Eighteen members of the military, including one retired officer, were detained yesterday in a second wave of raids in 13 provinces as part of an investigation into an alleged military coup plot named Balyoz (Sledgehammer). No official announcements were made initially, but news reports say those detained were mentioned as having been assigned roles in Sakal (Beard) and Çarşaf (Chador), two subplots included under the Sledgehammer plan.
The detentions follow operations on Monday in which 49 retired and active duty military officers were detained in the probe into Sledgehammer, which allegedly included plots to bomb mosques and down a Turkish jet. The names of the officers detained were not announced, but four are commissioned officers and 13 are NCOs, officials said. They were all flown to İstanbul for interrogation from the cities where they were detained. Early Friday morning, former 1st Army Commander retired Gen. Çetin Doğan, retired Gen. Engin Alan and retired Col. Altan Batıbay, who were among the 49 officers detained on Monday, were also interrogated by the prosecutors.
Doğan is accused of having written the Sledgehammer plot, with the prosecution saying that an authenticated signature belonging to him appears on the document. The outcome of their interrogation — whether they would be released pending trial or sent to jail — was not clear as of Friday evening.
Meanwhile, in other developments, a group of experts assigned by the 1st Army Command Military Prosecutor’s Office to investigate the Sledgehammer plan finished a month-long examination of the documents, concluding that they comprise the basics of a “coup d’état plan,” contrary to Gen. Doğan’s earlier defense that Sledgehammer only consisted of war strategy games. The military prosecutor’s office sent its conclusions to the Specially Authorized İstanbul Prosecutor’s Office.
Some had earlier claimed that the Sledgehammer plan was based on the Bayrak (Flag) Operation Plan prepared ahead of the Sept. 12, 1980 coup. The military prosecutor’s office, which had received copies of the documents regarding the plan from the civilian prosecutors investigating the case, launched an investigation about a month ago. The civilian prosecutors obtained the documents from a correspondent at the Taraf daily, which first exposed the Sledgehammer plan. Meanwhile, all the original documents with authentic signatures, as well as CDs including voice recordings, were examined at Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (TÜBİTAK) and the Police Department’s Criminology Unit labs. Monday’s operation was launched when the labs confirmed that the documents were authentic.
In initial remarks about the Sledgehammer plan after it was first exposed in various Turkish newspapers and television news shows, Doğan had dismissed the allegations, saying the plan was a regular war game based on worst-case scenarios, noting that he was against coups and that he was a believer in governments coming in and going out through legitimate means. He had accused his own accusers of starting a smear campaign.
Force commanders not arrested
Meanwhile, former force commanders Gen. İbrahim Fırtına, Adm. Özden Örnek and former 1st Army Commander retired Gen. Ergin Saygun were released after testifying to prosecutors yesterday as part of the Sledgehammer investigation. Former Naval Forces Commander retired Adm. Örnek and former Air Forces Commander retired Gen. Fırtına were released after testifying to prosecutors on Thursday, while retired Gen. Ergin Saygun was released by the court he had been referred to after his interrogation. The generals will, however, still stand trial as they all face charges of involvement in coup plans. The prosecutors released the force commanders on the grounds that they had no obvious intention of escaping trial.
More arrests came on Thursday as interrogations after Monday’s first wave of detentions continued. Retired Gen. Süha Tanyeri, the former head of the General Staff’s Strategic Research and Study Center (SAREM), Adm. Semih Çetin and Adm. Turgay Arduğ were arrested as Sledgehammer suspects. Tanyeri was placed in Metris Prison, while Çetin and Erdağ were sent to Hasdal Military Prison.
Sledgehammer coup plot
The discovery of a plot allegedly drafted by the military in 2003 and designed to topple the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) led to the detention of 49 active duty and retired members of the military on Monday. This was the largest crackdown ever carried out on the military.
News reports say prosecutors are directing a lengthy list of questions spanning 80 pages regarding the Sledgehammer plan at the detainees. The suspects were questioned on the location of the munitions they planned to use to carry out the plot, which allegedly included bombing mosques. The prosecutors also asked for the names of other collaborators, referred to in the documents about the alleged coup plan as the “chosen cadre.”
Another question on the list was about Oraj, or Thunderstorm, a subplot that included the deliberate downing of a Turkish jet over the Aegean in order to spark a conflict with Greece.
The Sledgehammer plan was allegedly drawn up in 2003 and discussed at a seminar held at the General Staff’s Selimiye barracks in March of that year. The suspects also had to respond to a question on the content of this seminar. Reports said the prosecutors handed detainees undergoing questioning an uninterrupted voice recording from the seminar as well as its 175-page transcript.