Witch hunt in bureaucracy draws ire: McCarthyism creates collateral damage
The former İstanbul police chief, Hüseyin Çapkın, was removed from his post in an investigation into alleged bribery linked to public tenders. (Photo: Today's Zaman)
The government's move to quickly reassign public officials en masse in response to a recently launched graft and bribery investigation, which has implicated several senior Cabinet members, has drawn ire and created multifaceted problems, pundits say.
This witch hunt has also raised concerns amongst the ruling Justice and Development Party's (AK Party) management. An AK Party executive told Today's Zaman in an off-the-record interview that the party's public image is deteriorating. "An illegal act or practice is disapproved of by the conscience of the public. The collective reassignment of many public officials in a manner that is reminiscent of McCarthyism damages our party's public image. This practice victimizes many people and cannot be reconciled with our mission of combating injustice," he said.
Five police chiefs from the İstanbul Police Department who conducted the graft probe that started on Dec. 17, 2013 were the first public officials who had been removed from office and reassigned to other posts before a wave of reassignments spread to other cities and public institutions. In addition to more than 2,000 police officers, including senior officials, who have been reassigned within police departments, many high-profile bureaucrats and officials have been reshuffled at the Education Ministry, Finance Ministry and at the Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT).
Faruk Sezer, the president of Emniyet-Sen, Turkey's only police labor union, drew attention to the multifaceted aspects of the damage from collective reassignments at police departments. "Reassignments will take its toll on the public institution, the police community and the close relatives and friends of the reassigned personnel. At the institutional level, the experience obtained over time is wasted. Not only those who are reassigned, but also those who are not will suffer from psychological effects of the process. Spouses, children and relatives of those who are reassigned are victimized as well. People are further victimized as they have to move in winter, adapt to new social surroundings and deal with the unfavorable comments or attitudes of their peers about their assignments," he said.
For Sezer, one of the most tragic aspects of these purges is that many people are suffering from the summary administrative decisions. "During the entire span of my professional career, I have never seen such a widespread wave of reassignments. The sad thing is that people don't know why they are reassigned. There are accusations hinting at the presence of a parallel organization within the state. But even assuming that these accusations are substantial, they cannot be punished with reassignments. Already, no investigation has been launched in connection with these accusations. If the charges can be proven through judicial processes, the public officials involved in the crime should be removed from their professions and sentenced instead of being reassigned. Without [judicial process], these are unfounded allegations [and] people shouldn't be victimized based on [them]; the police shouldn't be discredited," he said.
No explanation from the minister
Journalist and writer Adem Yavuz Arslan argued that what is going on is full-fledged McCarthyism. "The government is making decisions in a paranoid panic. It reshuffles police chiefs in an effort to prevent new investigations. It summarily executes senior bureaucrats with the parallel-organization accusations and exerts ruthless pressures on the bureaucracy," he said.
Noting that he worked as a reporter for the police and courts for more than 10 years, Arslan maintained that such a widespread purge of police chiefs is unprecedented and its spread to other public institutions is portent to the panic the government is experiencing.
Pointing out that Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ couldn't explain the reason why so many police chiefs have been simultaneously reassigned, he said: "The purges began in the wake of the graft probe that started on Dec. 17, 2013. The government is worried about potential investigations, and therefore seeks to create a bureaucracy that would pledge unconditional allegiance to the government. The ruling party aims to establish a police department that would inform them of any potential investigation immediately and that would not be guided by rule of law. No other explanation can be offered for this never-seen-before purge.
“Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ was asked about whether reassignments were done through legal or extrajudicial procedures. But he couldn't offer any explanation. He just said the authority which assigned police chiefs to their current posts are entitled to remove them from those posts. This is not an answer. Has the authority which makes assignments ever removed 2,000 police chiefs from office before? Has the government done such a thing during the last 11 years? The only explanation is that the graft investigations have created panic and paranoia within the government."
Arslan, who is also the Ankara representative of the Bugün newspaper, suggested that throwing a monkey wrench in the system out of panic will create a security weakness that may lead to a heavy cost for the entire country.
Highlighting that the police chiefs who were purged were performing important security duties, Arslan said: "The police chiefs who were removed from office with unfounded accusations had significant achievements. They had successfully combated bag snatchers, crime syndicates and terrorist organizations such as the Kurdistan Workers' Party [PKK] and Revolutionary People's Liberation Party/Front [DHKP/C].
“The police department's success is reliant on the continuation of the accumulated experience. If you purge people with baseless accusations, you reset this experience by creating a negative climate within the police department. You reset the experience accumulated over the last 10 years; you destroy the memory of the police department. The government appointed an inexperienced person who had just become a governor as the head of the İstanbul Police Department; it reassigned 15 inspectors who don't have any experience in the field as police department heads in 15 provinces. It is a serious risk that Diyarbakır is among these provinces. With this panic, the government is risking even the settlement process."
Arslan noted that it would be best for the government if it backpedals from mistakes in no time, otherwise crime syndicates and terrorist organizations would rush in to fill the emerging security void.
Police chiefs specialized in counter terrorism and fight against corruption
The wave of collective reassignments at the police department has focused primarily on the counterterrorism, financial crimes and smuggling and organized crime bureaus.
The police chiefs who were removed are known to have launched and participated in successful operations against terror networks, corruption rings and crime syndicates for many years.
The first transfers were endorsed by former Interior Minister Muammer Güler, whose son is implicated in the graft probe. Güler undersigned the reassignment letters of the police chiefs who conducted the corruption investigation and his son is still in custody. Güler later resigned and the graft probe prosecutor also prepared a brief requesting Parliament to lift Güler's immunity so that he can be prosecuted.
While many police chiefs have been reassigned in about 40 provinces including Diyarbakır, Balıkesir, Tokat, Kütahya, Şanlıurfa and Edirne, the biggest wave hit the Ankara Police Department. As ordered by the freshly appointed Interior Minister Efkan Ala, the head of the Ankara Police Department, Kadir Ay, launched a widespread purge in the department. About 600 people, including 80 senior police chiefs were removed from office. They were replaced with police chiefs from traffic and public order teams in Ankara's districts.
Mahmut Azmaz, the deputy police chief in charge of public events, was appointed to the Elmadağ Police School.
Half of operation units were purged
Trusted sources report that about 50 percent of the operational units within the police department were purged, undermining some of the planned operations.
The purged teams had undertaken critical investigations in the past, such as looking into the Feb. 28 coup, Ergenekon -- a clandestine organization nested within the state trying to overthrow or manipulate the democratically elected government -- the Public Procurement Authority (KİK), the Public Personnel Selection Examination (KPSS) and the Revolutionary People's Liberation Party/Front (DHKP/C). They solved the case of the deadly bomb attack in Ankara's Kumrular Street, seizing the DHKP/C assailants who attacked the police department.
The surge of reassignments has also hindered graft and bribery investigations.