Shangri-La Hotel, Istanbul
August 4, 2016
Ambassador Bass: Hoşgeldiniz. Very pleased to see all of you today. I thought we would perhaps all benefit from a longer conversation and exchange of questions. Given the intense focus, obviously, on the events during the illegal coup attempt and the aftermath and a lot of the speculation and rumor that continues to swirl around. So let me just say a couple of things before we get to your questions.
The first thing I want to say is, of course, geçmiş olsun, and I say that not only on my personal behalf, but on behalf of the hundreds of American diplomats and their family members who like all of you experienced the terrible events of that night, who found themselves witnessing things they never thought they’d see in Turkey and which, frankly, most of them had never seen in their lives before. Deeply traumatic and shocking for many of our colleagues. And, so we feel very intensely the range of emotions that our friends here in Turkey are feeling at this time, and it’s in that spirit that we are working very hard to understand what’s happening in this society and the aftermath, and working very hard to try to explain that to Washington and to our fellow Americans. Just as we tried to explain to the Turkish government and your readers and other people in this society how things looked on the other side of the Atlantic, and why there continues to be this talking past each other which is happening across societies, not simply between governments at times, but also clearly between media organizations as well.
It’s with, I would say, a sense of that outrage that we all felt in seeing members of the Turkish military who had taken oaths to protect the republic and its citizens, engaging in illegal activity, an oath which, by the way, is very similar to the oath that all three of us and our colleagues take to protect and defend the constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic. That I continue to be deeply disturbed and offended by the accusations without a shred of fact in so much of the commentary in this country that the United States government was involved in this illegal coup attempt or must have known about this illegal coup attempt, and I just want to say again, as I’ve said before and as we’ve said from Washington, the United States government did not plan, direct, support or have any advance knowledge of any of the illegal activities that occurred the night of July 15th and into July 16th.
Full stop. No planning, no direction, no support, no knowledge. And frankly, if we would have had knowledge we would have told the Turkish government about it immediately. Just as we bring to the attention of this government information about threats that it or its citizens face from terrorist organizations operating in Turkey.
So there is a reason why I think you are seeing some pretty strong reactions continuing from the U.S. government and from some quarters of the U.S. press in reaction to events here because just as people here are frustrated and angry, there are people in the United States who feel offended that people here would, and some voices in government would, assert that the United States was somehow responsible for this.
The third thing I want to say, then I really do want to get to your questions.
Notwithstanding this friction and this misunderstanding, we’re continuing to focus very intently on two important priorities. The first priority is to support the Turkish government in bringing to justice the people who were responsible for this illegal coup attempt. And there is a good bit of discussion and work underway between the two governments to support the Turkish government’s effort to do that, to bring these people to justice. And we can talk a bit more, I’m sure you’ve got some questions about specific aspects of that work and I will try to be responsive to them, while recognizing that a lot of that work is occurring in legal channels, and I don’t want to say anything that potentially impacts our ability to support efforts to seek legal remedies. And we can talk a little bit about the differences in our judicial systems and why that’s so important in the United States.
The second thing we are very focused on is even while we manage these additional challenges, we’re still very focused and working very hard together as two governments to address a range of security challenges that Turkey faces, that the United States faces, and that our friends and allies face in three regions surrounding Turkey. The obvious one that comes to mind for everybody is the challenge posed by Daesh, the challenges this society faces from the PKK, and the wider challenges we face from terrorism in the digital age, which is affecting all of our societies in ways that I think are profoundly different from similar terrorist threats 20 and 30 years ago. But we’re also working very hard to support appropriate efforts by the government to sustain trade and investment. I’ve spent a lot of my time over the last couple of weeks talking to U.S. companies about the investment climate here, about the climate for Americans in Turkey, and I’ve been hearing from a lot of companies about their concerns that this upsurge in anti-Americanism potentially will have an impact on their businesses.
So I’ve been trying to help put that in context for them. And to underscore to them what I’m hearing from the Turkish government, and from Turkish business associations, which is that notwithstanding some of the acute concerns and differences over specific aspects of policy between the two governments, we’re still quite supportive of Turkey’s efforts to continue to grow its economy, to increase employment and increase opportunity for the citizens of this country, and to help build that future in which everyone in this society can live in peace and dignity and prosperity.
And, so with that, I’m happy to take your questions.
Moderator: So we’ll do, as we said at the beginning, we’ll do one question per person. We’ve gone in alphabetical order based on your news organization. So we’re going to start with Cumhuriyet.
Media: My question is not about the overall night of the events or the bilateral relations. I just want to know if there’s anything to the notion that Graham Fuller was in Turkey. We’ve read reports about him being on a helicopter, et cetera. And it sounds a little bit fantastic, but on the other hand, was there anything to it? Was Graham Fuller in Turkey? Did he happen to be in Turkey at the time?
