Saturday, May 8, 2010

The "Bloodless Civil War"

PHOTO by Andres Gonzalez / The Wall Street Journal

From the Wall Street Journal's Marc Champion:

A bloodless civil war is splitting this pivotal Muslim nation on Europe's fringe, pitting the old secular establishment against the country's Islamic-leaning government and its supporters.

For mesmerized viewers, that showdown was crystallized earlier this year as TV channels played over and over a leaked video clip of one prosecutor arresting another one.

"We will take you with us," said a special terrorism prosecutor, lounging in an armchair across from his target.

"You can't do this, buddies. You don't know what you are doing," replied an astonished Ilhan Cihaner, one of Turkey's previously untouchable chief prosecutors.

Their clash in a remote outpost in eastern Turkey quickly spiraled upward into a battle between the country's top judges and political leaders over the right to define Turkey's future, a battle now coming to a head.

Turkey's parliament is voting on a slate of constitutional amendments drafted by the ruling party after Turkey's powerful judiciary took away the powers of the man who had arrested Mr. Cihaner.

Some of the amendments would rein in the judiciary, a bastion of opposition to the governing party, the moderately Islamic AKP.

To foes of the amendments, they are an AKP power grab. To supporters, they are an overdue fix to a constitution that was written after a military coup and long used by the judiciary and other entrenched powers to override the democratic process.

Alongside this fight is one in the courtrooms, where members of the longstanding power structure await trial for an array of alleged crimes aimed at destabilizing the government.

. . . .

Since its re-election with a big majority in 2007, the government has mounted an attack on the deep state. It is seeking to prosecute some 200 deep-state figures on charges that in some cases include murders and bombings, allegedly used to destabilize the government and falsely attributed to others. The name for this broad alleged deep-state conspiracy is "Ergenekon."

Mr. Cihaner, the arrrested prosecutor, is accused of being part of it.

Mr. Cihaner arrived in the eastern city of Erzincan in August 2007 with his wife, Muhteber, who wears her hair in dyed-blond ringlets. Most women wear headscarves in the remote city of 70,000, ringed by snow-capped mountains, and the head-to-toe chador is a common sight on the street.

The prosecutor, now 42 years old, hardly seems to fit the profile of a deep-state plotter. He had tackled rogue members of the deep state himself, in a 1999 investigation of military police, whom he suspected of summarily executing people during a brutal war with Kurdish separatists. Mr. Cihaner dug up bodies and matched weapons used in murders, according to a book about the intelligence wing of the military police and a 14-page letter Mr. Cihaner hand-wrote from jail in response to questions from The Wall Street Journal.

No one before him had even documented the existence of the secretive intelligence wing of the military police. His prosecutorial effort was lionized by liberals at the time. Higher-ups blocked it.

In Erzincan, Mr. Cihaner chose a different target. He began investigating unapproved schools teaching the Quran.

Turkey's secular laws say religion may be taught only in government-approved schools, and only to children over 12. Though unsanctioned religious education is widespread and rarely prosecuted, Mr. Cihaner says he saw it as his duty to prosecute the practice, because according to him and his lawyer, a conservative sect called the Ismailaga was sending children as young as 3 ½ to "madrassa-like" schools.

On Feb. 17, plainclothes police searched Mr. Cihaner's office and home. He was charged with planning to stash weapons in the homes of religious conservatives, with fabricating evidence, and with threatening witnesses. There followed Mr. Sanal's interrogation of his fellow prosecutor, a 6 1/2-hour grilling in which the two traded tightly mirrored accusations.

"Have you ever considered this was a plot that could trigger conflict between [security] institutions?" asked Mr. Sanal, according to a transcript seen by The Wall Street Journal.

"I ask the same question of you," said Mr. Cihaner. "The police, the Jandarmerie and even the [National Intelligence Agency] are fighting each other."

Whether Mr. Cihaner was just an assiduous prosecutor, as he says, or was gunning for the government and its Islamist supporters, prosecutors may face challenges in proving he was a member of terrorist organization. For instance, the core charge against him is that he planned to plant weapons on the religious orders, yet he had spent months arguing the groups were peaceful.

Mr. Cihaner stands accused of being part of the alleged broad plot by members of the deep state to hold onto power, even though several of his alleged co-conspirators are men he targeted in his 1999 probe of summary executions. That, Mr. Cihaner said in his letter from jail, is "insanity."

Hours after his arrest, Turkey's Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors, part of the secular establishment, struck back, stripping away the powers of the terrorist prosecutor who arrested Mr. Cihaner, Mr. Sanal, saying he exceeded his authority.

And then the government struck back at the Supreme Board's move: It produced a package of constitutional amendments, the core of them aimed at the entrenched judges.
For background, including my analysis from earlier this year, click here.

No comments: