It was just a few days after last summer's coup attempt. Adil Öksüz, a Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) member who spent the night of July 15 inside the coup plotters' headquarters outside Ankara, had been able to escape from jail with the support of fellow Gülenists inside the Turkish state. The public was outraged as the Turkish authorities were leading a manhunt for Öksüz. It was around the same time that the Turkish media reported about an intercepted phone call between the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul and Adil Öksüz.
Issuing a written statement, the U.S. Embassy argued that they placed the call to inform Öksüz that his U.S. visa had been revoked. Needless to say, the Turkish public was not convinced. The U.S. government, which had been making up excuses to block the extradition of Fetullah Gülen to Turkey, was complicit in Öksüz's escape, many people thought. Keeping in mind that the U.S. Consulate does not usually contact foreign nationals about revoked visas, the Turkish people had reason to find the phone call suspicious.
So much has since happened in Turkey's fight against FETÖ that the public eventually forgot about efforts by American diplomats to contact Adil Öksüz. But it didn't stop the U.S. government from popping up once again in the FETÖ investigations.
As Ambassador John Bass is being considered for a new job in Afghanistan by U.S. President Donald Trump, the U.S. Embassy in Ankara is facing new problems – this time due to links between American diplomats and the January 2014 raid on Turkish intelligence trucks.
Here's a quick refresher: In January 2014, a group of prosecutors and soldiers – who have since been arrested on FETÖ charges – raided trucks owned by the Turkish intelligence near the Syrian border. Shortly afterwards, it was discovered that Gülen, the organization's U.S.-based leader, had personally authorized the raid in an effort to spread false news alleging that Turkey had links to terrorist groups in the area and force the Turkish government to resign. At the same time, the group was seeking to gain control over Turkey's intelligence agency by toppling Hakan Fidan, the Turkish intel chief, whom the Gülenists had unsuccessfully attempted to arrest in February 2012.
So what does the U.S. Embassy have to do with all of this?
The Istanbul chief prosecutor's office recently uncovered new evidence about the 2014 raid on National Intelligence Organization (MİT) trucks and prepared a fourth indictment against the defendants. In light of phone records, sworn testimonies and other evidence, the prosecution asked that the 55 defendants be sentenced to three life sentences. According to the prosecutors, the suspects were "civilian imams" within the FETÖ hierarchy who had been tasked to oversee the raid.
Here's where the U.S. government comes in. Two suspects, Bayram Andaç and Muharrem Gözüküçük, were in contact with U.S. diplomats around the time of the infamous raid. On Jan. 20, the day after the raid, Andaç placed a phone call to the U.S. Embassy for 48 seconds. The same day, he made another 46-second call to the embassy. Hours later, he spoke with the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul for 36 seconds. Likewise, Muharrem Gözüküçük made two calls – which lasted 155 seconds and 33 seconds respectively – to the U.S. Embassy.
You might think there is nothing unusual about the calls. But the situation became more complex over time. The chief prosecutor's office in Istanbul made a formal request to the U.S. Embassy to inquire about the nature of the calls. First, the U.S. Embassy issued a written statement to deny that they had received a formal request. Then the prosecutor's office released documents showing that the U.S. Embassy had indeed received a formal request. In response, the embassy made another statement to state that it would provide necessary answer upon examination.
What followed was radio silence. Having explained why they called Adil Öksüz overnight, the U.S. diplomats haven't provided any answers about their phone calls with two suspects in the MİT trucks investigation.
One would think that the U.S. Embassy was digging up the records of said phone calls, but 20 days is a long time to access that kind of information. After all, the phone numbers of the suspects are already known. And if the two suspects spoke with the visa department, the U.S. Embassy should find it easy to answer the prosecution's questions – which raises the following questions: Did the two suspect speak with senior diplomats at the U.S. Embassy? What was the nature of American diplomats' relationship with Fetullah Gülen's thugs in Turkey? I am confident that the U.S. authorities are looking into it.