Here is a video of my keynote address at Mt. Holyoke College:
Here is a video of my keynote address at Mt. Holyoke College:
[Note: This piece first appeared in Paul Krugman's blog.]
In what is probably the country’s most important court case in at least five decades, hundreds of Turkish military officers are in jail and on trial for allegedly having plotted to overthrow the then newly-elected Justice and Development Party back in 2003. The case also happens to be one of the most absurd ever prosecuted in an apparent democracy. The evidence against the defendants is such an obvious forgery that even a child would recognize it as such. Imagine, if you can, something that is a cross between the Moscow show trials and the Salem witchcraft hysteria, and you will not be too far off.
The government’s case rests on a set of documents (mostly Word files) that describe in gory detail preparations for the coup (codenamed Sledgehammer), including false-flag operations to set the stage for the takeover and a list of cabinet members to be appointed. These are unsigned digital documents on electronic media (CDs, a detached hard drive, a flash drive) that have never been traced to actual military computers or otherwise authenticated. The military has vehemently denied that such plans ever existed.
Most tellingly, a torrent of evidence has come out since the documents first emerged that points to their fraudulent nature. The documents contain hundreds of anachronisms – names of NGOs, military installations, or firms that did not yet exist – that make clear beyond any reasonable doubt that they were produced years later and backdated to implicate the officers on trial. Some of the defendants have shown that they were outside the country at the time they are alleged to have prepared these documents or attended planning meetings.
An American forensic specialist has determined that the “hand writing” on the CDs was actually produced by mechanically replicating individual letters from the notebooks of one of the defendants. Deviations from military formatting suggest the documents were prepared by individuals not fully familiar with the army’s style requirements. As long-time Turkey analyst Gareth Jenkins put it to the New Yorker: “It’s absolutely clear that these documents have been forged.”
The prosecutors have bundled these bogus documents with authentic voice recordings from a military seminar held in March 2003. Pro-government media have made much of these recordings, in which some officers are heard making prejudicial statements about members of the governing party. But there is nothing in the proceedings to suggest those present were planning a coup. Even the prosecutors’ indictment makes clear that the case stands or falls with the authenticity of the digital documents.
The Turkish military has a history of political intervention and has often clashed with the Islamists. So the allegations have been a godsend for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who has exploited the trial to gain control over military promotions and to break the army’s political power.
But the real moving force behind this and a number of other similar trials is the Gülen movement, a key ally of the Erdoğan government made up of the followers of the Pennsylvania-based Turkish Muslim preacher Fethullah Gülen. Gülenists have a long track record of framing their perceived opponents and engaging in judicial dirty tricks. Their control of key positions in the national police and judiciary enables them to mount targeted operations disguised as legal investigations. Prosecutors scrutinizing them, whistleblowers revealing their activities, critical journalists, and even businessmen have been among their victims, in addition to military officers. As Ahmet Şık, a journalist who wrote an expose about the movement and then found himself facing preposterous charges of helping terrorists even before the book was published, exclaimed on his way to jail: “he who touches [them] burns.”
The police and prosecutors who have staged the coup plot trial are known Gülen sympathizers. And Gülenist media have worked overtime to shape public opinion, whipping up hysteria against the defendants and producing a steady stream of disinformation about the case. The occasional judge who has ruled in favor of the officers and commentators pointing to problems with the prosecutors’ evidence (including me) have become targets of Gülenist defamation. (Articles in Gülen’s media flagship Zaman and its English-language sister Today’s Zaman have accused me of, among other things, lobbying for coups, sullying Harvard’s reputation, and – most fantastically – being slotted as the minister of the economy following the coup.)
Erdoğan has recently distanced himself from the Gülenists, in part because of his party’s discomfort with their judicial manipulations. But he has yet to withdraw his support from the case against the military officers or to take action against the worst legal abuses taking place. (See here for a good recent overview.) Meanwhile, journalists who pry into such matters are silenced. Turkey currently holds more journalists in prison than China and Iran combined. Only recently have foreign journalists begun to penetrate the fog that surrounds the case and report on the blatant forgeries (see accounts in the New Yorker, Newsweek, and London Times).
