Fine tuning the probe

When serving generals and admirals were detained for the first time as part of an investigation, everyone said: "Wow! Look where democracy has reached in Turkey. Prosecutors can even detain a serving general."

When a "force commander," albeit a retired one, was detained by civil prosecutors for the first time, we once again commended "the level democracy has reached." The issue is not about innocence or guilt. It is about prosecutors being able to hold military officers of these ranks accountable.
After all they were "Turkey's untouchable."

For countries like Turkey, where democracy is still developing, these kinds of steps are significant improvements. There is nothing surprising about this. After we saw the number and ranks of military officers who were detained on Feb. 26 we said to ourselves, "OK, democracy is, for the most part, in full motion."

However, it seems these waves of detentions were too much for our fragile democracy after a certain point because the investigation process was eventually "tuned." Actually, when we look at the course of events we see that this "tuning" process began during the "trilateral summit" between the president, the prime minister and the chief of general staff at Çankaya presidential palace on Feb. 25.

A day after this meeting, a "bilateral summit" was held between Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Chief of General Staff Gen. İlker Başbuğ at the Prime Ministry.

In the aftermath of these meetings, things started to change. What happened? İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor Aykut Cengiz Engin started "closely monitoring" the prosecutors leading the investigation. He gave orders to the effect that they could not obtain arrest and search warrants for operations of that scale without his permission. In fact, he sent written statements to the gendarmerie and the police saying, "Do not carry out search and detention orders from prosecutors unless my signature is on them."

They wanted us to brush it off thinking "there's no big deal. Everything seems normal in terms of procedure. The investigation is still continuing."

And ultimately that is what we did. But then some other developments took place at the beginning of this week and we saw once again that the truth could not be hidden. Two noncompliant prosecutors (Bilal Bayraktar and Mehmet Berk) attempted to issue warrants for the detention of 95 military officers, 78 of which are on active duty, as part of the Sledgehammer investigation. We can't say he "issued" but rather he "attempted to issue." In other words, the "crime" was not finished, it was attempted.

The prosecutors had instructed law enforcers to detain the relevant individuals. But the instructions did not have the chief public prosecutor's signature. Of the generals and admirals to be detained, 25 were still on active duty.

In the end, Engin got upset and prevented the instructions from being carried out and forced the prosecutors to relinquish their duty. We say "relinquish" but he says he felt there was "a need to change his working team."

He provides his reasoning in these words, "The consequences of these kinds of arrests and detentions need to be assessed very carefully." (Star daily, April 7)

We should know, what is the limit?

Personally, the question I'm wondering about is, "What's the limit for wanting the detention of serving military officers before it becomes a 'problem'?"

For example, if the number was 38 and not 78 would it have still been a problem?

What about 48? Maybe the only criterion is not the number. Could the main criterion be ranks? If this is the case, up to how many generals and admirals can prosecutors detain in doing their job? We know that 25 is too many so would 15 be OK? We need to know these numbers. I think the new prosecutors, Murat Yöner and Mehmet Ergül, who were appointed to replace those who were forced to relinquish their duty, will also want to know these numbers. Otherwise they won't be able to do their job.

Am I wrong?

The provision that "everyone is equal before the law" is a universal principle of law. This is even written in the 1982 Constitution drafted by coup leaders. Let's read Article 10: "All individuals are equal without any discrimination before the law, irrespective of language, race, color, sex, political opinion, philosophical belief, religion and sect, or any such considerations."

The instructions of Engin suggest to us that "some people are more equal."

If there's anyone who has a different understanding of this decision then please come forward.

We will continue to encounter these types of strange situation until Başbuğ shows more courage and does what he needs to do in his own headquarters.

10 April 2010, Saturday