And the other thing is, of course, you know, he is important, from what I gather, from the point of the Turkish public because he personally was one of those who wrote a recommendation for Fethullah Gulen for his green card application. I mean has anybody, how do you explain this when Turkish officials bring this up?
Ambassador Bass: So, I’m not aware that Mr. Fuller was in Turkey that night. Frankly, if he had been in Turkey that night it would not have made a shred of difference. He has no affiliation with the U.S. government. He’s a former U.S. government official. I think one of the things that is not well understood here is that this entity, the National Intelligence Council, is a research arm and many of the people who work there are on limited terms from outside government. They come in, spend a couple of years trying to provide an analytical perspective, and then they go back out. But regardless, you know, whether it’s Mr. Fuller, whether it’s some of the commentators who were very quickly on the news in the States while the coup attempt was unfolding, who were saying outrageous things and suggesting there would be some benefit in it, none of those actions or remarks reflect the views of the United States government. And one of the challenges sometimes with a free press is that people have the freedom to say outrageous things that aren’t supported by fact. That’s one of the things we accept as a price of free speech. But that means that sometimes people engage in irresponsible speech and it’s incumbent on all of us to try to correct the record and put it within a set of facts.
Media: So jut as a follow-up, as you know, there was a seminar, there was a sort of a conference on one of the Princes’ Islands where Henri Barkey took part, and I think all of this is getting jumbled up in Turkish media. There have been stories about Henri Barkey being on a seminar on Iran where there were also Turkish officials, from what I gather. But this got linked into the coup. I haven’t seen a public statement from the embassy about all of this. Would you say something about it?
Ambassador Bass: What I would say is —
Media: This was an event on Iran, but there were also Turkish academics and officials including – what’s his name – [crosstalk] – Mensur Akgün, but it’s being characterized as sort of the organization of the coup in some newspapers.
Ambassador Bass: Well, presumably it was either sponsored by or with the participation of the Turkish government, had nothing to do with the embassy. We didn’t have anybody present. And again, I think it reflects the extent to which people are reaching for some kind of answer to how this could happen. I understand why they would reach for that answer, but that answer doesn’t include any U.S. government participation.
And let me just, you know, speak to this. A lot of speculation or assertions that the U.S. government must have known because planes from Incirlik participated in the illegal coup activities.
I think it’s really important to remember that Incirlik is not a U.S. base. It’s a Turkish base. And we operate from Incirlik with the invitation and agreement of the Turkish government, but we don’t control that base. We don’t control Turkish air space. We don’t control the tower at Incirlik and deciding who takes off, when, and how. Any U.S. military flights in Turkey occur as a result of filing flight clearances with the appropriate Turkish government authorities. Nor do we question or have any say in any Turkish military activities which occur on Turkish military facilities and from Turkish military bases.
So we’re not in a position to evaluate on a daily basis whether tanker aircraft departing from Incirlik are engaged in legal or justified operations or not. That’s the business of the Turkish military and the Turkish air force to conduct those operations in its national air space as it sees fit.
Lots of aircraft, I understand, or have seen the reporting, came, participated from Diyarbakir and from Malatya. We don’t have a U.S. presence at Malatya and we have a very small presence at Diyarbakir. And those are all Turkish bases.
So this notion that because U.S. military forces are able to conduct some operations from a specific Turkish base is somehow evidence that we must have known about these activities, again, there’s no basis in fact for that.
Media: I have a follow-up question. You are saying that you cannot be control or affect the scope of military activities at Incirlik base. But on the other hand, all the information that we know publicly from afterwards tells us that there was kind of an unusual movement and it was a Friday evening and the routine flights and other stuff were not on the agenda.
So my question is actually not the U.S. side participated or affected the decisions or the flights from Incirlik base, but were they aware that something was wrong? Were you alerted maybe even a little bit before what took place? Or were you just completely in the dark?
Ambassador Bass: No. Completely in the dark. Completely in the dark. I learned of the coup attempt when I was standing on the lawn at the residence looking down over the city and saw the jets making their first passes over the center of the city.
Media: What time was it?
Ambassador Bass: Ten o’clock, 10 p.m., something like that. I had just come back from Istanbul. I’d been up here for a meeting of the Turkish-American Business Council that afternoon, until about 4 o’clock and then had gotten on the 7 o’clock flight back from Istanbul, which was delayed because of traffic. So I think we got back about 8:30 or a quarter of 9, and I got home about 9:30 and some of my colleagues were having a birthday party at the residence, so I went down to see them, and suddenly there was all this strange activity in the air.
And so, and our colleagues at Incirlik, I mean we saw this. My first thought was that there must be some kind of counter-terrorism alert that would justify this kind of military activity in the heart of the city. And we, I immediately got on the phone and started calling to find out if anybody knew what was going on.