The travesty that the trial represents reached new heights last week when the judge ruled to move to the final stage of the trial, bypassing defendants’ requests for examination of the prosecution’s evidence. In effect, the judge decided to completely overlook the countless anachronisms, inconsistencies, and physical impossibilities on which the case rests. A guilty verdict has become virtually certain.
The tragedy extends far beyond the injustice perpetrated on the victims of the trial. When a trial that has been marketed as a nascent democracy’s victory against military rule is fully exposed as the fraud that it is, it will be Turkey’s judiciary and democracy that will receive the greatest blow. It will take decades before the political system can fully recover from the massive undermining of the rule of law that the government and its Gülenist allies have inflicted on it.
My colleague Lant Pritchett teaches a course on globalization with Larry Summers, and he invited me to his class recently to debate Summers on free trade. I used a few thought experiments to get students to understand how thinking about trade policy requires going beyond economics to considering questions of procedural fairness and distributive justice.
Here is what I did.
I teach what is, for me, a new course this semester together with Roberto Mangabeira Unger of the Law School, called “Political Economy After the Crisis.” Roberto and I end up arguing quite a bit, with plenty of contributions from the students.
For those of you who are interested, here is the syllabus of the course. As a bonus, the videos of the first two classes are also online. This one is the first session on the crisis, and this is the second session on the way out.
This paper of mine on the Turkish economy was completed more than a year ago but has just been published in the new journal of the Turkish Economic Association. Re-reading it, I feel it captures well the missed opportunities of the last few years.
Unwillingness to use fiscal policy in a countercyclical manner (tighten when times are good), discourage capital inflows, and prevent real exchange rate appreciation until it becomes too late have once again placed the Turkish economy on an unsustainable course. Worse, with an external deficit reaching close to double-digit levels, the economy is poised for a painful hard landing as soon as confidence turns south – triggered, for example, by bad news in the Eurozone.
As recent experience shows, the countries that are worst hit by sudden flight to safety in financial markets tend to be those caught with large external deficits:
Governments that engineer growth accelerations on the back of unsustainable foreign borrowing booms like to repeat the mantra “this time it is different.” Unfortunately, few current account deficits as large as Turkey’s end well.
Many moons ago, I wrote a paper (with Alberto Alesina) called “Distributive Politics and Economic Growth,” which remains one of my most heavily cited publications. The paper has a simple idea: in highly unequal societies, the median voter is more likely to demand high taxes on capital, which in turn can be adverse for growth. So high inequality leads to redistributive politics, which is bad for growth. We also supplied some cross-country empirical evidence that is consistent with the theory.
This idea has been resuscitated in recent discussions on the consequences of the rise in American inequality. In a speech that has received much attention, for example, Alan Krueger highlighted this line of thought (referring to a paper by Torsten Persson and Guido Tabellini contemporaneous with ours as well as more recent supportive empirical research at the IMF).
So it was particularly timely when Jose Tavares from Universidade Nova de Lisboa in Portugal sent me a report on the paper prepared by two of his students, Luís Fonseca and Miguel Aguiar. Ingeniously, the students explicate the paper using the Simpsons as a backdrop. It’s very well done, and worth a look. Here it is.
There is an important difference between domestic economic policies that create benefits by imposing costs on other nations ("beggar-thy-neighbor policies") and those whose economic costs are borne primarily at home though they might affect others as well ("beggar-thyself policies").
Beggar-thy-neighbor policies need to be regulated at the international level because a nation, left to its own devices, has the incentive to pursue zero-sum policies at the expense of others. This is the strongest argument for subjecting China’s currency policies or large macroeconomic imbalances like Germany’s trade surplus to greater global discipline than currently exists.
However, “beggar thyself” policies are not the consequence of a failure of international cooperation. They reflect either a deliberate domestic decision to sacrifice economic efficiency to a competing social value, or, in the worst case, a failure of domestic politics.
