polarization between Kemalists and Islamists. It has also damaged the confidence among Turks in their legal system even though this confidence was never very high to begin with.

These verdicts are not final, of course, and the appeal process has to be awaited now. Then there is the option for those convicted to go to the European Court of Human Rights, even if they loathed those who went there in the past as “unpatriotic.”

So the Sledgehammer case is by no means over. Far from it; as Hürriyet Daily News columnist Sedat Ergin put it after the verdicts were read out, this case is just beginning now.