I think just like all of you, and many other people in society calling around, trying to figure out what was going on.
Media: The second part of my question is about the lack of intelligence. Now the Turkish authorities including President Erdogan, they’ve been talking about the lack of intelligence on the Turkish part, the Turkish side. Have you considered the lack of intelligence on your part too? Because, we are not only talking about Turkey here, we are talking about a huge operation in the Middle East, which is very crucial for American interest. So when you got back as the U.S. Ambassador on Turkish soil, that you witnessed the whole thing just as we all did, Turkish citizens. So is there kind of an evaluation or consideration on the intelligence part?
Ambassador Bass: I would say, you know, like everyone in this society, again, we were shocked and surprised. And I think that’s a reflection of the extent to which the planning was clearly hidden from view.
And, you know, how they were able to do that we’ll look forward to understanding better as we receive more information from the Turkish government as it conducts its own investigations into how this could have happened.
For my own part, I think it’s important not to jump to conclusions and to let the investigations go forward in a systematic, thoughtful way.
If you, for example, look back at our own experiences with September 11th, I know that’s a touchstone for a lot of people in this society as a comparator to try to help Westerners who were not present understand the magnitude of the shock here. We spent a long time working through how that could have happened and how as a government we were unable to see the warning signs of that plot. And, you know, we had a commission that spent I think about a year working through that and conducting interviews and looking at information to try to come up with a set of conclusions about how we could ensure it wouldn’t happen again.
Media: I’ll start with something cute. I watched Jason Bourne last night. And the CIA that was depicted as truly, truly almighty, which was not my idea of the CIA. But, that was the movie.
So I also understand why perhaps our imagination goes on overdrive. Personally, I don’t believe your government was in this thing. But questions linger, and there are historical reasons for that as well. Your government was not really innocent in 1980. It was very supportive – that’s been documented. In earlier coups, we at least had knowledge of that, research would suggest.
So in the historical memory of Turks there is this residual thing. So my first question would be a short one in the series. Do you think you effectively communicated your thoughts and your positions to the Turkish public, which for historical reasons does have those qualms?
Secondly, we learn now that for about almost six months in Ankara everybody and their cousin who were in the loop expected something to happen in the summer. Is it likely that the American intelligence services do not catch wind of that? I don’t know – this is really a question. I’m not asking questions for which I have answers.
Thirdly, and I’m very curious about that. The 2nd Army, the 2nd Armed Forces in NATO had been overwhelmed by a series of investigations that were supported fully by the Turkish government from 2007 onwards. A lot of people thought that the due process was not particularly well observed during those trials, and at some point the Turkish Navy was left without any four-star admirals. Didn’t anyone in the United States government really wonder what the hell was happening and did anybody try to analyze what was happening, ergo, could there not have been some kind of an analysis and a report that could enlighten you in a way that you could actually look at what had happened on the 15th of July?
Ambassador Bass: All very good questions.
I would I think leave it to all of you to assess whether or not we’re effectively communicating. We’re trying very hard to do so. But it’s a challenge when we’re doing so in an environment where a lot of people have jumped to a conclusion without a basis in fact, and then are not particularly interested in hearing the facts.
As an example, I’ve had people ask me why one of our early messages to American citizens about the events that night used the term Turkish uprising, and not the term illegal coup attempt. And the answer was, we were using the same terminology that President Erdogan had used in his Face Time interview. So we were trying to be consistent with the Turkish government, at that point in time.
And I think it’s a challenge sometimes in the aftermath of events like this. People make assumptions that there was perfect knowledge, when in fact many of us, as I said earlier, were operating in a fact vacuum where we were struggling to understand what was going on, particularly at a point in time when operations were being conducted against TNP in Golbasi and TGS, and Parliament more or less simultaneously. Sitting in the embassy, we felt the explosions at Parliament. Our building shook.
Media: Did you go to the embassy?
Ambassador Bass: Yes, yes.
Media: With all staff?
Ambassador Bass: With some staff. With, essentially a limited staff. We brought – [crosstalk] – I’m sorry?
Media: When did you visit?
Ambassador Bass: We went down to the embassy probably about 11:30 that night. Yeah – shortly after I received the first call from someone in the government indicating that there was an illegal coup attempt underway, once we had that indicator, we pulled together some of our core staff and went down to the embassy so that we could be sure to communicate with Washington while the events unfolded, and try to be as helpful as we could be.
Media: So the call from Turkish government came about 10:30?
Ambassador Bass: No. Later than that.
Ambassador Bass: Something, yeah, 11, 11:15, somewhere in there.
Media: The call is from Turkish government?
Media: Or the American government?
Ambassador Bass: Turkish government.
Media: Informing you of the coup?
Ambassador Bass: Yes.