Consider, for example, agricultural subsidies, bans on genetically modified organisms, or lax financial regulation. While these policies might impose costs on other countries, they are deployed not to extract advantages from them, but because other domestic-policy motives – such as distributional, administrative, or public-health concerns – prevail over the objective of economic efficiency.
The case for global discipline is in fact quite weak with beggar-thyself policies. After all, it should not be up to the “global community” to tell individual countries how they ought to weight competing goals. Imposing costs on other countries is not, by itself, a cause for global regulation. (Indeed, economists hardly complain when a country’s trade liberalization harms competitors.) Democracies, in particular, ought to be allowed to make their own “mistakes.”
For more, see here.
This time the Gülenists were caught red-handed.
In March 2009, a non-commissioned officer (NCO) serving on an air force base in the central Turkish town of Kayseri confessed to planting forged documents on a military computer, on instructions from his Gülenist mentor. His detailed account provides a rare glimpse of how Gülenists use their network to infiltrate the military and frame targeted officers with fabricated material. Equally important, the aftermath of the episode shows how Gülenists are able to manipulate the judiciary to cover up their tracks and turn the tables on those who shed light on their misdeeds.
The NCO told investigators that he had a long-standing affiliation with the Gülen movement. As a high school student he had spent time in “Işık Evleri.” Translated as “Light Houses” these are dorms and centers of instruction run by adherents of Fethullah Gülen. After finishing military school and getting posted to Kayseri, he was contacted by an “older brother” he knew from Işık Evleri and asked to rent a flat with two other NCOs he was introduced to.
The three soldiers were visited frequently by a succession of “older brothers” from the movement over the years. They were given books by Fethullah Gülen and instructed about his teachings.
In February 2009, one of these “older brothers” gave the NCO a USB drive that contained two forged Word documents bearing the name of the Kayseri base commander. One of them was based on a real document, but with key text deleted to make it look like the commander had blacklisted some of the local restaurants. The second was an entirely fabricated document calling on army personnel to assist an officer jailed on charges of being a member of the so-called “Ergenekon terror organization.”
Following his Gülenist mentor’s instructions, the NCO entered these files on the computerized document management system in the base, using another soldier’s account name and password. With the documents in the system and their authenticity thereby established, they could now be leaked to the media and townspeople to wage a campaign against the base commander.
In the long saga of deception, manipulation, framing and other dirty tricks to which Turkish politics has succumbed in recent years, this is merely a minor episode. But the case is important as it lays bare Gülen adherents’ modus operandi. It sheds light on how some of the most significant court cases Gülenists have mounted against their opponents – such as Balyoz/Sledgehammer, OdaTV, or “Islak Imza” – could be erected on fake and planted evidence.
What makes the story even more telling, however, is what happened next, following the NCO’s confession.
Stories began to appear in the Gülenist media that the confession had been extracted under “torture.” Lacking evidence of physical harm, the NCO’s new lawyers argued that the method of torture employed was “hypnosis.” The military prosecutor who carried out the investigation, Colonel Zeki Üçok, was hounded and became the subject of a growing mountain of allegations – everything from bribery to planning a coup to availing himself of Russian prostitutes. Details of his life, down to his shopping lists, were leaked to the media. Colonel Üçok’s assistant and a secretary were compelled to give false testimony saying that Üçok carried out his investigation on his own and in secret, openly contradicting the signatures that verify their presence along all stages of the proceedings.
Üçok has rejected the accusation that hypnosis was used during the questioning. Not only does the charge seem far-fetched, it also flies in the face of the documented details of the case. A single medical report, obtained months later, claimed to find evidence of hypnosis – quite a feat of medical forensics given the time that had elapsed in between. In fact, the NCO had received multiple medical, psychological and pharmacological examinations during the period he was detained and questioned, and none of those tests indicated mistreatment. Neither had the NCO complained to his lawyers or anyone else about mistreatment, until the torture allegations began to surface in the media. His statement was taken in the presence of his (first set of) lawyers. And the specialist who is alleged to have carried out the hypnosis – a retired officer Colonel Üçok invited to Kayseri to help him with the case – was not even present when the NCO gave his first confession (he arrived in town a day later!).
