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Search in military’s cosmic room faces blockage attempts in Turkey

04 January 2010 [10:45] - TODAY.AZ
A civilian search at the Special Forces Command continued yesterday as part of an ongoing probe into a suspected military plot to assassinate Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç, despite an attempt by the General Staff and a controversial member of the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) to stop the search.

HSYK member Ali Suat Ertosun issued a written statement on Dec. 30 opposing the search of the headquarters. The search is being conducted by Kadir Kayan, a judge at the Ankara 11th High Criminal Court. In his statement, Ertosun claimed that documents that constitute “state secrets” cannot be examined by a judge.

The search was initiated on Dec. 24 after the capture of two officers from the Tactical Mobilization Group -- a unit under the General Staff's Special Forces Command -- as they stood watch near Arınç's house in Ankara's Çukurambar neighborhood. Upon the capture, the General Staff claimed that the officers were actually gathering intelligence on another army officer suspected of espionage.

The search at the Special Forces Command, where confidential military documents are kept in archives referred to as the “cosmic room,” has been applauded by most observers as they believe it will shed light on a number of shady incidents in the country's past. The search aims to reveal whether there is a military plot to assassinate high-level politicians.

On Dec. 29 the General Staff announced that the search was being carried out in accordance with the law, noting that it was likely to be “lengthy.”

Shortly after Ertosun's statement, however, the judicial advisory board of the General Staff applied to the Ankara 11th High Criminal Court and asked for an end to the civilian search of the “cosmic room.” The board argued that the documents kept in the archives are state secrets.

Prominent Turkish jurists, however, do not agree. Professor Ahmet Gökçen, an expert on criminal law at Marmara University, told Today's Zaman that the search at the Special Forces Command is being carried out in line with the law, adding that any document that is suspected to constitute a crime cannot be kept secret from a judge.

According to Professor Ersan Şen from İstanbul University, laws grant judges the right to examine, investigate or keep documents that may be evidence in an investigation. “The documents are later submitted to a prosecutor. If not, how can a prosecutor file a lawsuit? If the judge encounters ‘state secrets’ during a search, he does not end the search; he collects the evidence and keeps a record of it,” he stated.

Turkey’s problem regarding state secrets stems from the ambiguity of its legislation. The government has so far failed to pass a number of bills drafted in 2007 aimed at clarifying what constitutes classified information and documents. Among them are bills on state secrets, banking secrets and bank customers’ private information.

If approved, the drafts would become law and Parliament, courts and prosecutors would have the authority to request any information or documentation deemed necessary. Those who disclose confidential information or documents illegally would face terms of imprisonment ranging from one to three years. However, the bills have not been passed due to opposition.

A former military prosecutor and judge, Faik Tarımcıoğlu, asked why a judge would not be entitled to see a document that can be seen by a major. Tarımcıoğlu was also an ex-Motherland Party (then-ANAP, later ANAVATAN) deputy in the 1980s. “The judge acts like a power of the state. He sees [investigates] documents drafted by a state body in accordance with the authority entrusted to him. … Necessary grounds to file charges should be found. What leads to a trial is an investigation. How will you file charges without an investigation? For a trial, you need to investigate and find evidence,” Tarımcıoğlu added.

A police search of the homes and vehicles of the two military officers accused of plotting to kill Arınç revealed last month that the two had plans to assassinate numerous high-profile politicians and ministers. Among the many targets were President Abdullah Gül, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Parliament Speaker Mehmet Ali Şahin. The planned assassinations were apparently aimed at creating an atmosphere of chaos in the country. During the search, police found several pages of hand-drawn maps showing the location of the homes of Gül, Erdoğan and Şahin. The sketches were sent to the forensics department of the Ankara Police for analysis.

Ahmet Gündel, a retired Supreme Court of Appeals prosecutor, accused Ertosun of issuing a statement that was an “attempt to put pressure on the judiciary.”

“The Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office is carrying out the investigation. The suspects are accused of establishing an armed terrorist organization, violating the Constitution and working to destroy the government. The suspects are military officers on active duty, but they committed the crime outside a military zone. Therefore, the investigation is in the hands of civilian prosecutors. Rooms where documents that constitute state secrets are archived are being searched by a judge. This is a search being carried out totally within the boundaries of the law. All jurists agreed on this point. However, Ertosun sparked a debate by claiming that the search is not legal. However, Ertosun does not have the authority to make such a statement. His statement was pressure on judges and prosecutors,” complained Gündel.

A unit of information technology specialists has been set up to examine the computers at the Special Forces Command. Among the members of the unit will be specialists from the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (TÜBİTAK), the Justice Ministry and police departments.

The unit will assist Kayan by making copies of documents kept on the headquarters’ computers. The copied documents will later be examined by the judge and prosecutors conducting the probe into the suspected assassination plot against Arınç.

/Todays Zaman/

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