To your other question, Soli Bey, you know, I wasn’t working on Turkey in that period during the trials. So I can’t tell you to what extent there was in-depth analysis. Jim Jeffrey might be able to give you a sense of that as a former U.S. government official.
But I think one of the things I have seen over the last ten years, which I think is particularly challenging for all governments now, is dealing with the challenge of diplomacy in the digital age where there’s this constant updating of information and expectations from the press and the public for instant analysis, instant updates on what’s happening right now. And to the extent government is spending more of its time focused on the last five minutes or the next five minutes, it has less time available to think deeply about longer term trends. Because there’s a finite set of resources. And I think to the extent that we’re all wrestling with a much larger, more sophisticated set of terrorist threats that are requiring additional resources – that reduces the amount of resources that are available at times for some of that longer-term, more thoughtful analysis.
Media: Let’s forget diplomatic explanations and Turkish government or U.S. government explanations, and I just want to focus on the feelings of [the] Turkish public. Do you really understand the Turkish public’s feelings and emotions about this coup attempt? Because people think that Fethullah Gulen is behind this coup attempt. And some people – the man on the street – people believe that U.S. government is behind Fethullah Gulen or the Gulen movement.
So from this point, some people think that anti-Americanism is rising because of [the] U.S. government’s credentials. What do you think about the timing? Do you really understand [the] emotions of the Turkish people?
Ambassador Bass: I’m not a Turkish citizen, and I didn’t grow up in this country so I would never think to say that I could walk in your shoes and see these events and feel these events the same way as citizens of the republic. But I’ve – I remember where I was on September 11th and how shocking and traumatic that event was, and the extent to which it created a fear of the unknown and the sense of what’s happening next, and a sense of being knocked off a normal balance of what expectations are of security and predictability in society and from your government.
And so, you know, combining that personal experience with having lived through the events that night and talking with a lot of people inside and outside government in the aftermath, and reading a lot of what you’re writing and watching a lot of programs on TV, you know, I think we have an understanding of the depth of feeling around this issue, and that’s why, as I said at the outset, we’re very focused on supporting the Turkish government’s efforts to bring those who are responsible to justice.
Justice requires a legal process in democratic societies. That’s a fundamental concept of justice. But different democracies have different legal systems, and that’s why we have things like extradition treaties and mutual – they’re called mutual legal assistance treaties. A complicated name, but what they are – why we have those – is to help legal professionals, justice ministries, translate for each other what the requirements are in their respective systems so that they can build convincing persuasive cases that will stand up to the test of their respective judiciaries, their respective judges.
In the United States we have a very fiercely independent judicial arm. It’s a separate co-equal branch of government. It takes decisions that the United States executive branch doesn’t agree with. It does that all the time. It did that in the case of Mr. Gulen’s application for permanent residency in the United States in 2008, which was opposed by the administration – the U.S. government at the time.
And so with all of that context, with respect to anyone the Turkish government believes was involved in or responsible for this illegal coup attempt who may be in the United States, we want to make sure that we approach this in a way that enables the Turkish government to make its best case and to be persuasive with independent judges in the United States. And part of the way we do that is to not talk about it publicly, because in the United States – and you can go back and do a fair bit of research – there have been some pretty persuasive prosecutions that were not successful because judges ruled that too much of the evidence in that case had been discussed publicly in advance of a formal judicial process. And so they ruled that evidence as inadmissible.
Now, you know, I’m offering this not to suggest that we’re looking for some legal technicality here to explain away a problem. I’m trying to give you an understanding of how justice works in the United States so that you can understand why, although people here would like to talk about some of these issues in very fine grain detail, we’re not going to be in a position to do that, precisely because we want to support the Turkish government’s efforts to bring people who were responsible to justice.
Media: [Inaudible]. After the coup attempt, thousands of Turkish soldiers were suspended, and [inaudible]. Would it have negative effect on intelligence, counterterrorism efforts [inaudible]? Did all this cause an erosion of trust between [the] two countries? And one little last question is – do you think the public discussions about the legal process in the U.S. – the public discussion in Turkey – will have a negative effect on the result of the extradition process or the legal case? And, maybe I should put it this way – Turkish officials are publically discussing many things about Gulen’s extradition. Today we have a story on Washington Post about 85 boxes of evidence. And do you think that these public discussions will also have a negative effect on the legal process in the U.S.?
Ambassador Bass: Well, to take them in reverse order, I certainly hope not. And to the extent the discussions are focused on generalities about the coordination between the two governments, you know, that would seem to me to not impact the case. But I say that as someone who is not a legal expert. I’m not a lawyer. And one of the reasons, again, we’re being so careful in what we say publicly is because we don’t want to have that effect. But I think any time the conversation gets into detail, you know, potentially that, any U.S. court proceeding might be problematic if it’s public information. I just, I don’t know.
