Will The U.S. Extradite An Elderly Turkish Cleric?

Aug 3, 2016
Originally published on August 3, 2016 12:49 pm

When Turkish officials visited Washington this week, one of their first stops was the Justice Department. They are trying to make the case that the U.S. should extradite a key suspect in last month's failed coup attempt.

Following those talks with the Justice Department, three Turkish lawmakers had tough words about Fethullah Gulen, the aging cleric who lives in rural eastern Pennsylvania and whose followers have been rounded up in Turkey in the wake of the coup.

"For us, [Osama] bin Laden organizing and directing 9/11 from a cave in Afghanistan is no different than [Gulen] organizing and giving orders for a bloody coup attempt from a small town in the United States," Taha Ozhan, chairman of the Turkish parliament's commission on foreign affairs, said during a news conference at the Turkish Embassy in Washington.

Gulen has denied that he or his followers were involved in the failed coup on July 15.

Another Turkish lawmaker, Kamil Aydin, of the nationalist MHP party, says he gets the sense that the U.S. is eager to find a solution.

"I believe that America is going to refuse losing Turkey as a good partnership in the region," he told NPR after the news conference.

Legal experts, though, say this extradition process could be lengthy.

The first step is for Turkey to persuade the Justice Department to bring a case before a U.S. federal judge, who will then have to rule whether Gulen is "extraditable" and whether there is probable cause that he committed a crime.

A court case and a political case

Once that happens, the case goes to the secretary of state for review and becomes more of a matter of international politics.

"The extradition process is designed with a diplomatic focus," says John Parry, a professor at Lewis and Clark Law School. "It is designed to create a process that involves the courts, though not too much, and leaves most of the control in the hands of government officials and diplomatic interests."

Extradition is a routine process, mostly involving transnational crimes from drug dealing to money laundering. Parry estimates there are several hundred cases a year of alleged criminals either coming to the U.S. for trial or being sent abroad.

As for high-profile cases like the one involving the Turkish cleric, Parry recalls a series of cases in the 1970s and '80s when the U.K. wanted the U.S. to extradite suspects from Irish Republican Army bombings. Some of those suspects were eventually deported even after U.S. courts blocked their extradition.

The government can also control how quickly this moves.

"It is very easy to slow walk it," Parry says. The State Department is already suggesting Turkey's extradition request for Gulen could take time.

There are many factors the U.S. government would have to weigh. Turkey is a NATO ally and the U.S. has condemned the coup attempt. The U.S. would also have to consider whether Gulen would likely get a fair trial in a country that is now arresting thousands of his alleged followers.

Turkish opposition lawmaker O─čuz Kaan Salici, of the opposition CHP party, told NPR he's trying to make sure the crackdown doesn't become a witch hunt.

"We will support the government's fight against these coup plotters. On the other hand, if they are trying to take some opposition members, we will be criticizing them," Salici says, adding so far there have been some, but not many opposition political figures arrested in this crackdown.

Salici is hoping the United States will remind its ally Turkey of the need to return to a normal democracy. He, too, though, came to Washington to urge the U.S. to send Gulen to a Turkish court.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Turkey is ramping up the pressure on the U.S. to extradite an elderly cleric living in America, a cleric that Turkey insists was behind a failed coup attempt last month. Several Turkish lawmakers are in Washington, D.C., making that case. Any extradition would take time. And, as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports, in the end, it depends on international politics as much as any court ruling.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Turkey's fractious parties seem to be united on one thing - the U.S. should extradite Fethullah Gulen, a cleric who lives in Pennsylvania and whose followers are being rounded up across Turkey following last month's coup attempt. The chairman of Parliament's commission on foreign affairs, Taha Ozhan, described the aging cleric as a missionary cult leader, making a dramatic comparison for American audiences.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TAHA OZHAN: The importance of bin Laden, who organized September 11 from cave in Afghanistan was the same as Gulen's importance to Turkey, as he organized the bloody July 15 coup attempt from a small town in United States.

KELEMEN: He and his fellow lawmakers had just met with Justice Department officials about this. And Kamil Aydin of the nationalist MHP party says he got the sense that the U.S. is eager for a solution.

KAMIL AYDIN: I believe that America is going to refuse losing Turkey as a good partnership in the region. Of course, they are going to require some documents, which is in the process of being prepared. Now, when we send the rest of documents, it's going to be OK then.

KELEMEN: But it's not that simple. The first step is for Turkey to persuade the Justice Department to bring the case before a U.S. federal judge who will then have to decide if Gulen is extraditable. And the U.S. could slow walk this, says John Parry, a professor at Lewis and Clark Law School.

JOHN PARRY: They could take their time getting the materials presented to the court. Then when the court says the guy's extraditable, it has to go to the secretary of state's office for a review.

KELEMEN: And Parry says, at that point, this becomes a matter of international politics.

PARRY: The extradition process is designed with a diplomatic focus. It's designed to create a process that involves the courts not too much and leaves most of the control in the hands of government officials and diplomatic interests.

KELEMEN: One factor could be whether Gulen would have any chance of a fair trial in a country that's now arresting thousands of his alleged followers. Turkish opposition lawmaker Oguz Kaan Salici is trying to make sure this crackdown doesn't become a witch hunt.

OGUZ KAAN SALICI: We will support the government's fight against these coup plotters. On the other hand, if they are trying to take some opposition members - let's say from civil society, from opposition parties - they'll be criticizing them.

KELEMEN: Salici is hoping the United States will remind its ally Turkey of the need to return to a normal democracy. He, too, though, wants the U.S. to send Gulen to a Turkish court. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.