The case of the now famous evangelical pastor Andrew Craig Brunson was not only a judicial matter. He was indicted not because he was an evangelical missionary, but because he was an American citizen believed to have engaged in illegal intelligence activity. Any foreigner can expect to face criminal justice if he or she is suspected of being involved in a subversive activity against Turkey or cooperating with Turkey's enemies.
These kind of cases are quite complex, because given their nature, these crimes are very hard to prove with material evidence. If someone is a member of the intelligence community, while on duty, he will naturally be extremely cautious and professional about not leaving any trail behind.
Brunson's sentence was relatively light, because the prosecutors were not able to find adequate evidence against him. However, the fact that the prosecutors were not able to find ample evidence is not proof that proof did exist at all. In other words, being released is not enough to clear his name. The courts are simply bound to give their verdicts solely based on evidence they can identify; the Brunson case was no exception.
We know that the Brunson case was not only a judicial matter, so technical discussions about criminal justice does not explain everything that has been going on since the beginning of the procedure. Investigating foreign intelligence activities is always a political matter and in this particular case, because Brunson is American, things got very complicated between Washington and Ankara.
Moreover, as he was also a pastor affiliated to the evangelical movement which is of paramount importance for U.S. President Donald Trump, the case has also become an American domestic matter.
Trump wanted to use this case as much as he can, because he needs evangelical votes in the midterm elections next November. He wanted to play the tough president who saved an innocent fellow citizen, moreover a persecuted Christian pastor, from Turkey. By the way, Turkey was subjected to intense negative propaganda in the American media during this time. The logic behind this is quite simple; Trump had to show how bad Turkey was in order to increase the value of bringing back the American pastor.
In brief, the Brunson case went beyond the judicial debate and has almost become the most critical topic in the long list of problems between Turkey and the U.S. Now his release will also have some impact on these relations. The Turkish court's decision was almost a "gift" to Trump, as he was eager to use it in his electoral propaganda. This is not what the judge had thought of, of course, but in the end that is what happened and Trump should definitely thank Turkey.
The fact that the Brunson case is now behind us and the pastor is already home, means that one of the issues between Turkey and the U.S. is off the list. The two countries must use this opportunity and start talking under a positive climate.
There are many cases when countries used these kinds of situations to find common ground and to push their cooperation forward in other areas. Crises are sometimes useful, in the sense that when they are over, they give the involved parties a reason to get closer. In other words, the Brunson case was turned into a major crisis between the two countries and now that it is over, the momentum should be used to develop the relations in other areas.
This case now offers an opportunity to normalize U.S.-Turkey ties as quickly as possible. The decision makers in both countries should concentrate on common interests and on the advantages of improving relations. Let's hope the Brunson case's outcome will be positive even though the case itself was quite the opposite.
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