The biggest crisis in the case after the Sledgehammer coup plot was exposed in the Taraf daily on Jan. 20, 2010, took place a few months later on April 5, when arrest warrants were issued for 25 generals. At that time, İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor Aykut Cengiz Engin removed prosecutors Bilal Bayraktar and Mehmet Berk from the Sledgehammer investigation and appointed new prosecutors to the case, which led to the annulment of the arrest warrants for the 25 generals.
A second crisis took place when the key suspect, retired Gen. Çetin Doğan, and other jailed suspects in the case were released by Judge Oktay Kuban despite a contrary decision by a panel of judges at the İstanbul 10th High Criminal Court. Doğan was rearrested three days later.
Another other crisis in the Sledgehammer coup case took place when the İstanbul 10th High Criminal Court -- which accepted the indictment in the case -- issued arrest warrants for 102 suspects. The suspects who refused to comply rushed to military housing complexes. They hid in these facilities for 15 days and ended up not being arrested when the İstanbul 12th High Criminal Court annulled the arrest warrants in a two-to-one vote. But the İstanbul 10th High Criminal Court decided to arrest them on Feb. 11, 2011.
Following the arrests, the suspects made an agreement among themselves to ensure that the case would conclude as soon as possible and delivered defenses that lasted only five minutes. Although the key suspects in the case such as retired Gen. Doğan, retired Adm. Özden Örnek and retired Gen. Halil İbrahim Fırtına delivered lengthy defenses, the trial process came to the point of the prosecutor announcing his opinion on March 29, 2012.
The trial proceeded speedily considering the fact that it began on Dec. 16, 2010, with the merger of three indictments and 365 suspects. However, after the prosecutor announced his opinion, the suspects began to employ a completely different tactic. The suspects, who were trying conclude the case as soon as possible until that time, began to boycott the court. The suspects refused to give their final defenses while their lawyers refused to attend the hearings. The lawyers made use of Article 188 of the Code on Criminal Procedure (CMK) to delay the hearings. According to this article, in trials where suspects face more than five years' imprisonment, lawyers have to be in attendance at the hearings.
In addition, there were claims that supporters of the boycott pressured some lawyers and suspects who wanted to attend the hearings and make their defenses. After four-and-a-half months and 10 hearings, the court told the suspects to either make give final defense or it would issue its verdicts. The first hearing in the case after this warning took place on Thursday. The suspects, including Gen. Doğan, Adm. Örnek and retired Gen. Ergin Saygun, presented their final defense.
The fact that the end of the boycott came just after the former chief of General Staff Gen. Hilmi Özkök testified in the Ergenekon trial as a witness was strange timing. Ergenekon is a shadowy crime network that has alleged links within the state and is suspected of plotting to topple the government.
In his testimony, Özkök confirmed the existence of Örnek's coup diaries and said military members exceeded their authority during the Sledgehammer seminar, which took place at a military barracks on March 5-7, 2003. Özkök's statements seem to have influenced the course of the Sledgehammer trial.
Örnek did not attend the hearing that was held just after Özkök's testimony. He sent a 155-page-long defense and will not make an oral defense in court. This is important in that Örnek changed his stance following Özkök's testimony.
On the other hand, the suspects' lawyers are still not attending the hearings. Yet, this is unlikely to pose a problem for the court to make its final rulings as the Supreme Court of Appeals is aware that the four-and-a-half month boycott was a tactic to deadlock the trial. So, although it lasted a bit longer, another crisis has ended in the Sledgehammer trial. The trial has resumed its normal course. There is a little time left for the court to make its final ruling, but no one can guarantee the absence of another crisis until the trial is concluded.