The İstanbul Specially Authorized Prosecutor's Office on Tuesday notified former Chief of General Staff Gen. İlker Başbuğ that he must testify as a suspect on Thursday as part of a probe into allegations that the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) had set up websites to disseminate anti-government propaganda.
İstanbul Specially Authorized Prosecutor Cihan Kansız and Deputy İstanbul Chief Prosecutor Fikret Seçen will interrogate Başbuğ. If Başbuğ does not come up with an excuse, he is expected to testify to prosecutors at the Beşiktaş Courthouse in İstanbul on Thursday.
On Sunday, the İstanbul 13th High Criminal Court made a historic decision when it asked the İstanbul Prosecutor’s Office to include Başbuğ in the anti-government websites probe.
An investigation into the former army chief was launched by the İstanbul Prosecutor’s Office on Monday.
Başbuğ’s name can be seen numerous times in the reports on the interrogations of the suspects in the case. Former 1st Army Commander retired Gen. Hasan Iğsız, Lt. Gen. Mehmet Eröz and Capt. Murat Uslukılıç stated that Başbuğ had given the order to set up the propaganda websites.
According to claims, the Action Plan to Fight Reactionaryism, a suspected military plot to discredit the governing Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and the faith-based Gülen movement, was posted on a number of websites that are believed to have been set up by the General Staff to support TSK propaganda campaigns against civilian groups and the government.
The two cases, the propaganda websites case and the Action Plan to Fight Reactionaryism case, were merged in August by the İstanbul 13th High Criminal Court. The content of the websites indicates they were used as part of the action plan.
The investigation into the propaganda websites began in 2010 based on evidence found in the home of retired Col. Hasan Ataman Yıldırım, another suspect in the website case. Later, an anonymous tipster from inside the military sent an email to inform the public and prosecutors that the General Staff had established 42 websites for the sole purpose of disseminating propaganda about the government and religious communities.
Retired military judge Ümit Kardaş welcomed the investigation launched into Başbuğ, saying that it is a normal development.
“It is out of the question for members of the military to establish such websites outside the knowledge of Başbuğ. It was impossible for [retired Col.] Dursun Çiçek [a key suspect in the case] to do all this alone. This [launch of a probe into Başbuğ] is a normal development regarding the course of the trial. This is something that needs to be done. It turns out that the prosecutor has evidence in his hands to include Başbuğ in the investigation,” Kardaş said.
The retired judge also said it is necessary to conclude cases such as the propaganda websites case as soon as possible.
Complaining about the lengthy trial periods in some cases, he said: “There is nothing left secret in the anti-government websites probe. Everything regarding the case has been revealed. It is possible to conclude this case immediately. Başbuğ’s action can be assessed as involvement in anti-government activity,” said Kardaş.
Kardaş also called for a separate case into Başbuğ over his efforts to influence the judiciary with regard to ongoing cases during his term as chief of General Staff [between 2008 and 2010].
During his tenure, contrary to the principles of a democratic state, Başbuğ constantly made statements to the media as if he were a politician and denied charges directed at the TSK in the wake of dozens of military plots, including plans to trigger chaos in the country to facilitate a military takeover.
When he first assumed the post in 2008, Başbuğ said: “I will speak less; I will talk about the things that need explanation on relevant platforms. You will not get statements from me frequently.” However, he did not act in line with his remarks and caused new controversies with nearly all of his statements.
Just after assuming his post, Başbuğ sent an envoy to Kandıra Prison to meet with two suspects in the Ergenekon terrorist organization case, retired Gen. Şener Eruygur and retired Gen. Hurşit Tolon, who had been under arrest for alleged involvement in Ergenekon, which is accused of orchestrating various murders and attacks with the intention of creating chaos that would trigger a coup.
“This visit, paid to two retired generals who had served in the TSK for a long time, was made on behalf of the TSK,” said a statement on the General Staff’s website.
In 2008, he spoke against the media for publishing classified information revealing that the army had known in advance about a deadly attack on the Aktütün outpost on Oct. 3, which left 17 soldiers dead.
Başbuğ’s tone of voice and style of speech, which were accompanied by angry gestures and finger-pointing, as if he were reprimanding the reporters, back then led everyone to question whether a general speaking this way is compatible with the spirit of a democratic regime. In addition, Başbuğ’s failure to respond to the allegations and instead threatening media outlets that covered the news, raised suspicions over whether Başbuğ was trying to cover up the military’s shortcomings by hitting back.
In another controversial statement in 2009, he referred to the Action Plan to Fight Reactionaryism as a “piece of paper,” in a move aiming to downplay the plot and the discovery of light anti-tank weapons found hidden underground in İstanbul’s Poyrazköy district -- stored by the coup plotters for future use, the prosecution says -- as “pipes.”
Regarding the Sledgehammer coup plot, which included plans to bomb mosques in İstanbul and was revealed by the Taraf daily in early 2010, Başbuğ lashed out at those who exposed the plot and denounced the allegations directed at the TSK. “How on earth could the TSK plan to bomb mosques? This is unjust. The TSK has limits to its patience. I denounce these claims,” he said.
In February 2010, a voice recording of Başbuğ was revealed in which he admitted that he had issued the orders to two military officers who were detained in December 2009 as part of an investigation into an alleged plot to assassinate Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç.
In the recording, Başbuğ said he was the one who gave permission for civilian prosecutors to search the facilities of the Tactical Mobilization Unit in Ankara as part of the investigation into an alleged plot by military officers to assassinate Arınç. “Can they search if you don’t let them? … What are they going to do if you tell them they can’t enter there? That’s not going to happen. That can’t happen; they couldn’t have entered.” The challenging and controversial remarks of the army chief made him a target of criticism back then, with increasing calls for his dismissal.
Başbuğ to be tried by civilian court
Although there is debate on whether Başbuğ will be tried by a civilian or a military court, the ex-military chief will be tried by a civilian court.
Before a referendum in 2010 in which a government-sponsored constitutional reform package was approved, no institution or court was set in Turkey to try army chiefs; however, the reform package appointed the Constitutional Court as the court that would try army chiefs for crimes regarding their profession. Courts overseeing the case into Ergenekon treat the making of coup plans or involvement in anti-government activity as civilian crimes, so Başbuğ will be tried by a civilian court. The İstanbul 13th High Criminal Court is expected to try Başbuğ at the Silivri Courthouse.