Dec 29 2018

The U.S. may have folded a hand on remaining detained Americans in Turkey - analysis


Despite the fact that the U.S. Treasury Department lifted sanctions on senior Turkish officials in exchange for the release of pastor Andrew Brunson earlier this year, there is great concern about the Americans who still remain detained in Turkey, Washington DC's prominent political paper Politico wrote.

One such person is former NASA scientist Serkan Gölge, who was detained in Turkey during a family vacation on what the U.S. government considers trumped-up charges, it said.

Gölge was sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in prison in February after being found guilty of membership of the Gülen organisation, a religious group that Turkey blames for plotting the failed coup attempt in July 2016 and considers a terrorist organisation.

“Equal force should have been applied,” said Eugene Chudnovsky, co-chair of the human rights-focused Committee of Concerned Scientists, which has advocated Golge’s release told the publication “The committee’s a little upset by the fact that the effort on behalf of Golge has not been as strong as the effort on behalf of the pastor.”

Some human-rights activists, Turkey experts and congressional staffers worry that the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump gave up ‘’a critical piece of leverage when it repealed its penalties on Turkey,’’ the article underscored.

“The Trump administration backed itself into a corner by using Magnitsky sanctions [a law that enables the U.S. government to punish foreigners for alleged human-rights abuses] as a tool for securing Brunson’s release,” it quoted Amanda Sloat, a senior fellow who studies Turkey at the Brookings Institution, as saying.

However “Sanctions can always be reimposed for the other detained individuals as a last resort,” according to a U.S. aide, who added, “and now Turkey has even more confirmation that the U.S. keeps its word and will lift those sanctions, too, if the individuals are released.”

‘’Every time we have been bold enough to use a stick, [Turkish leaders] respond within a few months’ time. … They respond [to sanctions] every single time, no matter who it is, where it is, when it is,” one Obama administration official told the publication, criticising the current U.S. strategy to tie sanctions to just one person.

The case against Brunson, which became a diplomatic flash point in part thanks to efforts of religious freedom advocates and vocal members of Congress, was considered misleading, Politico wrote, adding that the same holds true for Gölge, as well as the three U.S. Consulate workers — Hamza Ulucay, Metin Topuz and Nazmi Mete Canturk.

‘’The strains in U.S.-Turkey relations go well beyond the detainees,’’ Politico underlined, with an array of issues plaguing Ankara and Washington, including ‘’support of various groups fighting in Syria, oil purchases from Iran and Istanbul’s request that the U.S. extradite a Turkish imam on charges that human rights activists call politically motivated.’’

As such, the decision to lift Global Magnitsky Act sanctions after Brunson has some Turkey experts concerned the U.S. may have lost any power over the American detainees.