As Vice President Joe Biden flew to Turkey today to meet with ruling party officials, the White House said Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government has made four extradition requests to bring back a former ally living in Pennsylvania.
But none of the alleged charges against Fethullah Gülen are directly connected to the July 15 coup attempt, a senior administration official told reporters.
According to the White House pool report, the Justice and State departments are “devoting as many resources as we can” and “poring over boxes” of submitted evidence related to Gülen, 75, who came to the U.S. in self-imposed exile in 1999 and lives quietly in Saylorsburg, Pa.
Erdoğan recently issued an ultimatum against Washington. “Sooner or later, the U.S. will make a choice: either Turkey or FETO,” he said, referring to the progressive movement led by Gülen that Turkey calls a terrorist organization. Erdoğan quickly claimed Gülen orchestrated the July 15 coup attempt.
“About a week after the coup the Turks submitted four separate extradition requests for Gülen, about 15 feet worth of evidence, narrative, records –but all related to allegations of criminal behavior that predated the coup, mostly 2015 and prior, requests they’d been working on for a long time that accelerated after the coup,” the official said on background, according to the VP pool report.
“The Turks have not provided extradition request on anything related to Gülen involvement” in the attempted coup and “provided no evidence to us at all of Gülen’s possible connections to the coup.”
The U.S. is “taking the extradition request very seriously,” and DOJ “has more lawyers on this case than any recent extradition case we’ve done.” Legal analysts from the Justice and State departments are in Ankara “meeting with Turkish counterparts to follow up on evidence provided, seeking clarification, seeking additional evidence… if more, give it to us, if extradition request related to coup, give it to us.”
But, the administration official stressed, neither President Obama nor Biden can “decide this unilaterally; that would be illegal.”
“We can work with the Turks to present evidence to court,” but the court then decides if it passes the “probable cause threshold for extradition… there’s a lot of inflated expectations about how this process evolves — i.e., that you could put him on a plane if you had the political will — but that would be illegal.”
“And if we are perceived as politicizing this too much it could be counterproductive in encouraging a court to approve extradition. Will that be hugely reassuring to Turks? Don’t know, but it’s the truth and how our system works.
The official said the U.S. can “make that point and the point that we can’t make our relationship be defined on this one thing” because there is “so much else at stake.”
Biden, in addition to meeting with Erdoğan and Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, is visiting the parliament building that was damaged by the coup to “show right off the bat our solidarity with the Turkish people; no better way to show that than go to one of the scenes of the crime.”
The administration official noted that the Turkish government “feels hasn’t had enough support from the West in general,” in addition to “certain conspiracy theories that we had something to do with the coup, which is not the case; we were one of the first to denounce the ongoing coup attempt before it was resolved.”
“But this was an extraordinarily traumatic event; a lot of Turks refer to this as their 9/11, but it’s as if they had their 9/11 and it was an inside job, because of betrayal by a portion of military and existential threat to their democracy.”
The “strains need to be put in perspective,” the official stressed, as the relationship is “not on the brink of a rupture… it’s not as if Turkey is leaving NATO or that the strategic partnership’s going to dissolve” if Biden decided not to visit.
“We can’t afford any friction because we have a lot of business to do with the Turks …we need to continue to have conversations about Gülen even as we cooperate on the other issues, so success is simply having that conversation” — and, the official said, there’s “nobody better to have it” than Biden.
Some 40,000 people have been swept up in Erdoğan’s post-coup purge. Amnesty International detailed last month reports of detainees being subjected to rape, starvation and torture behind bars.