A weeklong debate on the decision of an İzmir court to release American pastor Andrew Craig Brunson from jail and put him under house arrest for health reasons pending trial is once again straining the fragile relations between Ankara and Washington.
President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have both threatened to apply sanctions against Turkey if the pastor is not released, and Pence repeated this threat over the weekend that such sanctions will go into force until Brunson is sent to the U.S.
The pastor is facing serious charges of using his religious identity to cooperate with Fetullah Gülen's Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ), which staged the July 15, 2016 bloody coup attempt, and the PKK terrorist organization, which is waging a secessionist campaign against Turkey.So, the charges brought against him have nothing to do with his religious activities and Christianity. On the contrary, he is suspected of exploiting religion for political and covert purposes.
When the court restricted Brunson to house arrest, we were under the impression that this would receive a positive response in Washington, and the initial reactions by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo showed this was a fact.
Yet, the harsh reactions of Trump and Pence were surprising. Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu was on the phone twice with Pompeo after these reactions and yet, Pence continued his salvos that have baffled everyone in Ankara.
It seems Washington has misinterpreted Ankara's request to use U.S. offices to convince Israel to send back Turkish citizen Ebru Özkan, who was arrested and released by Israeli authorities, but whose exit was denied. Trump called on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and secured Özkan's return to Turkey, and it seems, in some way or another, the White House has tied this event to the Brunson case.
Brunson's case has nothing to do with Özkan, an issue between Turkey and Israel where the U.S. stepped in and resolved the problem.Turkey and the U.S. disagree on two main legal issues that need to be resolved according to Ankara. One is the fact that Gülen, who masterminded the July 15, 2016 bloody coup attempt, is still being hosted warmly in the U.S. and Turkey's requests for his extradition are still up in the air.
The other is the case of Hakan Atilla who was sentenced to two years in jail by a New York court for violating U.S. sanctions against Iran. That farcical trial was an insult to the American justice system. U.S. authorities should have gotten to the bottom of that case and sent Atilla back to Turkey to join his family. These issues, as well as the trial of Brunson and the arrest of U.S. consulate personnel for spying for FETÖ, are being discussed between Turkey and the U.S. So why the sudden fuss and angry statements? Does this have something to do with the congressional elections in the U.S. this fall? Are Trump and Pence trying to win evangelical votes with this hawkish attitude?
Turkish courts are as independent as American courts. So, U.S. authorities should allow the Turkish judicial system to see the Brunson case through and try not to interfere with our legal process.