Sledgehammer (Balyoz) case: still proceeds with the help of forged documents

Dani Rodrik


23 November 2011

(This article was first published at Dani Rodrik’s Weblog)

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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 –

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– 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.

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