No matter. The NCO recanted, and he was subsequently cleared of any wrongdoing and returned to his military post. Colonel Üçok, meanwhile, was thrown in jail, where he remains to this day, forced to defend himself against a series of charges one more absurd than the other.
So next time you hear Gülen sympathizers wax eloquent about dialogue, peace, moderation, democracy and justice, think of what happened in Kayseri and to Colonel Üçok.
UPDATE AND CORRECTION: The NCO confessed to planting only one of the two documents mentioned above (the one with the fictitious instruction asking military personnel to provide assistance to an Ergenekon defendant). The second (altered) document was circulated separately.
Pity the mafia that is staging what is probably the most significant political trial in modern Turkey’s history – a show trial in which more than three hundred Turkish military officers stand accused of plotting a military coup back in 2003. Since early 2010, the mafia has produced three different batches of evidence to put the defendants behind bars. Alas, each batch contains such obvious signs of forgery that they seem rather the handiwork of a bunch of crooked Keystone Kops. Naturally the only thing that keeps the trial going is the heavy support of the AKP government and its Gulenist allies.
First, there was a trunk full of documents delivered to a newspaper reporter. The documents, digital Word files on CDs, described in gory detail preparations for a military coup. Within days, it became clear that these files had just a small problem: even though they were made to look like they dated from 2003, they referred to future events or entities that did not yet exist. By now, hundreds of such anachronisms and other inconsistencies have been identified in this first batch, leaving no doubt that the documents are the product of a much later hand.
Then, with great fanfare a second batch of digital documents was unearthed from a naval base. One might have thought the forgers would have become better at their craft with experience. Apparently not. The new documents not only repeated the initial mistakes, they compounded them. Officers were shown on a ship not yet commissioned, on duty in an outfit not yet created, or in meetings they supposedly attended while hundreds of miles away.
So when a third find was reported, this one a flash disk supposedly found in a retired air force officer’s home, I thought for sure that it wouldn’t contain such inconsistencies and anachronisms . Indeed, this time forgers tried to be smart and cover for their earlier blunders. They inserted in the new documents statements to the effect that the coup plotters had made conscious mistakes in their documents to cover their tracks. (Of course, it was left unclear how such “mistakes” could account for 2009 information finding its way into a 2003 document – but no matter.)
But incredibly they again slipped up. In fact, this third find contains some of the worst howlers to date. One document in which plotters allegedly lay out their desired changes in legislation contains an annex in which the future amended form of the law is cited, down to its precise number and date of adoption two years later! A document supposedly prepared in 2007 contains the scan of a newspaper article from 2009.
Is it so difficult to find competent forgers?
This would all be funny if hundreds of people were not in jail on the basis of such documents, and if another indictment had not just been accepted by a Turkish court – based on the third batch of fabricated evidence.
What is equally scandalous is the almost complete lack of coverage in the Turkish media of the facts of this case. “Independent” media, intimidated by the government, shies away from discussing the problems with the evidence and the evident manipulation by the police and prosecutors. Pro-government media, including most notably the Gulenist media, act as the propaganda arm of the prosecutors and systematically distort the facts.
And what do the supporters of the prosecution say when confronted with the evidence of fabrication? A common response is that the anachronisms are due to the “updating” by the coup plotters of the original documents. The trouble with this argument is that the documents show no sign of updating – except for the occasional anachronism. The names on them belong to officers on duty back in 2003, long since retired. The dates – both on the files themselves and in the metadata – are also from the earlier years. It is evident that the true authors of these documents altered the system clock of the computers on which they worked to make it look like they were prepared and last saved in 2003.
At this point, the defenders of the case lose any pretence of coherence. They say it is up to the defendants to explain why such inconsistencies and anachronisms exist. I am not kidding. Here is Bülent Keneş, the editor the Gulenist daily Today’s Zaman. So if the prosecutors cannot prove their case, the defendants must to do it for them.
Did you say Kafka? No, this is all too absurd even by that standard.