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    Critical to Ergenekon probe, Basbug says plotters not wanted in army

    by Serkan Demirtaş
    30 Nisan 2009 - 00:00Son Güncelleme : 29 Nisan 2009 - 19:11

    ANKARA - Turkey’s top general Wednesday criticized the methodology used in the ongoing alleged Ergenekon case and its coverage by the media, making his first open criticism of the probe, in which hundreds of prominent people, including retired generals, have been arrested. (UPDATED)

    “Is the principle of the presumption of innocence applied in the margins of this investigation? I will not respond to it. The judiciary process is under way. We’ll wait in patience. No one has the right to declare these people guilty. It does harm their individual rights as well. If these people are acquitted [at the end of the process], as we wish, who will compensate for the damage done to them?” Chief of General Staff Gen. İlker Başbuğ said yesterday during a two-and-half hour press meeting with journalists.  

     

    The investigation Başbuğ referred to is generally known as “Ergenekon,” a case started in June 2007 after the discovery of 27 hand grenades in a shanty house in Istanbul's Ümraniye district that belonged to a retired noncommissioned officer. Zekeriya Öz, the chief prosecutor in Istanbul, deepened the investigation and claimed that an alleged organization composed mainly of retired four-star generals, tried to topple the government between 2003 and 2004. The case is being heard before a special court in Istanbul. Hundreds of people have been arrested.

     

    Having said that the military respects the democratic regime and rule of law, Başbuğ emphasized that “no any military personnel would deviate from this line. “As the Turkish Armed Forces, or TSK, we are respectful to the democratic regime. So, no one who deviates from this line and acts differently will find a place for himself in the military. We don’t let them survive in the military,” he stated.

     

    The diary of a retired admiral, published in the media, clearly revealed that some top commanders were trying to overthrow the government but were blocked by the former chief of general staff, Hilmi Özkök.

      

    Respect to the judiciary

    But Başbuğ also said the military respected the independence of the judiciary and constitutional order. “These are fundamental principles of the state. A contradiction to these principles by the military cannot be thought,” he underlined.

     

    “We attach the utmost importance to the judiciary and legal process. We have full confidence in the judiciary. Everybody is innocent unless the court rules otherwise. We have no right to declare people guilty based on claims. The media should question itself and act accordingly in this respect.”

     

    To media: Don’t use the word ‘Ergenekon’

    Though the case is known as Ergenekon, Başbuğ strongly criticized the use of this word on the grounds that no other case is called by any special name. During the press conference, where representatives of some pro-government media outlets were also present, Başbuğ intervened when those journalists used the word “Ergenekon” in their questions.

     

    “You [the media] are using a name that is not true. There is a court decision that the case couldn’t be associated with a proper name. We have to show respect to it,” he said.

     

    But in response, journalists said the court ruling only banned the use of the phrase “Ergenekon terror gang.” Another shortcoming Başbuğ found in the investigation was the violation of the principle of confidentiality of the prosecution. “Utmost attention should be paid to protect the credibility and security of the institutions while investigating and prosecuting,” he said.

     

    Credibility of indictment

    Furthermore, the testimonies of the secret witnesses and confessions also made Başbuğ uncomfortable about the state of the prosecution. “Especially the second indictment gives place to these concerns,” he said, adding that it tried to link a 1993-dated incident with the ongoing case. Referring to the terrorist attack in Bingöl in 1993, which ended in the death of 33 Turkish soldiers, Başbuğ said “There is a statement related to the Bingöl incident made by a secret witness in the second Ergenekon indictment. Who is this secret witness and to what extent is he or she reliable?” Noting that some incidents mentioned in the Ergenekon indictments were solely based on the secret witnesses and confessions, Başbuğ said it made people question the reliability of the indictment.

     

    “If the statement is included in the indictment, then we have to establish a link between the statement and the persons mentioned in that indictment. There is an incident but there is no tie between the incident and the people accused in the indictment. There is no evidence. Then we have the right to ask, why then did you include the statement in the indictment?” Noting that some incidents mentioned in the Ergenekon indictments were solely based on secret witnesses and confessors, Başbuğ said it made people question the reliability of the indictment.

     

    Voice recordings disturbing

    Another issue he pointed out was the increasing wiretapping and publication of the recordings in the media. “Each morning we wake up and ask ourselves whose voice recordings we’ll face this day. Is recording people’s conversation legal? No. Where will we go with this? It disturbs us a lot,” he said. Voice recordings of retired generals were publicized first through some Web sites and then in the print and broadcast media.

     

    Weapons do not belong to military

    On the unearthed weapons and ammunitions found as part of the ongoing Ergenekon probe, Başbuğ said they do not belong to the military. He said the 45 weapons and ammunitions discovered by Ergenekon investigators did not take place in the inventory of the TSK.

     

    “It is the duty of the judiciary to find out who the weapons and ammunition belong to," he said, adding that it was not true to establish a link between the weapons and the TSK. He stressed that there were no buried weapons and ammunition owned by the TSK anywhere in the country.

     

    GATA claims not ethical

    Bağbuğ also expressed uneasiness about allegations concerning the military hospital, Gülhane Military Medical Academy, or GATA. The hospital was claimed to have issued fake medical reports to free the retired generals who were arrested as part of the Ergenekon probe. “You didn’t ask me but I want to share my views about an issue, GATA, which has disturbed the military very much. The transfer of the retired generals or military officials on duty who were arrested is carried out in line with the supervision of the Justice Ministry or the laws. As the military officials, we have no interference in the incident,” Başbuğ said.

     

    Stating that Justice Minister Mehmet Ali Şahin also made certain statements about the issue and said the transfers were made in line with the law, Başbuğ said it was wrong to assert that the military had a role in these transfers.

    The consecutive transfers of four retired generals, who have been arrested as part of the ongoing Ergenekon investigation, from prison to GATA have raised suspicions. The retired generals were released in line with the medical reports by GATA and some media reports questioned the credibility of those reports.

     

    “What has been done in this respect is in line with the law. It is not ethical to raise some allegations [against the military] based on lies and aspersions,” Başbuğ noted.

     

    Military has not interfered

    Başbuğ also denied the allegations that the Ergenekon investigation was carried out with the support and the permission of the General Staff. “Is it possible to provide support for a case which is still subject to an ongoing judicial process? It is not ethical to raise such claims,” he said. “The most important thing is to what extend the process is being executed within the frame of the law.” 

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