Whoever the culprits may be, it is distressing that they have been allowed to be so effective. Clearly, their interest lies not in advancing the cause of democracy, but something quite different. They aim to polarize Turkish society, discredit the military, and complicate the courts' ability to effectively prosecute those who are truly guilty of criminal activities.
The judiciary's reaction to the allegations against Dogan and other officers has also been alarming. Instead of questioning the authenticity of the documents delivered to Taraf, prosecutors have accepted the theories spouted by the newspaper wholesale. Sticking to what appears to have been a preordained script, they have shown no interest whatsoever in any of the explanations offered by Dogan and his lawyers during the interrogation. They have gone on a ludicrous fishing expedition that includes an attempt to link Dogan with the November 2003 bombing of two synagogues and the HSBC bank in Istanbul, even though he had already retired by then. Against all precedent and in violation of Turkish law, they have successfully appealed against a judge's decision to release him. Dogan remains in a hospital, where he is suffering from ailments that were aggravated during his detention.
The media, for its part, has had a feeding frenzy. Lies, innuendo, and selective leaks from the prosecutors have been used to stoke public resentment against Dogan. Taraf has repeatedly asserted that the 11-page document contains Dogan's own signature (it does not). Other newspapers have claimed, falsely, that Dogan was tipped about his impending arrest and about to flee to Mexico. The words in a leaked report by the military prosecutors have been repeatedly twisted to suggest that the report authenticated Taraf's claims (it did not). He has been accused of feigning illness so he can remain in a hospital instead of in prison.
Such misinformation has made it practically impossible for even well-informed citizens to discriminate between fact and fiction. Journalists who have expressed skepticism of the plot's veracity have been intimidated and targeted as putschists themselves. One highly regarded journalist has told us in confidence that he is reluctant to dwell on the inconsistencies in the prosecutors' case, for fear of being labeled a coup supporter.
Most surprisingly, Turkish liberals have loudly endorsed the prosecutors' activities in the interests of increased civilian control over the country, despite the obvious holes in the evidence and the gross violations of due process.
Prime Minister Erdogan and his entourage have fanned the flames by making statements that purport to support the independence of the judiciary yet clearly lend credence to the coup plot charges. One AKP member of parliament has expressed in public what many others in that party must think in private: It is now their turn to submit the military to the persecution they feel they experienced for so long. Respect for the rule of law is upheld only when convenient. A member of Erdogan's government has even accused the judge that released Dogan of belonging to the same criminal gang as the coup plotters.
We are against military coups of any kind. We believe in a democracy where the military does not play a political role. However, we also believe that the cause of democracy and human rights is not well served by vendettas and witch hunts.
Tragically, Turkish democracy and its supporters will take the biggest hit once the full story comes out. The eventual unraveling of the case will discredit the judiciary, make the AKP government appear complicit in the debacle, shake the faith of the liberal intelligentsia, and set back the demilitarization of Turkish politics. In the interest of Turkish democracy, cooler heads must prevail.