WHattiOne of the thorniest issues dogging Turkish-American relations is the refusal of the United States to extradite exile preacher Fethullah Gülen, who Turkish authorities say was the mastermind behind a 2016 failed coup attempt.
A senior analyst at a Washington, D.C. think-tank, however, says that the insistence on the extradition issue is making it more difficult for Turkey to make her wider case to America.
“Over the past year, the evidence that Gulen’s followers were centrally involved in the coup attempt has mounted,” said Nicholas Danforth of the Bipartisan Policy Center.
“At the same time, as a result of Turkey’s subsequent response, it has become equally clear that Gulen will not, and should not, be extradited to Turkey.”
The narrative on both sides is becoming strained, Danforth says, by unrealistic expectations on the Turkish side and a willingness to ignore the realities of the coup by the United States.
Focusing the debate on the imagined possibility of some future extradition enables the Turkish government to avoid acknowledging that its own actions have rendered this impossible. But it also enables Washington to perpetually put off any real discussion of Gülen’s guilt pending the improbable arrival of a solid legal case from Turkish prosecutors.
Moving past the extradition debate would allow for a more candid, focused and fruitful discussion over what, if anything, the United States could do to address Gülen’s role in the coup absent meaningful cooperation from the Turkish government.
So why is the United States unwilling to give up Gülen? Much of the Turkish media would say that it is because he is a CIA asset. But Danforth cites weak evidence and a tendency to resort to conspiracy in Turkey’s presentation of its case, plus the additional legal hurdles created by “widespread torture, sweeping purges and the thorough politicization of the Turkish legal system”.
However, he adds, this is distracting the United States from the facts in hand: that a bevy of evidence – both from the testimony of soldiers who took part and from their physical presence at the coup headquarters – links members of the Gülen movement to the coup.
Moreover, a document apparently leaked by the U.S. Embassy in Ankara shows that at least one of the conspirators was almost certainly in contact with Gülen in the run-up to the attempt – even if we do not know what they talked about.
As Danforth says, events may point to the personal acquiescence of Gülen to the coup attempt, but any lawyer would have trouble convincing a court of this beyond reasonable doubt based on the limited, circumstantial evidence available.
A move away from talk of extradition, he says, is the only policy option that would allow the U.S.–Turkey relationship to move on from its present torpor:
The challenge for Washington is to find a way to acknowledge and respond to this reality that can help restore U.S. credibility in Turkey without rewarding Erdogan’s aggressive post-coup measures.