US Justice Department spends more time on Gülen extradition request than others: US official

US Justice Department spends more time on Gülen extradition request than others: US official

Sevil Erkuş - ANKARA
US Justice Department spends more time on Gülen extradition request than others: US official

The United States Department of Justice has spent most of its time on Turkey’s request for the extradition of U.S.-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen compared to other extradition requests, a U.S. official has said, underlining increased cooperation between law enforcement officials of the two countries in the past few months.

“At the Justice Department, they tell me they have spent more time on the Gülen extradition request than any extradition request in their memory. The term they have used is ‘thousands of hours,’” a senior U.S. official told Hürriyet Daily News.

However, he noted the U.S. courts require a very high evidentiary standard for extradition. In the U.S. system, the justice department reviews the extradition request and if they think it is sufficiently detailed that the court would accept, then they send it to the court, the official added.

He said the U.S. Department of Justice has been working very closely with the Turkish Justice Ministry to make sure that when a request is finally placed before a judge, “it is detailed enough to have a chance of success.”

Turkish officials have presented a very large quantity of information about the Gülen organization and about the coup, he said.

“The issue is if there is sufficiently clear evidence of Fethullah Gülen’s personal involvement in the coup to pass muster in the U.S. court. The issue is not whether the average person on the street will probably think he is guilty, but there is very high evidentiary standard,” said the official.

Turkish authorities have repeatedly criticized the U.S. administration for not extraditing Gülen, despite multiple formal requests by Turkey’s Justice Ministry.

The Gülen network, which the Turkish authorities refer to as the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization (FETÖ), and its leader Gülen are widely believed to have orchestrated the failed coup on July 15, 2016, which left 251 people killed and nearly 2,200 injured.

The official said in recent months there is an increase in “dialogue and more effective communication” between Turkish and U.S. enforcement and it applies to examining the activities of the Gülen network in the U.S.

“Leaving aside the specific matter of extradition of Fethullah Gülen, the fact is in recent months, the U.S. and Turkish law enforcement and judicial counterparts have significantly stepped up their cooperation in examining the activities of the Gülen network in the U.S. I think that is a constructive avenue, which would be in the benefit of both countries. We expect going forward to see more cooperation in determining what the activities of the Gülen network in the U.S. are,” he said.

US has been investigating Gülen network for many years 

The official recalled that the U.S. administration has been investigating the Gülen network for many years when asked about whether U.S. officials have decided to take a step further on the issue of the Gülen network due to the case of Pastor Andrew Brunson, a U.S. citizen jailed in Turkey.

“What has happened recently is the cooperation between Turkish and American counterparts have increased,” he said.

“Ironically, we have been investigating the Gülen network probably longer than the Turkish government has, long before the coup attempt,” said the official.

“The U.S. and Turkey have been discussing the Gülen network for many years. It is a positive story in recent months that we have stepped up our cooperation,” said the official in response to whether the U.S. has warned the government of Turkey about the movement before. He did not further elaborate on the nature of these talks.

Despite all the ups and downs in bilateral ties, the U.S. official said he is optimistic for the future of Turkey-U.S. ties.

“I think relations between Turkey and the U.S. are going in the right direction. There are a number of areas where our cooperation has improved remarkably in the last several months, he said.

However, the official called for overcoming current bilateral problems. “If we do not, it will be very difficult to focus on long term opportunities because of short term problems,” he said.

The official addressed finding remedies for the detained U.S. consulate staff and U.S. citizens in Turkey, particularly Brunson. Otherwise, “it is difficult to focus on opportunities in the relationship.”