How does a prostitute make an officer reveal military secrets? Rather easily, according to evidence assembled against a group of Turkish officers who allegedly ran a sex-for-secrets ring.
The prostitute “accidentally” drives into the targeted officer’s car, seduces him, secretly films him in the act, and blackmails him. At least 80 people, 60 of them serving officers, have been arrested in connection with the “escort girls” case. This was launched in 2009 after police in the western port city of Izmir were tipped off by an anonymous e-mail. (Because of the highly sensitive nature of the case the prosecution has refused to reveal all of the evidence and a formal indictment is still pending.) Arrest warrants for 50 more officers were issued this month, after the shooting down of a Turkish fighter jet by Syria, on the ground that the honey trap was aimed at army personnel working at radar installations. Nineteen prostitutes have also been arrested pending trial.
The army’s pro-Islamic critics have eagerly seized on the case as further proof of its decadence. At least 362 serving military officers are being held in a separate case called “Ergenekon” on charges of seeking to overthrow the government of the Justice and Development Party (AK). The army, NATO’s second largest, has toppled four governments so far. In 2007 it threatened to do so again when the AK nominated Abdullah Gul as president. The fact that Mrs Gul covers her head was deemed by the generals to pose a threat to Ataturk’s republic. AK refused to budge, Mr Gul was duly elected and the army’s hold has been weakening ever since.
Yet even the generals’ fiercest detractors are beginning to worry that efforts to bring them under civilian control may be degenerating into a vendetta. Western observers agree that, although the army almost certainly contains coup-plotters, overzealous investigators may have doctored some of the evidence against officers and that innocents are being caught in their net. Paradoxically prosecutors have shown little interest in well-documented atrocities committed by the army during its scorched-earth campaign against Kurdish separatist rebels. Ihsan Tezel, a defence lawyer in the “escort girls” affair, insists that the prosecution’s case rests exclusively on the contents of the hard drive of a computer seized from the home of a businessman who is accused of being one of the ringleaders of the gang.
Another ongoing sex-for-secrets case brought against 54 officers in Istanbul has run into trouble. At a recent hearing, a 52-year-old woman named as one of the prostitutes broke down in tears as she produced a medical certificate proving that she was a virgin. And there is no evidence to suggest that the defendants were selling secret documents. The presiding judge has called for all of them to be acquitted. A final verdict is expected by the end of July.
Gareth Jenkins, an expert on the Turkish army, says that the barrage of cases has had a devastating impact on army morale. “How can they function effectively when they live in constant fear of being arrested?” he asks. Amid Turkish threats of retaliation against Syria, the question is growing more pertinent by the day.