With respect to the level of cooperation between the two governments on counter-terrorism cooperation and efforts, and on the counter-Daesh efforts, it remains very strong. We’ve gotten very strong reassurances and signals from the Turkish government of its determination to continue to work closely with the United States and other members of the coalition. And we respect that and continue to work together to address this terrible set of threats we both face. And a big part of the reason I went to see those ministers at that time, it happened to be two days, now, you know, looking back, it was two days before the coup attempt, but the reason I was seeing them then was it was 10 or 12 days, maybe two weeks after the terrible bombing here at Ataturk International. And we wanted to continue conversations about ways in which we could try to be as helpful as possible to Turkey in dealing with this additional dimension of a threat here in Turkey, as Daesh was changing its approach and now targeting airports, which obviously was a big concern for the government, a big concern for the United States as well.
Media: I have a further question about that night, because you said there was someone who called you around 10:30 in the night from the Turkish government. So I would like to know in detail what he exactly say, he or she? Did she or he mention about a coup probably organized by the Gulenists? What did he exactly tell you?
Media: To be clear, was it 10:30 or 11:15?
Media: You said 11:15, and then 11:30 you said you went down to the embassy.
Ambassador Bass: Yeah. So I don’t specifically have the time in my head. It was probably 11, 11:15, somewhere in that window. It was someone from the Foreign Ministry calling to inform me that what we were seeing and hearing and experiencing was an illegal, a set of illegal activities that were not sanctioned by the government and that appeared to be an effort to undertake a coup. And asking for our support and asking me to convey that information from the Turkish government to Washington, which I undertook to do very quickly.
Media: So he didn’t mention anything about who might be behind that coup. He only said that this is illegal activity and that it’s very important that —
Ambassador Bass: To the best of my recollection, that’s correct.
Media: And do you remember how you, how the information flow went on that night? Because it’s very important. So you contacted Washington and it was probably a very long night for you. What did you do? And what was the first time that the name Gulenists were firstly pronounced in all these dialogues?
Ambassador Bass: So, that night – you’re right, it was a very long two days actually. We were pretty much, that core group of people were pretty much at the embassy for almost 48 hours straight, with a couple of breaks here and there.
We were constantly in touch with very senior people in the U.S. government that night. They were concerned about what was going on, trying to understand what was going on. As all of you know, there was misinformation flying around. There were attempts by those engaged in the coup attempt to assert a degree of legitimacy. There was the attempt to take over TRT. And in the digital age, of course, all of that information wasn’t just staying in Turkey, it was immediately available everywhere. So we were spending a lot of time fielding separate inquiries from many different people in our government, essentially asking the same question about the latest piece of correct or incorrect information that was coming out.
People were also concerned, as you would expect, about the safety and security of our staff and American citizens and making sure we were communicating as best we could with wider American citizens based on information we were receiving from the Turkish government, what we understood to be happening and encouraging them to be careful about where they went and to make informed decisions based on their own sense of, their own security about whether they went outside or not for example.
Media: So did you communicate the speculations about [that] Fethullah Gulen might be behind that coup on that night in [to] Washington?
Ambassador Bass: I want to say, I’d have to go back and specifically look at my notes, but I’m pretty confident we, as soon as we were hearing definitive explanations from the Turkish government, we were conveying those back.
Media: Yes, I have three short questions. One – do you have any doubt that Fethullah Gulen is behind the coup attempt, personally and official? The second one – will you add Gulen’s terrorism organization to [the] State Department’s foreign terrorist organization list? And the last one – will you shut down Gulenist charter schools in the USA?
Ambassador Bass: As someone who is living here, talking with a lot of people, including people like General Akar, who has recounted what he experienced that night, I find it a very powerful testimony. Beyond that, I don’t want to offer any views because again, of what I said earlier. I don’t want to say anything that potentially makes it harder for the Turkish government to pursue justice for those who are responsible.
With respect to the organization itself, there’s a specific set of criteria for designating foreign terrorist organizations in the United States. A key component of that is the extent to which those organizations directly threaten or have killed and injured American citizens. So to the extent our colleagues in Washington are going to be looking at this, again, in light of information provided by the Turkish government, it will have to be in accordance with whatever the provisions are of the actual law that creates that designation. And I’m not familiar with all of the details of those criteria.
With respect to charter schools in the United States – I would say like any other organization or institution in the United States, if there is credible evidence of criminal or illegal activities by any organization in the United States, that’s taken very seriously by federal and state and local authorities depending on the jurisdiction, and investigated, and I’m sure we would do that as evidence of criminal activity is brought to the attention of the appropriate authorities in the U.S.
Media: Can I ask a further question about what you said? So, thanks God it didn’t happen, but what if some American citizen would have been killed on that night? Would that mean that the United States would call Fethullah Gulen a terrorist organization?
