A Turkish court accepted a second indictment yesterday in the infamous Sledgehammer case, adding 28 new names to the 195 officers already under indictment (most of whom have been jailed). The new indictment is based on additional (digital) documents, said to reinforce the original charges, which prosecutors have "found" in a naval base and at the home of a retired colonel.
The core allegation remains the same: a group of senior officers prepared an elaborate plot in 2003 to destabilize and topple the newly elected AKP government. The evidence rests on a set of documents (in Word and other electronic formats) detailing the coup preparations and which the prosecutors say were produced by (and for) the coup perpetrators.
None of the documents have signatures or other authenticating features. None have been traced to the computers used by the defendants. Prosecutors say that the metadata – the names and time stamps on the files – prove the documents' authenticity, even though such metadata can be easily manipulated by altering the system clock and usernames on a computer.
Since the first indictment was produced a year ago, a torrent of evidence has come to light demonstrating beyond any doubt that the Sledgehammer plot is fictional and that the coup documents are fabricated. Most importantly, the documents – both the initial batch and the more recent ones -- contain irrefutable anachronisms that prove they were produced not in 2003, as the prosecution maintains, but in 2009 at the earliest.
Documents that appear to have been prepared in 2003 (judging by their metadata) make references to military units, hospitals, NGOs, and companies that did not exist until years later. They name a gunboat that had not yet been commissioned and a license plate that was yet to be issued. They place many individuals at positions they had yet to occupy. One document (also supposedly from 2003) contains the number and exact text of a 2005 amendment to a law, together with the precise date of the amendment!
There are countless such anachronisms and inconsistencies in the Sledgehammer documents. In addition, two forensic reports commissioned by the defendants (one of which is from a U.S. expert) have independently verified that the handwriting on the disputed CDs is most likely the product of mechanically copying individual letters from an original source. The alleged authors of several of the documents have documented that they were posted abroad or on ships with no access to the computers on which they are supposed to have prepared them. The list of problems with the prosecutors' evidence goes on and on.
Astonishingly, the second indictment is completely silent about all this. There is not a single word about the anachronisms, even though they have been widely discussed in the media and repeatedly brought up by the defendants in court. There is not the slightest effort to account for how information from 2008 or 2009 could have found its way into documents allegedly written in 2003. Even though several forensic reports have spelled out what every teenager already knows, namely that the dates on digital files can be easily altered, prosecutors continue to take the metadata on faith (and as their proof of the coup documents' authenticity).
To anyone who has closely followed the Sledgehammer and the related Ergenekon trials, none of this would come as a surprise. These trials suffer from gross violations of the rule of law and have all the markings of staged events. Most disturbingly, the cases multiply and broaden (with increasing numbers kept in jail) despite clear evidence that the charges don't hold water.
The manner in which court sessions unfold is also telling. The Sledgehammer defendants' repeated documentation of the anachronisms and other inconsistencies of the coup documents has been met by stony silence during cross-examination, remaining unprobed and unchallenged by the prosecutors and judges. The objective seems to ensure the trials go on indefinitely, providing continuing fodder for the government's and Gulenists' campaign against their opponents. (For the human toll of the trial, see Claire Berlinski's excellent account.)
"They pretend to pay us, and we pretend to work." So went the old joke in the Soviet Union. In today's Turkey, prosecutors pretend to investigate crimes, courts pretend to dispense justice, and the AKP government pretends to respect judiciary independence. Since it is now military officers who are in the dock, many commentators think all this makes Turkey more democratic.