Nearly two years ago in the early days of the Sledgehammer affair, we asked a long-time Turkish analyst who could be behind the fake documents on which the case rests. He replied without batting an eyelid: “It’s the cemaat [Gülenists].” “How can you know?” we asked. “It’s as obvious as the sun rising from the east and setting in the west,” he replied.
We found this odd. Reaching conclusions like this without solid evidence is not how we try to understand what is happening. At the time we still had lots of questions about the identity of the culprits who had fabricated the coup plot documents. We had no reason to think that the Gülenists may be involved. In the first piece in English we published on the topic (in April 2010), this is how we put it:
“We do not know who is behind the attempt to frame Dogan and the other retired officers involved in the case. Some point to Fethullah Gülen, a Turkish religious leader based in the United States with a vast network of supporters, whom they suspect of fomenting anti-secular activities. Others, in the Turkish press, implicate a conspiracy by clandestine paramilitary groups aimed at muddying the waters and covering their own tracks. Some, implausibly, even see the finger of the CIA.”
It has been more than two years since. Much has happened in the Sledgehammer case. We have observed in the interval how the prosecutors and the court repeatedly turned a blind eye to the mountain of evidence showing the coup plot is a fabrication. We have lived through the vicious campaign of disinformation and defamation waged by the Gülen movement’s leading spokesmen against the defendants. We have also had the chance to examine similar instances of evidence panting and forgery in other (Ergenekon) cases.
Now we are able to reach a more definite judgment. We can assert clearly that the culprits are closely associated with the police and prosecutors, and, even if not directly part of the Gülen network, at the very least receive vital support from it.
We don’t say this because we are paranoid about Gülenists and “look for them under every stone.” We say this because that’s where the facts and evidence lead us. In other words, we are making an empirical inference.
The shortest and most direct route for linking the forgery mafia to the Gülen network is to look at the Gülenist daily Zaman. This paper’s coverage of the Sledgehammer and Ergenekon trials could be a case study of disinformation in the extreme. It reminds us of Pravda’s coverage of Soviet-American relations during the cold war. Just as Pravda easily crossed the line between truth and falsehood in support of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Zaman spares no effort to back up the forgers’ mafia.
To be clear, we are not simply complaining that Zaman takes sides. We are saying that the paper consistently and repeatedly prints false and misleading accounts to discredit the defendants in the Sledgehammer and Ergenekon cases. It not only presumes the defendants guilty, it manufactures lies against them. It routinely covers up evidence of forgery and prosecutorial misdeeds.
We have provided plenty of examples in this blog. We have documented how Zaman published false and manipulative articles on the Sledgehammer CDs, on experts’ reports, on the defendants, on police actions, and indeed about one of us (Dani). In several instances, Zaman had to remove or correct articles on their web site after we pointed to the egregious errors they contained.
Consider the range and extent of Zaman’s manipulations. Early on, the paper published the Sledgehammer plan with great fanfare, but took care to censor a glaring anachronism in the text that points to its forged nature. It repeatedly reported that TUBITAK (the national scientific organization) had verified the authenticity of the “signatures” on the Sledgehammer documents – when in fact TUBITAK has done no such thing since there are no signatures on the documents to verify. Later, it asserted that the writing on the Sledgehammer CDs belonged to one of the defendants – when even the prosecutors have made no such claim. (When two experts subsequently demonstrated that the writing is machine-produced and hence a forgery, the paper remained silent.) It fantasized about Dani being appointed minister of the economy following the Sledgehammer coup. When American and Turkish experts uncovered references to Microsoft Office 2007 elements in documents and CDs purportedly prepared in 2003, the paper didn’t print a word about it except to try to discredit the reports.
The paper’s editor has blatantly lied in order to deny documented evidence that police planted incriminating records on an Ergenekon defendant’s phone. The editor of the paper’s English-language sister publication (Today’s Zaman) once insisted it was “impossible” for the Sledgehammer documents to be fake, and argued, with a straight face, that it is up to the defendants to explain the hundreds of anachronisms and inconsistencies in them.
For Zaman’s editors and columnists, it hardly matters whether their opponents’ arguments have any validity or are based on fact. Anyone criticizing the cases before the specially authorized courts is necessarily “watering down and discrediting” these vital cases and is a defender of military coups and military. Any allegation, right, wrong, or fabricated, that strengthens the police and prosecutors’ case, meanwhile, is worth publishing.
