Well, we already knew that the documents used by Turkish prosecutors to charge more than 300 officers in the infamous Sledgehammer coup plot trial were bogus. We now have independent confirmation of the forgery from an American digital forensics team that has dug up new evidence on the forgers’ digital foot tracks. You can download the forensic report here (its appendices: Exhibit A, Exhibit B, Exhibit C, Exhibit D, Exhibit E, Exhibit F, Exhibit G, Exhibit H, Exhibit I, Exhibit J, Exhibit K, Exhibit L, Exhibit M, Exhibit N, Exhibit O, Exhibit P, Exhibit Q, Exhibit R, Exhibit S, Exhibit T, Exhibit U, Exhibit V).
To recap: The prosecution contends that back in 2003 the defendants plotted a coup against the newly elected AKP government. The documents in question, all dated 2002-2003, contain elaborate plans for the coup. They were delivered by an anonymous informant on CDs, apparently burned in 2003. The informant never explained how he had obtained the CDs. But he claimed that they are the original CDs prepared for the alleged leader of the coup, General Çetin Doğan, in advance of a military seminar held in March 2003. The seminar itself, the prosecutors have argued, was a covert dress rehearsal for the coup.
Defendants have maintained all along that the coup plot documents are forgeries. They have argued that the incriminating documents were bundled with genuine military documents and voice recordings from the seminar, leaked from the army, to lend them a semblance of veracity.
The new evidence unearthed by digital forensic experts at Arsenal Consulting shows conclusively that the CDs and the incriminating documents they contain could not have been produced in 2003. What led the investigators to that conclusion was the discovery that the digital files contained elements from the MS Office suite that was not introduced until 2007. Quoting from the report:
“Arsenal has concluded that dates and times related to at least 76 documents found on CDs 11 and 17 [the CDs that contain Sledgehammer coup plans] have been forged. Arsenal has also concluded that dates and times related to the creation of CDs 11 and 17 have been forged. It is simply not possible that documents purportedly last saved and subsequently burned to CD in 2003 would contain references to XML schemas and the Calibri typeface, which were not introduced until Office 2007. The earliest that CDs 11 and 17 could have been created is mid 2006. Arsenal has serious concerns about the authenticity of all the documents on CDs 11 and 17 due to the evidence tampering that has been uncovered thus far.”
Even though the files were ultimately saved in earlier MS Office formats, the forgers apparently worked with Office 2007 somewhere along their production process, which produced tell-tale signs that were carried forward. (Calibri, for example, became the default font with Office 2007, so digital traces of it remain in documents even when the actual font used is different.)
So the evidence is clear and incontrovertible: to incriminate the officers under trial, the forgers backdated the PC on which they created the documents and burned the CDs.
The new finding complements countless other evidence that has already emerged about the forgery. The coup documents contain hundreds of anachronisms – names of NGOs, military installations, or firms that did not yet exist – that make clear they were produced years later. Many defendants have shown that they were physically elsewhere – in some case outside the country — at the time they are alleged to have prepared these documents or attended planning meetings. Two forensic specialists – one of them American — have determined that the “hand writing” on the CDs was actually forged, by mechanically replicating individual letters from the notebook of one of the defendants using an autopen or other similar device.
The sad reality is that the court is unlikely to be moved by the new evidence – just as it was unmoved by all previous indications of fabrication. The trial judge has acted as if none of the inconsistencies in the prosecution’s case matter. He has turned a deaf ear to defendants’ all requests for forensic analyses or witnesses that would clear them. This is a sham trial, after all.
What is no less striking is how so many intellectuals in Turkey – especially those in or close to the Gülenist camp – have continued to champion the trial. Gulenist media – Zaman, Today’s Zaman, Samanyolu TV – conduct a non-stop campaign to sweep the trial’s problems under the rug and shape public opinion against the defendants.
When confronted with the evidence of forgery, the trial’s supporters take refuge in two, equally nonsensical arguments. One is that the anachronisms are explained by the updating of the original coup plot documents in subsequent years. Yet, the documents show no sign of updating other than the occasional anachronism identified by the defendants. More importantly, what would be the purpose of updating documents and then systematically backdating them (along with the CDs on which they are burned)?
The second counter-argument is that the proceedings of the military seminar of March 2003 are sufficiently incriminating in themselves, even without considering the evidently fabricated coup documents. Some of the discussions in that seminar – targeting certain AKP members — are indeed embarrassing and inappropriate. But there is simply no evidence that a coup was being hatched in the seminar. Importantly, the prosecutors ascribe criminal activities to the seminar not because of anything that was said or done in the seminar per se, but because they choose to interpret the seminar as a dress rehearsal for the Sledgehammer coup plan. Obviously, seminar attendees could not have been discussing a coup plan that never existed.
If the prosecutors, the court, and their Gulenist supporters were really interested in the truth, they would have long ago abandoned the pretense that the Sledgehammer coup plot documents are genuine. They would have been asking instead who forged these documents and why. They would have tried to bring the true perpetrators to justice.
That none of this is taking place gives us a pretty good idea of where they stand – right alongside the mafia that forged the Sledgehammer documents.