U.S. should focus on detained State Department staff in Turkey – experts

U.S. President Donald Trump has a moral obligation to come to the aid of three State Department employees jailed in Turkey, wrote Henry J. Barkey, a professor of international relations at Lehigh University and a senior fellow for the Middle East at the Council on Foreign Relations, and Eric Edelman, the U.S. ambassador to Turkey between 2003 and 2005, in an opinion piece for the New York Post on Sunday.

The trio; Hamza Ulucay, the first of the three to be detained in Feb 2017, Metin Topuz and Nazmi Mete Canturk have been held on charges described by the authors as, “the product of paranoid conspiracy theories that beggar the imagination”.

Unlike Andre Brunson, a U.S. pastor jailed in Turkey on terrorism charges since 2016 and whose detention has caused an escalating diplomatic crises between the countries, the three State Department employees are Turkish nationals. Their cases have received little publicity.

“The unwillingness of Washington to apply public pressure on Turkey to release these State Department employees,” wrote Barkey and Edelman, “sends an alarming message to other locally employed staff in Turkey: They are all subject to intimidation and pressure from Turkish authorities, and their employer doesn’t have their back. In effect, Turkish intelligence now has leverage over part of U.S. operations, shattering diplomatic conventions. Many of these local employees have resigned. Worse, the Turks’ actions may be copied by other authoritarian states that notice the U.S. government’s indifference.”

The authors said the United States had a duty to ensure the safety of employees in its overseas missions and said failure to do so hampered the effectiveness of the State Department around the world.

They also urged Congress to use the likely imminent conformation process for a new ambassador to Turkey to hold the U.S. administration accountable for the safety and security of all its employees.