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September 25, 2012, Tuesday

Sledgehammer and a case of intellectual dishonesty

In the immediate aftermath of the “Sledgehammer” case verdicts, it is fair to argue that something seems to have gone terribly wrong for parts of the defense. Its tactics and strategy backfired in a way that may have made their overall case a more difficult one.

An article that appeared in The Washington Post almost hours after the verdicts reveals a tone of desperation so severe that it needs examining from various perspectives. It was written as an oped piece by Dani Rodrik, the son-in-law of retired general Çetin Doğan, who was -- as a prime suspect of the case -- sentenced to lifetime imprisonment, later reduced to 20 years.

Leave aside the fact that a globally respected newspaper such as The Washington Post, which has failed so grossly to inform its readership in a through manner, fairly and consistently, about this critical case for Turkey, has allowed itself to be instrumentalized in a manipulative manner. Not only has it left out factual data (it did not have any factual reporting on the case since late 2010), but also presented the views of a relative of a suspect, whose academic credentials had nothing to with it. It is the WP’s problem, and hopefully its ombudsman will see it as a case to be examined on ethical grounds.

In highly emotional tones, Rodrik argues that the case in its entirety was a “patently sham trial.” We are thus invited to understand that all in its indictment was a product of manipulation and fabrication.

The article is certainly very selective in its presentation of evidence, labeled as “forged.” But, there is also another part: a high number of documents and CDs, witness accounts and, importantly, sound recordings of the “plan seminar” (military simulation session), which under the leadership of Gen. Doğan took place in the İstanbul Army Headquarters in early March of 2003.

Fabrication? The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) apparently does not think so. Handling Doğan’s application, the court in a ruling some months ago (Çetin Doğan vs Turkey, 28484/0) did say, simply put, that “there is a case.” After having gone through piles of material, it found there was legal ground for a probe and detention. Surely, an interim ruling, but this one already explains us what sort of thin ground Rodrik argues: it already turns his thesis, “sham trial” to a sheer emotional outcry.

Rodrik had nothing to say about the rest of the evidence nor about the ECtHR ruling, and he remains reticent when one mentions the sound recordings of the “seminar,” in which the officers repeatedly discuss preconditions for a coup using “real” names.

Instead, he takes his case to further heights, arguing that Sledgehammer is “widely seen as the means by which Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has decapitated the military, a powerful institution that has long opposed Islamist forces in Turkish society.”

Let us for the moment forget by which brutal means the Turkish military “opposed” Islamist forces -- or Kurds and others -- in Turkey’s scarred history.

"What would the president of the United States do if, for example, the US Land Forces commander had started to plot to overthrow his administration because he is black? Would Rodrik write the same sentence replacing Erdoğan, Islamic and Turkish with words Obama, black and American?

The key question is how did the army “oppose” Islamic forces in Turkey? By secret surveillance, keeping files on “detested” civilians and even by a coup d’état? Rodrik lost his composure so much that he almost gives the plot away," as a reader commented on his WP article. Orientalist as he is, he reveals that he does not see Turkey as a country fit for military non-intervention in domestic affairs. The fact that he does this as a renowned academic (in economy) only highlights his intellectual dishonesty in bold letters.

The article could be read as a document of justifiable trauma and deep suffering of all the relatives of the convicted, but it also guides us to understand why the defense put the entire case into a cul-de-sac, also obstructing the world to see that if there is miscarriage of justice -- on an individual basis.

It was obviously the gross strategic mistake by the lawyers to treat this trial as “sham,” and it was abused by the highly partisan İstanbul Bar Association, which pushed for an absence of defense at the court and constantly applied delaying tactics.

The case is far from over. In the upcoming process we will certainly have time to examine several big question marks: The “forgery” claims, the neglect of some witnesses to be heard, “hiding” of some evidence from the defense and the grave flaws in the cross-examination of evidence will be the subject of appeals process.

Sledgehammer has been a painful case. Sadly, the worst damage to it was done by some relatives and lawyers who see it as illegitimate or a “sham.” But for many others, whose memories are strong enough about the oppression, the truth is between the shameful arrogance and bias of Rodrik and the court’s dubious choices.

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