Ex-military chief's request for trial at supreme court rejected again
Turkey's former Chief of General Staff retired Gen. İlker Başbuğ speaks during a symposium in Ankara on march 15, 2010. (Photo: AP)
A Turkish court has rejected a request for former military chief retired Gen. İlker Başbuğ, who is currently jailed in a coup plot probe, to be tried by the Supreme State Council instead of a specially authorized court.
İlkay Sezer, Başbuğ's lawyer, filed a request for his client, who is currently jailed in a coup plot probe, to be tried by the Supreme State Council as the trial of Başbuğ began on Monday. However, the 13th High Criminal Court rejected the request.
Sezer had earlier filed a request with the Supreme Court of Appeals Chief Public Prosecutor's Office in January for the trial of his client to take place at the Supreme State Council (Yüce Divan), a title the Constitutional Court assumes when it tries ministers, prime ministers, chiefs of General Staff and other high-ranking bureaucrats.
However, upon evaluating the lawyer's request the office decided last month that the charges leveled against Başbuğ are not related to his profession but are “terrorism charges.” The office said the authority to try Başbuğ belongs lies with a specially authorized court and rejected the request.
Başbuğ was arrested earlier this month by the İstanbul 12th High Criminal Court after he testified as a suspect in an investigation into an alleged Internet campaign to discredit Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's Justice and Development Party (AK Party). Soon after his arrest, a debate began over where he should stand trial.
The former chief of General Staff faces charges of “establishing or administering a terrorist organization” and “seeking to unseat the government of the Republic of Turkey by force.” While some jurists say the charges he faces are not related to his office, others argue they are.
Başbuğ chatted with family and friends during a break, telling them he was in good health, and exchanged salutes with former colleagues.
One told him; "The Turkish army has never ben defeated."
Başbuğ replied: "Of course! All this will pass."
Başbuğ branded the case against him as tragi-comic when he was first detained in January.
Dressed in a dark suit and tie, he was the first of 29 defendants to confirm his identity to the bench of three judges.
His answers to judges were to the point. Asked where he was living, Başbuğ said: "Since January 6, I've been staying at Silivri prison, cell block number five."
He gave his monthly income as 7,000 lira ($3,900), and said he paid rent of around 1,000 lira on his residence in İstanbul's Fenerbahçe neighborhood.
Waiting for proceedings to begin, the 68-year-old retiree drummed his fingers impatiently, and sipped from a plastic water bottle on the table, without opening the leather document folder before him.
The 100 or so spectators in the courtroom were dominated by well-dressed men and women from Başbuğ's generation. Basbug waved to several co-defendants who called out to their former chief, and raised a clenched fist as a sign of solidarity with one old colleague also on trial.
Addressing journalists outside the court, Sezer said he would continue to press for a Supreme Court trial. "I still believe that this court is not authorized to try my client."
Behind him, a couple of dozen people waved Turkish flags -- white crescent and star on a red background and held aloft posters of Basbug.
One banner read: "Soldiers cannot be terrorists. The sun cannot be covered with mud."
1980 coup leaders up next
Başbuğ is just a witness in the Sledgehammer case, which revolves around a 2003 seminar that prosecutors say contained blueprints for a coup, though the military says it was just a war game. Some 365 people are being tried in the case, including the retired commander of the prestigious First Army.
Turkey's generals traditionally saw themselves as guardians of the secular state envisaged by the republic's founder, soldier-statesman Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Like the judiciary, they distrusted Erdoğan and other members of AK Party with an Islamist past.
The military staged three coups between 1960 and 1980 and forced an Islamist prime minister, Necmettin Erbakan, to quit in 1997. These days, however, it is Erdoğan who cracks the whip in Turkey as he enters his second decade in power.
On April 4, the court in Ankara will hold the first hearing in the trial of generals who led the 1980 coup, including 94-year-old former military chief and ex-president Kenan Evren. The case against Başbuğ features websites allegedly set up by the military to spread “black propaganda” against the government until 2008.
Tension between the military and the AK Party was running high in 2007 when the generals opposed the nomination of Abdullah Gül for the presidency because of his Islamist pedigree. They never regained their clout after failing to cow Erdoğan and Gül.
With strong public support, the AK Party government brought the military to heel with democratic reforms. Endless investigations into coup plots tarnished the image of the once untouchable top brass.
Başbuğ has denied the charges against him, and his lawyer told Reuters earlier this month that the indictment was filled with inconsistencies and lacked credibility.