Mar 23 2018

Scepticism, anger at U.S. decision to drop Erdoğan bodyguard charges

Lawmakers, local officials and activists have expressed anger and scepticism after charges against 11 of 15 of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s security team  were dropped, wrote Dion Nissenbaum in the Wall Street Journal.

The bodyguards had been accused of beating protesters outside Turkey’s embassy in Washington last May, adding to already tense relations between the United States and Turkey.

Prosecutors asked that charges against four of the men be dropped last November, with charges against seven others dropped on Feb. 14th, the day before then Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visited Ankara for crucial talks.

Heather Nauert, the State Department spokeswoman, said on Thursday that no one at the State Department played a role in the decision to drop the charges and that there was no relationship between the timing of the decision and Tillerson’s visit to Turkey.

Referring to Tillerson’s comments about the decision during his meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan last month, Nauert said, “he noted that the timing was coincidental, but he also noted it was a good example of how we have an independent judiciary in our country.”

U.S. officials said that charges against some of the men were dropped because they were able to provide evidence that they had not been at the site of the beatings when they happened.

The decision was greeted with anger by U.S. lawmakers and activists.

Democratic Senator Ben Cardin said: “One cannot avoid comparing this decision to President Trump’s decision to congratulate (Russian President Vladimir) Putin on a sham election while not raising either Russia’s attack on U.S. elections or Russia’s chemical weapons attack in the U.K.”

A Republican senator, Bill Pascrell Jr. called on the Justice Department’s inspector general to open an investigation into the decision, whilst Kevin Donahue, a District of Columbia’s deputy mayor, also expressed disappointment, noting the importance of safeguarding First Amendment rights which cover freedom of speech and assembly.