A workshop was conducted on Aug. 19 at the General Staff in order to brainstorm plans for the release of arrested active duty military officers, several newspapers reported on Monday.
According to newspapers including the Yeni Şafak, Bugün and Taraf dailies, the workshop took place at the Legal Consultancy Office of the General Staff. The newspaper reports named several legal advisors participating in the meeting including General Staff legal advisor Deputy Col. Şakir Aytaş, Land Forces legal advisor Col. Ahmet Vurucu, Gendarmerie legal advisor Capt. Hakan Kandemir and Judge Lt. Özkan Doğu of the Air Force. The dailies also indicated that two others, Judge Capt.Kurtuluş Kaya and Judge Col. Doğan Uysal, known to be close to Maj. Gen. Hıfzı Çubuklu, who was arrested on Aug. 17, suspected of involvement in a plan to destabilize the government via an Internet campaign, also participated in the meeting. Meanwhile, Aytaş is expected to replace Çubuklu as legal advisor to the General Staff.
As the judicial process continues in the cases of several alleged plans to overturn the government, there are reports that Land Forces Commander Gen. Hayri Kıvrıkoğlu has been working on a solution allowing the active duty military officers implicated to be tried without arrest.
The newspapers claimed that Gen. Kıvrıkoğlu is working on an “exit plan” for the release of active duty officers, and in accordance with that the legal advisors discussed some changes to the Code on Criminal Procedure (CMK). One of those changes is reported to be a regulation shortening the length of time suspects whose trials are pending may be held under arrest. Lengthy arrests are a major problem in the Turkish legal system, and the outcry about this issue has been louder since the arrest of a number of high level military personnel.
Another topic of discussion at the meeting, alleged by the newspapers, was in relation to the office of the special prosecutor, which is conducting the investigations into most of the alleged coup plots. The dailies claim the legal advisors pondered the question of pressuring the government for the removal of those special prosecutors. While Taraf’s report suggested that the General Staff plans to “empty” the Hasdal Miltary Prison, Yeni Şafak said that the meeting could be called a “Sledgehammer Workshop.” Bugün described Gen. Kıvrıkoğlu as coming “to the rescue of [the jailed] officers.”
In August an İstanbul court issued arrest warrants for 14 suspects, including seven generals, as part of an investigation into allegations that the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) had set up websites to disseminate anti-government propaganda. An indictment in the case was accepted by the İstanbul 13th High Criminal Court late last month, and the prosecutor requested an arrest warrant for the 14 suspects implicated in the case immediately after the indictment was accepted by the court.
On Aug. 17, the court accepted the request and ordered the arrest of the suspects, who include former 1st Army Commander retired Gen. Hasan Iğsız, Maj. Gen. Mustafa Bakıcı, the General Staff’s legal counsel Maj. Gen. Çubuklu, Lt. Gen. Mehmet Eröz, Vice Adm. Otuzbiroğlu and Lt. Gen. İsmail Hakkı Pekin. There are also several other retired and active duty military officers who are currently under arrest in the cases of Sledgehammer, an alleged coup d’état plot, and Ergenekon, a political crime network allegedly preparing to topple the government. In June, with the arrest of Adm. Mücahit Şişlioğlu, the commander of the Naval Forces Command, the total number of generals and admirals under arrest at Hasdal Military Prison has reached 34. This means a significant proportion of Turkey’s top military personnel are in custody on attempted coup charges.
General Staff responds to claims
The General Staff acknowledged on Monday that a meeting of legal advisors to the General Staff and force commanders did take place on Aug. 19, but added that the meeting was only “technical,” and said it is “wrong” to attribute any meaning to the meeting as some newspapers did.
“The meeting was held by order of the chief of General Staff, and was coordinated by the General Staff’s legal advisors with the participation of the legal advisors to the force commanders,” Monday’s General Staff statement said.
“At that meeting, evaluations were made of possible changes to be made to the Code on Criminal Procedure (CMK) at the new parliamentary session. This was a technical activity which aimed at clearly defining the institutional views of the military on the changes. Therefore, it is wrong to attribute to the meeting the meaning that was attributed to it in [some newspaper] articles,” the statement concluded.
The General Staff has drawn criticism for the Aug. 19 meeting from jurists, who said the meeting was illegal and the participants in the meeting committed an offense. A military judge, Veysi Savaş, said the TSK overstepped its authority by engaging in plans to secure the release of military officers who are suspects in several coup cases.
“It is not the duty of the TSK to propose legal amendments for the ongoing cases. It is obvious what institutions are responsible for preparing laws. The actual duty of the General Staff is to command the armed forces,” he said. Cahit Özkan, the head of the Jurists’ Association, said the workshop reveals that the TSK stands behind the Sledgehammer suspects and is openly intervening in an ongoing case. Özkan said the TSK’s actions are unacceptable.