Sledgehammer trial begins for 196 suspects in coup case with new judge

OSMAN ARSLAN,
?STANBUL
Files in cases filed against 196 Sledgehammer suspects were  transferred from the Be?ikta? courthouse to the ?stanbul 10th High  Criminal Court in Silivri yesterday. ?brahim F?rt?na,  Özden Örnek and  Aytaç Yalman. (Above inset picture from left to right), Dursun Çiçek  (middle inset picture) and  Çetin Do?an (bottom inset picture)
Files in cases filed against 196 Sledgehammer suspects were transferred from the Be?ikta? courthouse to the ?stanbul 10th High Criminal Court in Silivri yesterday. ?brahim F?rt?na, Özden Örnek and Aytaç Yalman. (Above inset picture from left to right), Dursun Çiçek (middle inset picture) and Çetin Do?an (bottom inset picture)
The first hearing in the trial of a suspected military plan to overthrow the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) is set to begin at the ?stanbul 10th High Criminal Court today, with most of the 196 suspects appearing before the prosecution on charges of a failed attempt to destroy Parliament and overthrow the government.
Some suspects, who cited travel abroad as an excuse, will miss the first hearing. The trial concerns the Sledgehammer Security Operation Plan, a suspected coup plan devised at a military gathering in 2003 that allegedly sought to undermine the government in order to lay the groundwork for a military takeover.
On Tuesday, the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) removed the presiding judge in the Sledgehammer case — Zafer Ba?kurt — from the trial and assigned him to a court in Gebze. The board also removed Erkan Canak — a judge at the ?stanbul 14th High Criminal Court — and assigned him to a court in Sakarya. As the reason, the board cited an earlier Ministry of Justice report about the judges in which the two are accused of close contacts with suspects in the Ergenekon case.
Most of the suspects in the Sledgehammer case, all retired and active duty members of the military, are set to appear in court today. The suspects are accused of a failed attempt to overthrow the government. The trial will see a new judge take over as the presiding judge has been assigned to another court due to allegations made against him.
Ergenekon is a shadowy criminal network that is suspected of plotting to topple the government. Dozens of its members, including businessmen, members of the military and journalists, are currently incarcerated while standing trial. According to Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin, the decision against the judges came through a unanimous vote of HSYK members. He said HSYK member Kadir Özbek also wanted to remove the judges but failed to do so because the yearly appointment list for judges and prosecutors had not yet been completed.
?stanbul 13th High Criminal Court Judge Ömer Diken and ?stanbul 14th High Criminal Court Judge Rüstem Ery?lmaz were assigned in lieu of Ba?kurt and Canak.
According to the ministry report, recently finalized by a group of inspectors, Ba?kurt and Canak underwent long-term surveillance which eventually revealed that the two judges were involved in dark plans to change the course of the Sledgehammer case. The report stated that the two judges had frequent contact with former Justice Minister Seyfi Oktay to this end. Oktay was detained in early June in a fresh wave of operations against Ergenekon. He is accused of attempting to unduly influence the course of the Ergenekon probe.
Today, most of the 196 suspects in the Sledgehammer case are expected to be present at the ?stanbul 10th High Criminal Court to attend the first hearing. The indictment in the case names retired Gen. Çetin Do?an, the former head of the 1st Army, as the prime suspect.
According to the Sledgehammer coup plan, the military was to systematically foment chaos in society through violent acts, among which were planned bomb attacks on the Fatih and Beyaz?t mosques in ?stanbul. The plot allegedly sought to undermine the government to lay the groundwork for a coup d’état.
The indictment names former Land Forces Commander Gen. Aytaç Yalman, former Air Forces Commander Gen. ?brahim F?rt?na and former Naval Forces Commander Adm. Özden Örnek, all of whom retired in 2004, as suspects. Col. Dursun Çiçek, who is believed to have drafted another coup plot, will also be tried in the Sledgehammer case.
Among other suspects are generals and admirals on active duty, including Gen. Nejat Bek, Vice Adm. Mehmet Otuzbiro?lu, Maj. Gen. Ahmet Yavuz, Maj. Gen. Gürbüz Kaya and Rear Adm. Caner Bener. Kaya was suspended in late November by the defense minister due to his suspected ties to the Sledgehammer plan. The list of suspects does not mention any civilians. The suspects are accused of a failed attempt to destroy Parliament and overthrow the government. Such a charge calls for a jail sentence of up to 20 years in prison.
In the meantime, former HSYK head Özbek responded to the remarks by the justice minister and denied his claims that he wanted to remove the judges when in office. He said he asked the board to “examine” the situation of the judges, but the board refused to do so. “I did not submit a proposal to remove them. I just proposed to examine their situation,” he noted.
NGOs hope to become co-plaintiff in case
Several nongovernmental organizations and associations have announced that they will apply today to become co-plaintiffs in the Sledgehammer trial.
Details from Sledgehammer plan