Ambassador Bass: So, you know, we could spend a lot of time talking about hypotheticals, but I would say, if you look at the organizations that have been designated, I think a strong common denominator among all of those organizations is they have either killed Americans, injured Americans, or pose a very significant threat to Americans. And – I think we would evaluate any actions through that lens.
But again, I would invite you to either do it directly – we can get you a copy of the legislation and fact sheets about that designation process if you’re interested – or in talking to your colleagues in Washington do so the same thing.
Media: I’m going to take it further with Serdar’s question. As you talked, anti-Americanism has risen in Turkey which I don’t – maybe they were angry with America but now they are very angry with the United States. So you’re saying that the people is [inaudible] thinking the United States is behind that coup because of the Incirlik airbase. I don’t think so. Again, the people in the streets [who are] thinking that America is behind that coup [are thinking that] because [of] your attitudes, your statements on that issue. One of them is you told us that you heard that you had heard at 11:15, but the official statement from the United States at 3 a.m. in the morning, I think, 2 or 3, so it takes more than three hours, almost three hours, so that needs an answer – why the United States is waiting for an official statement almost three hours later?
The second one, this is a testing about the Turkish-American relations, which is Gulen’s deporter [i.e, deportation] or taking back in [i.e., his return to] Turkey. What do you think about that? The government is also saying that we are strategic ally and Gulen is a terrorist and we sent to [the] United States a box of evidence. So we want him back to judge him in Turkey, or deport him from [the] United States.
Also, people in the streets comparing United States attitudes, indifference to problems or uprisings. One of them is [the] Gezi uprising and this is it. You are very sensitive about [the] Gezi uprising – all American officials in the United States and here. But this coup – you are not very sensitive, or as sensitive as [with the] Gezi uprising. So they are comparing these issues about the United States’ attitudes.
So they are thinking that America would be behind that coup for some reason. What do you think about that? Or do you care that [it is] false?
Ambassador Bass: Of course we care about public opinion in Turkey, because the foundation for relationships between governments in democratic societies is the relationship between peoples in those societies and the degree to which they support policies or don’t. So, it makes me very sad that so many people in this society seem to think the U.S. government could have played a role in this. It makes me very sad to see so many Americans now expressing fear about coming to Turkey, and canceling trips, and missing an opportunity to experience the amazing culture and cuisine and to have an opportunity to meet and interact with people here in this society face-to-face. That’s really painful.
I welcome your insights into why you think so many Turks are suspicious and angry. I think part of the problem is, in some respects, journalists here and journalists in the West who were too quick to put the events around the coup attempt into an analytical context that pre-dated it, and they didn’t necessarily do the kind of reporting they should have to figure out what was going on. I think that’s as true here in Turkey as it is outside.
I’ve been disappointed in some of the coverage I’ve seen from the Western media and I understand why people here are so frustrated at the comparative absence of coverage about the broad spectrum of citizens in this country who went out into the street, at great personal risk, that night to defend your democracy. That’s a really powerful story, and I regret that it’s not being told better or more thoughtfully in a lot of Western media.
By the same token, you know, as I’ve said, I regret that there’s a lot of journalists working here who are substituting hypotheses for facts, and jumping to very sweeping conclusions about who was responsible, and “the U.S. government must have played a role”, without any factual basis for that.
And so, you know, in democratic societies, particularly democratic societies that have a long history of working together, that have common interests, that are based in common values, I think it’s incumbent on everybody in those societies to work to try to understand each other, particularly at moments like this when there’s so much tension. And I hope that we’ll see more of that from people here in Turkey and from people in the United States.
And, I guess the other thing I would way is – it’s very hard for us to understand this ongoing narrative and belief, conviction, that the United States wants to see Turkey dismembered and weak and destabilized. That is so profoundly wrong that I have a hard time addressing it, because it is so at odds with the history of our relationship, the investments we’ve made in this country, and our commitment to seeing it succeed.
You know, the United States wants to see a strong, prosperous, democratic, confident Turkey contributing to dealing with the many challenges we face in the three regions that Turkey is part of, and we’re not going to be able to be successful in dealing with all of those challenges if Turkey is not strong and confident and democratic and prosperous. And anyone who thinks that the United States somehow profits from Turkey being divided and destabilized I think is misreading history to a profound degree.
Media: [Inaudible] the same way about the relationship with the United States and Turkey, but as a strategic ally Turkey would like to make some – I’m not going to say that we’re [asking for a] favor, but maybe the United States could be quick to judge Gulen in United States, because it’s not the first time that the demand to deport Gulen from the United States. It’s not the first time. It’s almost six months ago, or more than that, months, that nothing happened from the United States about the judgment or about prosecution or about that case at issue. But now it seems [the] United States [is] more quicker than the past. But it’s not enough for the Turkey public opinion. Is that going faster?
