Ankara (GPA) – Erdogan has offered to exchange a US pastor detained on terrorism charges with the US in return for the exiled cleric and alleged coup plotter Fetullah Gulen.
Turkish President Recep Erdogan spoke on the issue of Pastor Andrew Brunson at a gathering of Turkish police officers at the presidential palace. Erdogan devoted a good portion of his speech to send the message to Washington that he’d be willing to release this prisoner in exchange for exiled cleric Fetullah Gulen.
Gulen is, of course, the former-Justice and Development Party (AKP) and Erdogan ally who helped the party gain control of the government. Gulen later fell from grace as the AKP secured power for the president and pushed out any factions that could possibly compete for influence.
The demonization of Gulen culminated in last years failed coup against the AKP by alleged Gulenist elements of the police and military. While some genuine Gulenists were arrested, Erdogan also used the ensuing state of emergency to fire or arrest major elements of civil society such as teachers, journalists, judges and of course activists.
One such activist that arrested is a US Protestant pastor, Andrew Brunson, who has done missionary work in Turkey for over 20 years. Brunson is accused of “gathering state secrets for espionage, attempting to overthrow the Turkish parliament and government, and to change the constitutional order” and “membership in an armed terrorist organization.”
The charges against Brunson are based on the testimony of one undisclosed witness, whose story has changed to fit a list of accusations that occasionally randomly expands into more charges. The allegations range from “speaking positively about the Gulenist movement” to “speaking positively about the Kurdistan Workers Party.”
There hasn’t been much discussion of Brunson in the US – most likely due to Turkey’s status as a NATO member – except for a request for his release by the Trump regime in May. Despite the request by one NATO ally to another, it now seems Erdogan is intent on using Brunson as leverage; a fact that angers both the anti-Turk left and the Christian Right in the US.
According to Erdogan, he has made this proposal to the US (although when and to who is unclear). According to Erdogan, it should be “easier for [the US]” to give up Gulen because “the one that we have [in our hands – Brunson] is being tried, the one you have [in your hands – Gulen] is not being tried.”
Erdogan also felt it should be easy for the US to give up Gulen because Turkey has “given you all the documents necessary [for the extradition].” Of course, nobody has seen this evidence outside of Turkey, and even EU intelligence agencies dispute the validity of this claim.
It’s doubtful the ‘mountain of evidence’ Erdogan claims to have against Gulen is really that great if it hasn’t been shared with his NATO partner. On the other hand, even outside observers can see the Brunson is basically used as a political prop by a US ally.