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Torture and Other Abuses Make Turkey as American as Apple Pie

On the topic of torture the nation of Turkey could teach some gruesome techniques to ISIS, the terrorist movement executing a savage reign across Syria and beyond (reportedly with Turkish government support).

That reality of brutality in Turkey – another problematic American ally – is a fact known all too well by Turgay Ulu, a Turkish journalist who endured a 15-year imprisonment in Turkey, where he was tortured. During Ulu’s long imprisonment, Turkish authorities justified his conviction on their claim that they had evidence against him –- evidence authorities obtained from two other victims of torture.

“I was tortured with electro shocks,” Ulu said during an interview earlier this year in Berlin, Germany where he is a leading figure in a movement for refugee rights. Ulu’s long imprisonment in Turkey led many, including Amnesty International, to consider him a political prisoner. Ulu was released from a Turkish prison in 2011 and he immediately fled to Europe.

Ulu was initially arrested in 1996 when Turkish authorities accused the then 23-year-old of belonging to two communist organizations. Ulu admits being a “Marxist” activist in Turkey but denies membership in those two organizations. A report Amnesty International released in 2006 examining serious flaws in Turkey’s justice system cited Ulu’s case. That AI report noted it was “highly improbable” that Ulu would be involved in “two ideologically unrelated” armed organizations.

“They tortured me but I still would not talk to the police,” Ulu said. “When I did not talk to the police they said that was proof that I was a terrorist because I did not talk.”

Ulu received a death sentence for one of the many charges Turkish authorities filed against him. That death sentence was converted to a life sentence in 2002. Twenty-days after Ulu’s release from prison in 2011, Turkish authorities reinstated the life sentence. If Ulu returns to Turkey he faces a return to prison.

The U.S. State Department’s most recent “Human Rights Practices” report noted the existence of “torture” in Turkey despite torture being prohibited by Turkish law. That State Department report, released in June 2015, also stated the Turkish “government or its agents allegedly committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.” Prison conditions in Turkey are “poor” that report stated, noting “brutality” by guards — including brutality against children.

Turkey made international news recently when it shot down a Russian jet bomber that it alleged had briefly entered Turkish airspace near the border with Syria (Russia, and even some US government sources, say the Russian plane did not enter Turkey, and in fact say the Turkish jet that downed it fired its missile while in Syrian airspace). A few months ago Russia began bombing opponents of Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad. For the past few years Turkey’s president, Recep Erdogan, has actively worked to overthrow Syria’s president.

Some experts contend Turkey downed that jet as retaliation against Russia for Russia’s bombing of anti-Syrian-government rebels supported by Turkey, and even for bombing tanker trucks delivering embargoes ISIS fuel oil for sale and transhippment inside Turkey.

However, experts also see the shoot-down as yet another attempt by Turkey to drag the U.S. deeper into the Syrian conflict. In 2013 Turkey urged a U.S. attack on Syrian government forces as retaliation for a deadly poison gas incident initially blamed by Turkey and the US on al-Assad forces. That incident, evidence later indicated, was actually a covert “false flag” operation by Turkish intelligence operatives devised to provoke a strong American military response against al-Assad. Russia brokered a deal back then that averted a U.S. aerial attack on al-Assad –- a deal that angered Turkey’s Erdogan.

Shortly after Turkey shot down that Russian jet, U.S. President Obama declared publicly that Turkey – a member of NATO – had a right to defend its territory. In 2014 when the U.S. began bombing ISIS targets in Syria, U.S. news coverage at that time stated Obama Administration personnel expressed frustration over Turkey’s failures to do more “militarily” against ISIS. After the shoot-down, Obama announced sending more special ops troops into Syria and increased bombing in Syria.

Some funding for ISIS comes from selling oil on the black market. ISIS gets that oil from Syrian oil fields that ISIS controls. ISIS ships that oil through Turkey. Entities in Turkey, including, allegedly, a son of President Erdogan, purchase some of that ISIS oil, according to reliable reports.

ISIS also receives funding from entities and individuals in Saudi Arabia, another American ally and another nation working to overthrow Syria’s al-Assad. That 2015 U.S. State Department human rights report also criticized authorities in Saudi Arabia for jailing “non-violent critics” and clamping down on “free and open media.”

The U.S. government justifies ‘regime change’ in Syria based on al-Assad’s violations of democratic rights – rights routinely violated by American allies Turkey and Saudi Arabia according to the U.S. State Department and other human rights monitors like Amnesty International.

The Kafkaesque arrest and long imprisonment of Turgay Ulu is now compounded by actions of another American ally, Germany.

German courts have denied Ulu’s request for asylum. German courts adopted the posture of Turkish authorities that Ulu is a terrorist and is thus not a politically persecuted person entitled to asylum in Germany.

“Currently, I can’t get asylum in Germany but t [they Germans] won’t deport me because they know I would be tortured in Turkey,” a perplexed Ulu said.

Charges lodged against Ulu by Turkish authorities included the claim that he physically attempted to help a terror group leader escape from a hospital. Authorities said three policemen saw Ulu participate in that failed escape that occurred at a time when Ulu was virtually blind from eye problems. Ulu said his impaired vision made it impossible for him to participate in such a daring escape attempt.

During a court proceeding years after his arrest two of those three policemen stated Ulu was not the person they observed. Turkish authorities refused to produce the third policeman in court yet constantly cited that policeman’s claims against Ulu to continue Ulu’s incarceration. During another court proceeding, a Turkish prosecutor admitted that evidence “does not exist” against Ulu on any of the charges against him, but Turkish courts nonetheless continued his imprisonment.

Ulu said he maintained his sanity inside Turkish prisons by reading the works of American political prisoner – Mumia Abu-Jamal. Some newspapers in Turkey publish Abu-Jamal’s writings. Abu-Jamal remains in a Pennsylvania prison serving a life sentence since his death penalty was overturned. Amnesty International states that Abu-Jamal’s conviction for killing a Philadelphia policeman rests on a fundamentally unfair trial and appeals process.

“I tried to be disciplined in prison so I would not go crazy,” Ulu said. “I read books. I wrote books. I kept by sanity the same way Mumia has kept his sanity.”

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Linn Washington, Jr. is a founder of This Can’t Be Happening and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He lives in Philadelphia.

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