Ambassador Bass: Well, as I said earlier, we’re going to continue to work very hard to support the Turkish government’s efforts to bring those responsible to justice. We are going to do that in a way that upholds the rule of law and due process and respect for judicial independence. And, you know, as I said earlier, with respect to this individual – we had an instance in the past where a court ruled against the United States government with respect to his ability to stay in the United States. So that’s all-important context for how this is approached. And we have been prepared, as we always are, with countries and friends and allies with whom we have extradition treaties, to work quickly on formal submissions when they’re received. And, I know there’s been a lot of talk about this over the last 6, 12, 18 months, but legal requirements mean that we can’t act until we receive a request, and we didn’t receive a request prior to very recently.
Ambassador Bass: Well, let’s come back to if we can.
Media: Do you know the Gulen movement working for years in United States – they are making organizations, sometimes financial support [for] political campaigns, boarding schools. I want to ask [a] very short question. What did change for United States? What’s the difference for United States position to the Gulen movement between 14th of July and 16th of July?
Ambassador Bass: Well, I would say the events of that night, as I said, profoundly shocking and of great concern to the United States. And the assertions of responsibility that we’ve been seeing from the Turkish government obviously cause us to look closely at the organization and we look forward to working through the appropriate legal processes, as I mentioned earlier.
I think one of the things it’s important for people in this society to understand is that the movement – the cemaat, Hizment – is very well known within this society. Lots of people have had experiences with it in some fashion. Clearly a lot of those experiences have been negative.
The movement is not well known in the United States. Notwithstanding the fact that there are charter schools in some cases that have some kind of affiliation; there’s a very interesting, and I thought very well-done piece in the Washington Post today, for example. I think that’s the first piece I’ve seen in a major U.S. publication really looking at the movement in the United States. Hopefully that will help educate some people.
Back to your observation, Murat, about the frustration and the anger here – for Turks, the events of the illegal coup attempt in many respects are the culmination of 30 years, and you’ve been wrestling with the challenge of this organization in this society for 30 years. So of course you’re interested in pursuing justice as quickly as possible now that all of this has come to a head. Most Americans do not have that depth of experience, that depth of knowledge, and so for them this is a very recent event, without that [those] decades of context behind it that would enable them to understand why this is so profoundly alarming to so many people in this society and why there has been this broad spectrum of support. And I think this also gets back to this notion of people questioning some of their analytical assumptions as they report on events surrounding the coup attempt outside of Turkey.
You know, I think it’s an important question for journalists everywhere to be asking – why is it that so many people in this society, including many people who were opponents of the ruling party and who did not support many of the government’s policies, are nonetheless uniting behind the government at this point in time.
You’re seeing, I think, some interesting work on that, but I don’t think there’s enough interesting work on that yet.
Media: A very short follow-up on this – during your time here in Turkey, do you have any encounters with a Gulenist NGO, or any meeting that you can recall? And if the answer was yes, what was your impression? Until July 15th?
Ambassador Bass: To the best of my knowledge, no. I have not.
Media: [I have made] a request asking that. The case, especially on the public opinion side, I can tell that the reason why they’re so angry. There hasn’t been any very strong condemnation that has been received by the U.S. government. It seems like – you hear a lot, we are fighting against terrorism in the region, and [inaudible] to be honest, as a journalist who studied in the U.S. for long time, I can say that I didn’t receive the condemnation that I have been expecting from [the] United States. So I think that’s the main reason why public opinion is so much harsh against United States.
In terms of American media, you said the Turkish success story should have been expressed much better than American media. On the Turkish side, as a Turkish journalist, on my behalf as well, we should have told our story much better. [Inaudible] public, and the American media really [inaudible] a very strong understanding in expressing our story [inaudible]. But in Turkey [inaudible] and some others which [inaudible] media. I’m thinking about, [let me see], [inaudible] American journalist and I’m [inaudible] with that. [Inaudible] oh my God, you know, [inaudible] explain some thought to Erdogan but he [inaudible] time to [inaudible]. He has explained so many [inaudible], as an American journalist, [inaudible] to all those [inaudible]. I think that’s another shame.
So I believe the American media must [should] have given more space to what is going on here. They didn’t support us. And this is one thing.
I’m wondering why they didn’t cover the Turkish story, and coup attempt in a proper way, is what I’m wondering as a journalist. And, regarding the extradition of Gulen, we know that there is a commission established by the American judiciary. Okay. The laws are different in every country. [Inaudible]. I get that. But why in the American law [inaudible] the first time is the condition that [inaudible]. There is no example of that in American law history, [inaudible].
