“Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practise to deceive.”
These famous lines, first penned by Sir Walter Scott for his soap opera poem “Marmion” in 1808, have been given new meaning by the twists and turns of Turkey’s Ergenek on trial, which grows messier by the day.
In Scott’s otherwise-largely-forgettable tale, Lord Marmion fancies a rich woman, Clara de Clare, and, with the help of his mistress, a lascivious nun, he forges documents implicating Clare’s fiancé in treason, successfully sending him into exile. In the end, Marmion’s mistress confesses to the forgery, the Lord is killed on the battlefield and Clare is reunited with her knight.
The convoluted deception and double-dealing has been mirrored in the Turkish courts — although to this point without the treacherous nuns — since a plot was discovered in 2003 to allegedly overthrow the government of the Justice and Development Party (AKP).
More than 400 people, mostly military officers and journalists, are accused in the scheme designed to sew mayhem throughout Turkey by blowing up mosques and shooting down a Turkish military aircraft — an attack that would have been blamed on Greece. Increasingly, the mass of evidence introduced in the trial is being called into question, making a tidy conclusion a la Scott’s “Marmion” seem less and less likely.
Dani Rodrik, son-in-law of retired General Cetin Dogan, supposedly the mastermind of the plot, claims that some of the information on the prosecution’s “11th CD” — one of many disks containing trial evidence — has to have been planted by authorities after Dogan’s arrest. Despite the fact that the plot was discovered in 2003, according to Rodrik there is mention of a pharmaceutical warehouse that did not operate under that name until 2008, along with references to people who were not employed in 2003 by the institutions with which they are associated on the disk.
Dogan, former commander of Turkey’s 1st Army, maintains the evidence has been distorted to depict a routine military contingency plan as a genuine plot to overthrow the government. With three coups since 1960, the claim of another military intervention in Turkey is less outrageous than it might initially sound and even Rodrik admits some questionable comments were made during a recorded meeting about the military drill. That would leave the only explanation for doctoring the “11th CD,” if true, as a clumsy attempt to guarantee Dogan’s conviction.
It is not the only example of alleged evidence tampering in the case. Police confiscated a mobile phone belonging to another of the accused, Lieutenant Mehmet Ali Celebi and added 139 new numbers to its contacts. Celebi is accused of joining Hizb ut-Tahrir, a group of mostly Salafists intent on establishing a global Islamic caliphate. Many of the newly inserted numbers belonged to members of the group, two of which were labelled in the phone’s address book as “my wife” and “my mother-in-law” to disguise their true identities. Such a ruse, whether by Celebi or the police, wasperhaps not too well thought out given that Celebi is not married. He maintain she infiltrated the group “to defend the republic and hand its members over to the justice system.”
The lieutenant surrendered to police on September 18, 2008after discovering he was being investigated in relation to the Ergenekon case. The following day, his phone was sent on to the Istanbul Police Department. According to a court-ordered telecommunications report, the mobile was switched on that night for one minute and 23 seconds, with signals coming from the same location as the police department. In response, police said the phone had been switched on for technical staff to register its data in official records. It was possible, a statement added, that the 139 numbers, identical to those on a phone belonging to a known member of Hizb ut-Tahrir, had been added “by mistake.”
The case against journalists accused of involvement in the plot has also been rife with abnormalities. Prosecutors claim that a bomb attack on the offices of Cumhuriyet newspaper in 2007 was planned by its own Editor-in-chief Ilhan Selcuk, so other murky forces could be blamed. Selcuk, however, is safe from the tangled Ergenekon web. He died of natural causes last June at 85.
Peter Grimsditch is EXECUTIVE’s Istanbul correspondent