Friday, July 16, 2010

The dubious case of Col. Çiçek

Well, we all know Turkey is a puzzle. But, if it is translated correctly, I think the “reading” by American Ambassador James Jeffrey of the spectacular trials on conspiracies and threats (under the symbolic umbrella called Ergenekon) against a fragile democracy is correct.
In an interview with the Hürriyet daily Jeffrey expresses confidence in general and says: “On one hand, there is evidence which make people think that [Ergenekon] is not a fantasy, and which causes legitimate concern. On the other, the release of a lot of people gives trust in the rule of law, and that the rights of innocent people and even potential criminals are also under protection. There is also increasing evidence which signals that some fire exists beyond the smoke. This is a complicated case. But at the same time there is a common understanding that the tenets of Turkey’s political system will not be shattered by this, and that the country is overcoming these complicated issues through maturity.”

Yet, as the old adage goes, “The intrigue of the Ottoman is endless.” Therefore, the suggestion that the focus should be on the Ergenekon type cases and in particular the curious case of Col. Dursun Çiçek is timely and proper. Recent developments seem puzzling but indicative of the major game now being staged.

Chief of General Staff Gen. İlker Başbuğ is in a sour mood these days. It would be unfair if we merely blamed the escalating campaign of violence by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) for his mood. He and the entire top brass are more concerned than before as the critical August meeting, during which institutional appointments are made, approaches. Başbuğ was consistent in complaints that he had to be “kept busy” because of accusations, claims, investigations and trials “my officers” were subjected to. He mentioned that some 30-40 mid and high-ranking officers on duty were indicted in various cases and, although some of them were released or cleared, the institution’s profile was clearly harmed.

The problem ahead is whether or not Article 65 of the Law on TSK Staff will be implemented, and, if so, to what extent. The article makes it clear that if an officer is the subject of a trial, s/he cannot be promoted. When you have so many officers “from colonel upwards” allegedly involved in “organized crime” under a political disguise, there is indeed enough reason to be sour.

In this context, the case of Col. Çiçek comes to the fore. In what seems to be a hasty act, the office of military prosecutors made it clear, through a surprising indictment, that Çiçek is the sole person responsible for the document called the “chaos plan” to weaken the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the Gülen movement through social unrest and violence -- and he should be sentenced to six years in prison for “dereliction of duty.” With the indictment, prepared upon the instructions of the top commander, military prosecutors admit the document and Çiçek’s signature are genuine. But, they allege, the text was written without the knowledge of any superior and with the intention of revenge (for not being promoted).

But the surprise is elsewhere: The indictment says, since it is a “personal note” of some kind, it cannot be treated as “coup plan”; and all officers and top bureaucratic figures (such as prosecutor İlhan Cihaner) now on trial in civilian courts for “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order and the government” are “victims” of Çiçek’s “solo act.” The evidence presented to the civilian court lists the names of officers in rank and order as “the ones under whose knowledge the plan has been written.” They include the current commander of the 1st Army and six other top ranking unit commanders within the high command.

At first glimpse, it may look as if Col. Çiçek has been chosen as a “scapegoat,” to be sacrificed for the sake of saving the others and for not “rocking the boat” too much at the critical August meeting of the army.

It may be a deceiving sight. Çiçek has not protested, and his children display a deep caution not to “talk straight.” And once you start questioning “How come there is no attempt to link and ensure cooperation between the two dossiers on the same allegation of ‘crime’?” the picture becomes clear.

The military indictment, limited by its “disciplinary crime” part, boldly enters the territory of civilian courts and, in an apparent attempt to narrow down its jurisdiction, it allows itself the freedom of interpreting the “chaos” document as a “personal note,” and declares on a very dubious ground (by sheer deduction rather than evidence) the other “suspects” as Çiçek’s chosen victims.

What we can most probably expect from now on is chaos between the two courts. Çiçek might be hopeful in ensuring a swift trial in the military court and its appeals, and even if he is sentenced for “abuse of power” for six years, he will in practice be free. Meanwhile, both Çiçek and the other “suspects” can now also be given a free hand to apply to civilian courts, saying that its indictment is baseless and should be dropped. In this way, both the “scapegoat” and “victims” may find a “way out.”

Therefore, the dubious case of Col. Çiçek needs thorough attention and pure, legal analysis because it gives the strong impression of being an “efficient tool” for the sworn enemies of democracy in the struggle of civilian control over the military on one side and the rule of law on the other.

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