Contributor Post Created with Sketch. The View from Silivri Prison

 

I’m in the parking lot of Silivri prison, about fifty miles out of Istanbul. I’ve been watching the so-called Balyoz trial. The defendants, you may recall, have been detained on charges of coup-plotting. The trial is open to the press. It’s open to anyone, I think. But the foreign press doesn’t come anymore, if ever it did. A lot of the Turkish press has stopped, too.

I say “trial,” but anyone looking for the elements of a trial as we know it in America would be confused. The defense lawyers I spoke to outside insisted to me that no, this has nothing to do with a trial in Turkey, either. They’re just making up the law as they go along.

I suspect that’s so, but there is something very Turkish about what I saw. I’ve seen that lack of a logic-circuit in action just a few too many times here in Turkey to believe this is a complete legal aberration. I’ve heard a few too many long, wandering speeches. I recognize that inability to identify what’s essential to an argument, and that willingness to go down endless rhetorical rabbit holes while refusing to focus on the arguments that should matter. Why bother establishing at great length that your role in the illegal coup-plotting seminar was confined to making hotel reservations if the essence of your defense is that this was neither a coup-plotting seminar nor illegal? In fact, why not just stick to the one point that should have been sufficient to keep this case ever from making it to a courtroom–that at least some of the evidence is obviously fraudulent? There’s your reasonable doubt, right there. You can see it in 30 seconds or less. If you want to add a few extra reasons to call it a mistrial, add these: No one here seems even to have heard of “chain of custody.” Digital evidence of the kind they’ve invoked can be forged by a bright ten-year-old. The evidence was leaked to the press but not given to the defense attorneys. There you go. Everyone can go home now.

The coup-plot was supposedly drafted in 2003. The plan, introduced as evidence in the indictment, makes reference to businesses, entities and indeed people that did not yet exist in 2003. It’s a mistrial. It should be this simple:

Your honor, this hospital didn’t exist in 2003. We request this trial be dismissed.

Dismissed.

Who cares whether your role was only to make hotel reservations?

You get what I mean? The judges didn’t say, “Let’s stick to the argument.” They didn’t seem to be appealing to the law. The defense attorneys didn’t say, “Let’s stick to the argument.” And the defendants were permitted to go on as long as they wanted in their defense, and their approach to self-defense was, “Good arguments, bad arguments, irrelevant, this is my chance, I’m making them all.”

“Yes, but they’re so frustrated, this is their chance to speak!” I was told by their relatives. Well, okay, but apparently there can be no verdict until they all speak, and they all want to speak at great length. So some here speak seriously of this trial lasting another decade.

Despite the endless claims in the press that there are “thousands of pages” of evidence, the gravamen of the prosecution’s case is not complicated. Establishing that it isn’t sufficient to convict these guys (still less to hold them in jail without a conviction) should in principle take about ten minutes. This is going on and on forever, from what I can tell, because no one is even pretending anymore that this is a real trial with real rules.

The sports hall has been converted to a courtroom so better to hold mass trials. That sounds very grim, and it is, but it would be misleading to say that Silivri is on first inspection a horror. I’m not able to go into the prison itself, but the grounds and the courtroom are clean and pleasant; the guards are cheerful; everyone seems to know one another. The defendants are obviously healthy and in good spirits. As the daughter of one defendant said to me, “They’re soldiers. They trained all their lives for a lot worse than this.” During the breaks in the trial the accused and their families rush up to the center of the courtroom to wave and smile at each other.

I do have a few questions, though. This is, despite its interminable length and lack of legal standards, a politically significant trial. And the men on trial are senior military officers of a key NATO ally. That’s important, don’t you think? NATO ally, time of immense regional turmoil and all that?

So why am I the only non-Turkish member of NATO watching this? Where’s the New York Times? Where’s an observer from the US Embassy? What about the EU? What about NATO?

It’s not hard to get here. You can walk right in, you just need to show your ID. They’re friendly and welcoming. The food in the cafeteria’s really good! I’m about to post this right from the prison grounds, and no one is remotely trying to prevent me from speaking my mind about this. It’s fine, you can all come and watch. And you really should, because they happen to be keeping a lot of important military officers here in jail without a conviction, on highly dubious legal grounds. And they’re doing it because they’re confident no one in the world really cares about “rule of law” in Turkey, and they seem to be absolutely right.

There are 12 comments.

  1. Percival Thatcher

    Jeez, Claire. The first thing I thought when I saw that headline was “she’s finally gone and done it — she’s pushed somebody’s button and it’s a kangaroo court and durance vile for sure.”

    It does put my own occasional annoyance with the namby-pamby nature of our legal system in perspective. All that ticky-tacky stuff is there for a reason, and we are better off guaranteeing that all the i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed.

    As to the lack of interest – that I really have no idea about. I check the international news quite a bit, and I don’t think I’ve heard anything about this trial from any other source.

    • #1
    • June 21, 2011, at 5:01 AM PST
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  2. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed. Post author
    Percival: All that ticky-tacky stuff is there for a reason, and we are better off guaranteeing that all the i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed.

    You bet it is.

    • #2
    • June 21, 2011, at 5:07 AM PST
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  3. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed. Post author
    Percival:

    As to the lack of interest – that I really have no idea about. I check the international news quite a bit, and I don’t think I’ve heard anything about this trial from any other source. · Jun 21 at 5:01am

    Some of the members of the defendants’ families are sure the United States is behind this. “How could something like this be happening without America’s permission?” They’re asking me.

    I’ve been trying to explain to them that actually, no one in America knows about this; they certainly don’t care; and we don’t give “permission” for anything on sovereign Turkish soil.