So [inaudible] when you [come to] Turkey and look to America, you see a [inaudible] trying to make it [inaudible] and they’re trying to keep [inaudible]. I know that your law – your judicial system takes a long time. We know that. [Inaudible] a long time to [inaudible]. But [inaudible] attention to real, solid, concrete intention that the United States is supporting us against this terrorist organization. This man is [inaudible] and you should have seen that. Even the speeches that he delivers to your media – it’s insane, but we need support from you.
So why is there, for the very first time, [inaudible]?
And I really wonder, you say [inaudible] persuaded that this is a kind of terrorist or illegal organization, functioning in Turkey. They are acting against our government, our people, even against your people living in Turkey, because their lives [are] at risk as well. So we want to see something solid about that. And we think the United States people, the Americans do not know much about the cemaat. And you mentioned that we have been struggling with them for the last [inaudible]. This is something that the [inaudible]. This is an interstate issue – a public issue. So the United States government must know that and must support us in that case.
America is a very big country. [Inaudible] your government, your judiciary must be persuaded about that. I think that’s the case. [inaudible].
Ambassador Bass: Well, thanks for those observations.
The first thing I would say is, you know, I think if you go back and look at the almost daily condemnations of the coup attempt and the strong expressions of support for Turkey’s democratically elected government by senior U.S. government officials, starting within three hours, followed within two hours after that by two more statements, followed the next day by a long statement by President Obama, repeated near daily by the White House spokesperson and the State Department spokesman. You know, I’m not sure how many more ways we could condemn in the strongest possible terms the coup attempt.
So I’m not sure — but you said you haven’t felt —
Media: Here we didn’t hear a higher voice. Okay? You —
Ambassador Bass: Well, as I said, President Obama came out and condemned the coupe.
Media: — Gulen movement directly til now. And everything is as clear as day that [the] Gulen movement is behind the coup attempt. We never heard that from the American political mouth until now.
Ambassador Bass: Again, I want to go back to what I said at the outset. We’re committed to supporting the Turkish government’s efforts to bring those responsible to justice. We want to do that in a way that gets good results for people here so they feel that justice has been served.
Sometimes that means that justice is not as swift as people would like. We want to do this the right way. We don’t want to do this the quick way. And that, in this moment is creating, I know, some frustration here. But to honor our commitment and our legal obligations to the republic and its citizens, within our legal context we have to approach it this way to try to help get the right results, and we’ll be working very closely together as we go forward with the Turkish government to that effect.
I think this idea of a commission is perhaps a reflection of some mistranslations or misinformation. We’re not approaching this differently than we do other extradition cases, but we are ensuring there are the resources devoted to it —
Media: Can you give an example about those kinds of commissions?
Ambassador Bass: So what I’m saying is, there’s not an exceptional commission, and any suggestion that we’ve created a commission to slow this down I completely reject. I’ve seen quite a bit of attention from our law enforcement and Justice colleagues to make sure we are treating this with the appropriate degree of seriousness and focus to support the Turkish government’s efforts to bring people to justice.
Moderator: We have to choose between everyone getting a photo, I think, or answering a lot of questions because we don’t have time for a lot of questions and a lot of different photos. So possibly a group photo with one or two extra questions, or no more questions and individual photos.
Media: Individual photos and two questions?
Ambassador Bass: Please.
Media: [Inaudible] in Europe. So how do you evaluate the understanding of the U.S.?
Ambassador Bass: Well, as I said [crosstalk] – I think it is well understood in the U.S. government, with those parts of the U.S. government that are most focused on or responsible for issues involving Turkey and the surrounding regions. But clearly, as we’ve been discussing, [in] broader communities of interest you’ve got a wide range of opinion. You’ve got some folks who are, I think, jumping to conclusions and not listening as much to Turkish views and perspectives as perhaps they should be. And I would encourage all of you, I mean there are a number of Western journalists resident here in Istanbul, and I don’t know how much interaction you’re having with them, but that is one way to try to make sure that the story of that night is being heard and understood and put into context.
Media: Mr. Ambassador, how concerned are you that the Turkish military obviously had a massive stroke, as well as the country? It is still the second largest army in NATO, and it is providing you with some assistance in the fight against Daesh. And it is also itself fighting the PKK. How concerned are your military departments about the current state?
Ambassador Bass: So, I think that’s better answered by the military professionals. What I can tell you is General Dunford, when he came, he came for a couple of different reasons. One was to be able to say to his friend and colleague General Akar geçmiş olsun, and the second was to offer support and assistance, based on needs or requests identified by the Turkish government going forward, but to make sure that the Turkish military knew that their counterparts in the United States wanted to support them going forward and looked forward to continuing to work closely on shared military challenges. And he got a very strong message of support in return, and a strong expression of support and commitment to continuing all the work that we have underway together, and I think he was quite impressed with that resilience and determination.
Moderator: We’re about out of time. Thank you everyone for coming.
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