Some in Turkish gov’t want vengeance rather than justice: Departing US envoy
Barçın Yinanç - ISTANBUL
Some in the Turkish government are motivated by “vengeance rather than justice,” departing U.S. Ambassador to Turkey John Bass has said, voicing concern at coverage in pro-government media outlets of the arrest of a Turkish national working in the Istanbul consulate.
“I am deeply disturbed that some people in the Turkish government prefer to try this case through media outlets rather than properly pursuing the case in a court of law before a judge. That does not strike me as pursuing justice, it seems to me more a pursuit of vengeance,” Bass told reporters in Istanbul on Oct. 6.
As he prepares to leave Ankara for his next assignment in Afghanistan, Bass met this morning with a group of journalists who he identified as representatives of the “serious media.”
“I came together with journalists here in Istanbul from some of the serious outlets in the country,” he said in his introductory remarks. “I wanted to do that because I continue to believe that independent journalists and a strong, free media are a foundation of any vibrant, democratic society. I think it is important for people like me to be available to serious journalists.”
Referring to the absence of representatives from a number of outlets particularly close to the Ankara government, Bass said he did not extend the invitation “because I don’t consider them to be journalistic outlets any longer, given the extent to which they deal in fiction and do not follow a basic set of journalistic ethics.”
Meanwhile, daily Sabah writer Hilal Kaplan said on her Twitter account that although she was one of the journalists invited to the press conference, she received a phone call in the morning from the Embassy’s spokesperson telling her that the invitation to the press conference was cancelled due to the paper’s front page story about the U.S. consulate employee under arrest. “Bass is just an ambassador and he excludes somebody who has not written the mentioned news story,” Kaplan tweeted.
The departing envoy then touched on the subject of the “arrest and charges brought against one of our employees in Istanbul.” His identification of the individual as “one of our employees” is noteworthy given the fact that the Turkish Foreign Ministry issued a statement on Oct. 5 saying “he is neither a staff member of the U.S. Consulate nor does he have any diplomatic or consular immunity.”
“I continue to believe that these charges are without merit. I don’t believe there is going to be evidence that substantiates these charges,” said Bass, also voicing disturbance about coverage of the issue in the pro-government media.
“There is a big difference between pursuing justice and pursuing vengeance in terms of the rule of law and the democratic norms that this country, and my country, have committed themselves to, both through the Helsinki charter and their own constitutions,” he added.
Judicial issues top agenda
The issue of justice dominated the press conference, demonstrating that despite many areas of cooperation on regional issues, judicial issues continue to dog relations between Ankara and Washington. As a result, Bass was questioned several times on the Turkish government’s conviction that the U.S. has not provided enough support to Turkey in its pursuit of members of the Gülen movement believed to be behind the coup attempt.
Daily Hürriyet columnist Sedat Ergin recently reported that a change may be detected in the U.S.’s attitude, revealing that a document that could be considered strong evidence linking the coup plotters to the Pennsylvania-based Fethullah Gülen was given by the U.S. authorities to their Turkish counterparts. Bass declined to comment on the document, saying he did not see it, although Ergin had reported that a U.S. official in the Ankara embassy had conveyed the document to the Turkish authorities.
Bass, however, stressed that his government supports Turkey’s efforts to bring those responsible for the coup attempt to justice.
“One of the features of our judicial system is that the less we say publicly about the case, the more we are taken seriously. In our system defense attorneys are able to use statements offering opinions about the guilt of a defendant as evidence of bias, which undercuts the case. We do not want that to happen,” he said.
He referred to this point when he was asked about whether he believes that Gülenists were behind the coup attempt, as is widely thought across many sections of Turkish society.
“As somehow who was in Ankara on the night of the coup attempt, experiencing a degree of fear and anxiety and concern … I saw the trauma. We had tanks rolling past the embassy, crushing cars and shooting right outside our door. So I understand the desire to see justice done,” Bass said, while stressing that “the way in which justice is done” is also important.
Bass also emphasized that he recognized the powerful conviction of many people in Turkey that Gülen and his organization were the principal conspirators behind the coup attempt.
“These are not normal times. It is unusual for a country like Turkey to be living under an extraordinary state of emergency for such a long period of time, with the changes it has made to the normal practice of parliamentary activity. Like any other allies, we are watching with interest and with some concern how the situation will evolve, how this society choses to deal with the aftermath of the terrible events of the past summer,” he added.
‘ISIL unable to stage attacks in Turkey’
The outgoing ambassador also touched on the struggle against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
“It is a testament to the strong cooperation and work behind the scenes that DAESH has not been able to conduct any significant attack for the last nine months in Turkey, not because it has decided not to do so but because it has been unable to do so,” Bass said.
“We clearly have some work to do to ensure that the way we deal with the next phase of the conflict against DAESH ensures that there is no successor terror organization, ensuring that solutions in Syria and Iraq do not create greater security challenges to Turkey,” he added, admitting that there is “friction” in the “perspective on how to deal with regional problems.”
The military support given by the U.S. to the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), believed by Turkey to be linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), is perhaps the key point of friction at present. Bass described this support as “limited and tactical” and said Washington was sensitive of the fact that efforts to fight ISIL do not strengthen the PKK.
“I have yet to see any evidence that any U.S.-manufactured weapons found in the hands of the PKK have come from Syria or were transferred by any of the militants of the proxies fighting DAESH in Syria,” he said.