A recent amendment to the law on National Intelligence Service (MIT) personnel, requiring the prime minister’s authorization for their trial, seems to have resolved a crisis among Turkey’s security and judicial apparatus for now. However, this solution also raised many more issues than it solved and the crisis highlighted some underlying tensions in Turkish politics.
The crisis started when Istanbul Specially Authorized Prosecutor’s Office, Sadrettin Sarikaya, summoned MIT Undersecretary, Hakan Fidan, his predecessor Emre Taner, the former deputy Undersecretary Afet Gunes and two more MIT personnel on February 7. The prosecutor was investigating the Kurdish Communities Union (KCK), alleged to be the extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)’s organization in metropolitan areas. Reportedly, these intelligence officers would have been questioned over some MIT personnel who infiltrated the KCK for gathering intelligence, but later allegedly implicated in its illegal activities and the secret talks carried out with the PKK. Claiming that any investigation would require permission from the prime minister, they declined to appear before the prosecutor’s office. The prosecutor’s office rejected the MIT’s appeal, and issued orders on February 10, which called on Fidan to testify in Ankara, and also demanded that the other officers be detained.
Unwilling to accept the investigation being allowed to proceed, the government discharged the prosecutor from this investigation, arguing that he had overstepped his authority. But, since this development raised the risk that these intelligence officials could be arrested, the government also initiated a legal process that would somehow grant them legal immunity. The government disregarded the objections from opposition parties and passed an amendment to the law on MIT personnel through the parliament swiftly on February 17, which states explicitly that prosecutors will have to receive authorization from the prime minister, before they can investigate the MIT officials or other public officials assigned by the prime minister to carry out specific duties. President Abdullah Gul also approved the new legislation immediately and the law went into effect (Anadolu Ajansi, February 20).
As the new legislation rendered the summons orders irrelevant, they were withdrawn. However, questions remain over how the prosecutor’s office will handle this issue. As there have been indications that it holds serious evidence supporting its initial decision to summon the MIT officials, it is argued that it will pursue this case. If it chooses this route, it will first need to prepare a preliminary indictment and submit it for review by the prime minister (Zaman, February 20).
The opposition parties immediately condemned this development. Both the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Action Party (MHP) lambasted the contents of the bill, arguing that it signifies a step back from democratization because it will create areas of action for the executive authority beyond judicial review. This law, in the CHP’s view, would violate the principle of the rule of law and permit the formation of gangs inside the state apparatus (Anadolu Ajansi, February 17). The MHP was equally critical, as it maintained that with these changes the government was trying to prevent its misdoings from being exposed (Anadolu Ajansi, February 21). Moreover, both parties were particularly critical of the way the amendments were legalized, and especially the president’s prompt authorization, which in their view, meant that the president was acting just as a proxy of the government. The CHP plans to file a law suit with the Constitutional Court this week, demanding the annulment of the changes (Milliyet, February 21).
The crisis has been a matter of intense controversy since the first day it was revealed, as it highlights many interrelated issues about the direction of Turkish politics. Some commentators viewed it as the tip of the iceberg in a conflict taking place between the governing AK Party and the supporters of the Gulen movement. Arguably, the Gulen movement supporters, using their influence in the specially authorized courts and the police force, have been positioned against the government, which has moved to consolidate its hold over the intelligence service under the leadership of Fidan (who has been brought to that post by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan). For many, the attempt to summon Fidan was directed against Erdogan himself. This was the most hotly debated dimension of the crisis, and if this is true, it will signify major divisions within the Turkish state apparatus and perhaps additional confrontations in the days to come. Some informed analysts already maintained that the Alliance between the AK Party and Gulen movement was over (Haberturk, February 21).
Moreover, this development also highlights the issue of specially authorized courts, which have largely been used so far to carry out several high-profile investigations, including those into Ergenekon and other terrorist-related charges. While government circles were content with their operations, now that these instruments reached a point of investigating the activities of the security institutions tasked with the executive authority to carry out certain tasks, including covert operations, it remains to be seen as to how far the government will allow them to go in the future. Coupled with the allegations about a rift between the government and the Gulen movement supporters, the courts’ investigation into certain undertakings of security personnel will signify a major liability for Turkey, as it might lead to serious shortcomings in security institutions’ performing of their duties. In any case, such special courts questioning the executive authority’s political decisions might indeed create a slippery slope leading to serious interferences in civilian politics.
With these amendments, the government underlined clearly that it will not let its security policies be compromised. In particular, Erdogan stood behind his trusted official Fidan, whose power has been bolstered further through a recent development that brought under his helm the military’s surveillance installations as well as the task of coordinating various intelligence institutions. Erdogan also finally made a statement, following his recovery from a medical operation, and took a clear stance on the developments. He rebuffed assertions that there was any infighting or animosity between the bureaucratic institutions and maintained that he will not let appointed bureaucrats question the elected representative’s political decisions (Anadolu Ajansi, February 19). Though he seems to have emerged victorious in this battle, the risk of further political fighting in Ankara is far from over.