    They don’t believe me.

    • #3
    • June 21, 2011, at 5:11 AM PST
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  4. Paul A. Rahe Contributor

    The international press is not there because the West has thrown in its lot with the AKP. Pointing up Turkey’s gradual shift towards despotism on the Arab model is not part of the agenda. From the perspective of the international press, these men are guilty. They are soldiers. That is sufficient proof.

    My bet is that when the charade is over there will be convictions. The simple fact that the evidence is obviously tainted and that the case should never have been brought to trial but has been, nonetheless, is a sign of what is to come. What happens to the AKP if the Ergenekon case collapses? What would happen they will not let happen. What you are witnessing is political justice. You should do a book on it.

    • #4
    • June 21, 2011, at 5:16 AM PST
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  5. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed. Post author
    Paul A. Rahe: The international press is not there because the West has thrown in its lot with the AKP.

    Does the West have a phone number? Since when is it a monolithic entity with a controlled press?

    • #5
    • June 21, 2011, at 5:40 AM PST
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  6. Schwaibold Member

    Many have watched Ergodan and the AKP for the last few years and predicted disaster, while being scolded for doubting that the AKP was a natural, normal response to the forced secularism of Ataturk.Only a crazy paranoid Islamophobe would think wresting control away from the evil secular military and judiciary to an Islamist ruling party could be a bad thing.

    Anyone who has raised a child knows some lessons can only be learned through experience. The people of the Middle East are about to learn a painful lesson, and I don’t want American fingerprints anywhere near it.

    • #6
    • June 21, 2011, at 6:20 AM PST
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  7. Duane Oyen Member
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    Paul A. Rahe: The international press is not there because the West has thrown in its lot with the AKP.
    Does the West have a phone number? Since when is it a monolithic entity with a controlled press? · Jun 21 at 5:40am

    Exactly. Indifference is a much more powerful syndrome than collaboration. It looks to me as though the Turkey desks at State, NSC, and CIA are handled by raging incompetents of the Paul Pillar stripe.

    Methinks that Claire must come back and found the Institute for Turkish Policy Studies.

    • #7
    • June 21, 2011, at 11:28 AM PST
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  8. John Grant Contributor

    Claire,

    Your comments that indicate the lack of _ideas_ of law or due process make me wonder if genuine democracy is possible in Turkey. I am reminded of the difference between East and West that one sees in Herodotus or Shakespeare’s _Troilus and Cressida_.

    Democracy understood as the dominance of the majority is possible anywhere. But is democracy where the rights of all are equally secured through the rule of law and impartial judicial process possible in Turkey?

    This seems so important as Turkey looks (from my non-expert perspective) to be a haven of decent government when compared with the other nations in the region (excepting Israel). Iraq and Afghanistan seem to be governed very badly compared to Turkey.

    • #8
    • June 21, 2011, at 11:57 AM PST
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  9. Mert Nomer Inactive
    John Grant, Guest Contributor: Claire,

    Your comments that indicate the lack of _ideas_ of law or due process make me wonder if genuine democracy is possible in Turkey.

    Democracy understood as the dominance of the majority is possible anywhere. But is democracy where the rights of all are equally secured through the rule of law and impartial judicial process possible in Turkey?

    Its not about East – West – South or North its about the human being itself. Whoever has the power in hand attempts to abuse it.

    A true democracy and rule of law is possible in Turkey as much as it is possible anywhere in the world.

    • #9
    • June 22, 2011, at 4:41 AM PST
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  10. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed. Post author
    Mert Nomer

    John Grant, Guest Contributor: Claire,

    Your comments that indicate the lack of _ideas_ of law or due process make me wonder if genuine democracy is possible in Turkey.

    Democracy understood as the dominance of the majority is possible anywhere. But is democracy where the rights of all are equally secured through the rule of law and impartial judicial process possible in Turkey?

    Its not about East – West – South or North its about the human being itself. Whoever has the power in hand attempts to abuse it.

    A true democracy and rule of law is possible in Turkey as much as it is possible anywhere in the world. · Jun 22 at 4:41am

    He is absolutely right. Conversely, the failure of democracy and the breakdown of rule of law are possible in America if we take either one for granted and stop thinking about how and why they work. What’s happening here shouldn’t inspire American smugness, but reflections on the importance of the systems we use to prevent this kind of debacle. If anyone thinks Americans are simply immune to the impulse, they’re not grasping the basics.

    • #10
    • June 22, 2011, at 6:13 AM PST
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  11. Roberto, Crusty Old Timer Member

    Cliche it may be but Kafkaesque was the only term I could think of in reading your description of the proceedings. I felt as if I was rereading The Trial. Professor Rahe’s phrase is apt, “political justice” indeed.

    • #11
    • June 22, 2011, at 12:29 PM PST
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  12. ndogru Inactive

    You asked a very good question – where are Media, NATO, US Embassy and Turkish people? The reason why Turkish TV outlets have not been covering this trial because of the intense pressure they receive from the current political party in power. They are all afraid!! Almost all Turkish media outlets are being controlled by the current political party in power. Most Turkish people do not know about the trial and the ones who do know about it are afraid of showing support because of the fear of going to the jail. I have been attending the trial since it started and it is unbelievable what is going on. Although defendants have proved that the evidence in these CD’s is all garbage, the judges do not seem to care. The active military officers who are being tried here are the best in the Turkish Military and devoted to secularism. Majority of these officers were up for promotion last year and also this year. It is the general consensus that these officers are being sacrificed to promote officers who support current government. Unfortunately, Turkish Military who has been defendant of secular principles is very weak to do anything about it.

    • #12
    • June 27, 2011, at 7:22 AM PST
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