A delegation with the US Department of Justice arrived yesterday in Ankara to hold talks over Turkey’s request for the extradition of a Muslim cleric accused of masterminding a coup attempt against President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan last month. Shortly after the failed coup attempt that claimed 270 lives and left 1,440 wounded, Turkey accused U.S. based cleric Fethullah Gülen of orchestrating the violent events. Gulen, who has lived in the Pennsylvania for the past 17 years as a Resident Alien (“Green Card holder”), has denied any connection to the coup attempt.
Turkey and the United States have an extradition agreement, and Turkish officials have insisted that action on their request should not be delayed, but the US Justice Department has requested additional evidence of Gülen’s involvement, and has indicated that the regular extradition process must take its course. Turkey insists that they have provided sufficient evidence to US officials to prove Gülen’s involvement; however, Gülen’s extradition is still on hold.
In the normal extradition process, once a person is located outside the country wherein the criminal conduct has allegedly occurred, that person is handed over by the “arresting” government to the “requesting” government for trial and/or punishment. Extradition normally requires the existence of a treaty between the arresting country and the requesting country to which extradition is sought. Generally, an extradition treaty specifies who can be extradited, under what circumstances, for which crimes, etc. The U.S. has roughly 107 extradition treaties in place, including one with Turkey.
Extradition is different from deportation/expulsion wherein a person present in a foreign country is sent back to his country of origin (or the country he or she came from). This can happen for a variety of reasons defined by the local law of the foreign country, including invalid travel documents or being a risk to public safety. It is typically a more flexible and discretionary alternative to extradition, assuming the foreign country’s laws allow for it. For instance, government officials might revoke the passport of a fugitive named in a warrant, which might result in loss of the fugitive’s lawful residence status, thereby provoking his or her deportation.
There are currently five court cases open against Gülen in Turkey with charges that include attempting to stage a coup, leaking of classified information, forgery and organizing an armed terrorist group. In May 2015, Turkey declared FETÖ, also known as the Gülen Movement, as a terror threat, adding it to the list of terror groups including the PKK and DAESH, which are listed as terrorist organizations by the U.S. and the EU. Thus, Turkey considers Gülan the leader of a terrorist group. In televised comments last Sunday, President Erdoğan stated that the U.S. position on Gülen is “overshadowing our strategic partnership,” explaining further that “Turkey has never asked from America to provide documents or proof on criminals that they’ve wanted us to extradite, “we’ve given them the terrorists they wanted,” he said.
Prime Minister Binali Yildirim has warned that the Gülen issue was “destroying” bilateral ties with its NATO ally, as Turkish officials seek to increase the pressure ahead of Vice President Biden’s visit to Turkey this week. However, President Barack Obama’s administration remains steadfast in the belief that clear evidence of criminal activity is needed to satisfy U.S. due-process requirements as well as provisions of the U.S.-Turkey extradition treaty.
Some argue that the speedy extradition of Gülan is of upmost importance to continue friendly U.S. relations with Turkey. Additionally, in order for the U.S. to have its own requests for extradition honored by other governments, it must reciprocate when asked to do so as in the case of Gülan. Others argue that the U.S. has to act in accordance with certain constitutional legal requirements before an individual is extradited. The U.S. must balance basic due process rights of an accused, versus the harm that not honoring an extradition request by a friendly government may cause to US national security.