The Sledgehammer Security Operation Plan was exposed by the liberal Taraf daily in October.
The 5,000-page document showed that a group within the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) had a plan to systematically incite chaos in society through violent acts that would eventually lead to a military takeover. Among the planned acts were bomb attacks at some of ?stanbul’s most famous mosques. The documents were reportedly written at a military meeting in 2003, shortly after the AK Party government came to power. The mastermind of the plan was allegedly retired Gen. Çetin Do?an, who was then commander of the 1st Army.
According to the plan, the coup would mainly be based in and around ?stanbul. The coup plotters planned to “make use of” the police force and soldiers to facilitate the staging of the coup. Police officers and soldiers would be used to establish special security teams, which would be deployed in various Turkish provinces for security reasons.
The junta planned to detain and then arrest at least 200,000 individuals on charges of reactionary activities in ?stanbul after the coup, according to the Sledgehammer indictment. Individuals who stood up to the coup were to be taken into custody and brought to large sports facilities for interrogation. The suspects would be questioned by security forces there and then sent to prison. If the prisons were unable to accommodate all the arrestees, military barracks would temporarily be turned into jails.
Coup planners also hoped to expel 2,380 students — both leftists and rightists — from their universities, a move very similar to what happened to hundreds of university students after the Sept. 12, 1980 coup d’état.
Co-plaintiff status grants a person or their legal representatives the right to take part in an ongoing legal action along with the prosecution.
Among those NGOs and associations are the Defenders of Justice Association (ASDER), the Jurists’ Association, the Association of Human Rights and Solidarity for Oppressed Peoples (MAZLUM-DER), the Association of ?mam-Hatip Graduates (ÖNDER) and the Democrat Jurists Association. All of them were to be seized and shut down after the planned coup, according to the Sledgehammer coup plan.
Jurists’ Association President Cahit Özkan said they will follow the trial closely and work for a fair trial. “We want the suspects to be punished in the harshest manner,” he said. Mustafa Hac?mustafao?ullar?, the deputy head of ASDER, noted that all of the NGOs and associations the coup plotters planned to shut down have defended the rule of law.
MAZLUM-DER President Ahmet Faruk Ünsal stated that his association set up a special team to follow the Sledgehammer case. “Coup plotters tried to show our association as an illegal formation. Therefore, we have decided to become a co-plaintiff in the case,” he added.
Ba?kurt, Canak implicated in other scandals
Ba?kurt and Canak are also allegedly involved in a number of scandals other than establishing close contact with Ergenekon suspects.
Canak was the presiding judge in the trial into the assassination of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink.
Earlier this year, Canak was caught in a telephone conversation with another judge, Ali Hadi Emre, in which he complained that he received threats from Kudbettin Avc?, a lawyer, over the release of a drug baron from prison. Canak told the lawyer that Avc? threatened him with slander if he refused to release the drug baron.
“If he continues to threaten me, I will go to the Justice Ministry and tell them about everything. The baron was captured with 200 kilograms of drugs. How can I release him?” Canak said, and added: “I have known him for years. He is my friend. But he says he will complain to the [Justice Ministry] inspector about me. I have nothing to be afraid of. But why does he keep harassing me?”
Emre, in response, advised the judge to calm down and pledged that everything would be better in the future.
It was later revealed that Canak agreed to receive a bribe from the drug baron’s men to acquit the baron of the charges. In addition, the men hired hotel rooms for Canak and Ba?kurt and provided them with prostitutes. Although the accusations against the two judges had been around for quite a while, the HSYK had failed to take action against them.
Canak was also the head of a group of judges who voted for the release of Col. Çiçek from prison in July 2009. The colonel stands accused of having drafted a subversive plot against the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and the faith-based Gülen movement, which would eventually lead to a military takeover. Thanks to Canak’s help, the colonel was released after only 30 hours in prison. However, he was arrested again in April of this year due to the same charges.
Yesterday Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin spoke to reporters about the removal of the two judges and said the decision was made unanimously. He also noted that former HSYK member Kadir Özbek also wanted to remove the judges, but failed to do so because the yearly appointment list for judges and prosecutors had not yet been completed.
“It is important that all members on the board shared the same opinion [about the removal of the judges]. … The file [about the judges] is very important,” he noted.


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