Zaman is recognized as the Gülen network’s media flagship. There is little doubt that its leading columnists (names such as Gülerce, Dumanlı, Keneş, and Korucu) reflect the views of the movement. Therefore we do not think we are unfair by attributing these tactics directly to the Gülen network.
Some may argue that Gülenists badly want the Sledgehammer charges to be true and that this colors their treatment of the subject. But there is much more than that in Gülenist publications. We see in these writings not just the reflex to protect the forgers’ mafia, but beyond that an embrace of its cause.
Moreover, we have also concrete evidence that links Gülenists with forgery. It is now widely known that Gülenists have a history of fabricating evidence and framing individuals they target. Probably the best documented instance transpired in an air force base in Kayseri. Following instructions from his Gülenist mentors, a non-commissioned officer (NCO) had planted forged documents on military computers to implicate the base commander. He was caught and confessed to military prosecutor Zeki Üçok. Üçok subsequently found himself the target of an intense harassment campaign and ended up in jail on manifestly fabricated charges. The NCO and his accomplices were cleared on the basis of a ridiculous medical report (obtained more than a year later) suggesting the confession may have been obtained under hypnosis! Details of this fascinating episode can be found here. This “those who touch get burn” tale should sound familiar to anyone who has followed the cases of Ahmet Şık, Nedim Şener, İlhan Cihaner, and Hanefi Avcı. These individuals all landed in jail after taking on the movement. What is crucial about the Kayseri case, however, is that unlike the others, where evidence is circumstantial, it directly implicates Gülenists.
Here is a second example, relayed to us by Eric Edelman, U.S. ambassador in Turkey during 2003-2005. During his service in Ankara, Edelman was approached by an individual connected to the Gülen movement, and provided with documents apparently showing preparations for a coup by the Turkish military. Edelman had his staff examine the documents. They turned out to be forgeries. This is, of course, a particularly interesting episode in light of the subsequent Sledgehammer case, as it shows the Gülen movement has a history of peddling fake coup documents.
We should also say a couple of words about the relationship between the movement and the national police. These days, Gülenist spokespeople no longer deny that they have sympathizers among top police cadres. But they say this is not surprising: police officers, like everyone else, are free to have their own beliefs and can be Gülen followers. We have no argument against this.
Still, there is plenty of evidence that Gülenist influence within the national police goes beyond the beliefs of individual officers. For example, a Wikileaks cable relates a telling story that leaves little doubt that senior police officers act to further the Gülenist agenda. U.S. consular officials were approached in 2005 by three ranking members of the Istanbul police, who asked that the officials intercede with the FBI on behalf of Fethullah Gülen. Their request: a “clean bill of health” from the FBI for Gülen, in support of his green card application. That senior police officers thought it fit to put this request to the Americans is sufficiently enlightening about their institutional links with the movement.
A document included in Hanefi Avcı’s book (a senior police commissioner who broke with the Gülenists and produced an expose about their activities) gives us a second interesting example. This document was apparently prepared by Gülenists within the police and meant to be presented to Fethullah Gülen or someone close to him. It presents a series of complaints about the Gülenist “imam” to whom the police officers reported. It appears the imam had let caution go to the wind and was endangering the secrecy of their collective operations. The document reveals the clear hierarchical links among the Gülenists within the police force. While we have not seen the original of this document, its veracity has not been challenged. The imam in question (who was named) has disappeared, and Avcı himself was packed off to jail – on patently absurd charges – as he was preparing for a press conference in which he said there would be more revelations.
So if we accuse the Gülen movement, it is not because we are prejudiced, but because of the facts. We do not find the movement’s discourse on democracy, dialog, and human rights to be convincing for the same reason.
If you are following Turkey you have to make a choice as to how you interpret what the country has been going through. Either you refuse to acknowledge, all the evidence notwithstanding, that the country’s “special courts” are in the grips of a mafia that fabricates and plants evidence and frames innocent individuals. Or you have to ask why the visible parts of the Gülen movement spare no effort to back this mafia so unhesitatingly.
Because we are empiricists and follow the facts, we take the latter route.