Ambassador John Bass’ Letter of December 8 to Sabah Newspaper regarding Ersin Ramoğlu’s December 6, 2016 column

Mr. Erdal Safak Editor-in-Chief Sabah Newspaper Istanbul, Turkey
December 8, 2016

Dear Mr. Safak:

As someone who strongly believes in a strong U.S.-Turkey relationship and in the universal value of freedom of the press, I was dismayed to read the column entitled “İçimizdeki Truva Atı: İncirlik” published by your newspaper on December 6, 2016.  Columnist Ersin Ramoglu’s piece contains numerous ugly claims about the United States, none of which are supported by fact.

Incirlik airbase is a Turkish installation run by the Turkish Armed Forces.  The U.S. uses part of this Turkish base at the invitation of and with the permission of the Turkish government.  The author’s dark insinuation that it is really the U.S. in charge of this piece of sovereign Turkish soil is an affront to the pride of the people of Turkey, and to its security services which defend its borders and its sovereignty.  As for Ramoglu’s implication that the U.S. had a role at Incirlik in planning the horrendous coup attempt of July 15, I repeat what U.S. and Turkish officials have said at the highest levels government: the United States had no prior knowledge of the July 15 coup attempt.  If we had, we would have immediately shared that information with the Turkish government.  The United States wants only for Turkey what Turkey wants for itself: democracy, prosperity, and security.

Mr. Ramoglu also asserted the United States used Incirlik to “plan” the downing of a Russian jet by the Turkish air force last year, as well as the bombing and killing of 35 Turkish citizens in Roboski.  These are lies. They have no basis in reality, nor any grounding in fact as even a cursory look at the elements surrounding either incident in question will show.  That the columnist would so willingly parrot Russian misinformation calls his motivations into serious question.  I would invite you to consult the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs or reexamine its press releases concerning the multiple times the Ministry formally protested Russian incursions into Turkish airspace in the weeks before Turkish aircraft shot down the Russian war plane.

Regarding the work of the Principal Officer at the U.S. Consulate in Adana. Ms. Specht, a diplomat with experience in missions throughout the world, regularly meets with the Governors, business and civil society leaders, as well as elected representatives of all of the municipalities in southeast Turkey.  The work of Ms. Specht is carried out transparently, with the aim of furthering the United States and Turkey’s bilateral relationship.  Notably, Mr. Ramoglu did not even have the journalistic integrity to seek comment from the U.S. Embassy before printing his false and dangerous claims.

The undergirding strength of the U.S.-Turkey relationship is that, even as we work shoulder to shoulder to reach our shared goals, when we disagree we do so openly and honestly as friends.  That honesty depends on the press providing a clear view of the facts about our two societies, warts and all.  If the media’s representation of reality is warped by hatred or paranoia, we see each other less clearly, and this can lead to deeper misunderstanding.

The United States prizes freedom of press as among the most fundamental elements of an open society.  With it, however, comes the responsibility to carry out journalism with the highest standards of truth, accuracy and accountability.     Our mission has worked together on news and public information with Sabah for years, so I sincerely hope this egregious example of “fake news” at its worst is not indicative of a broader deterioration in Sabah’s journalistic standards.  I continue to believe, as I said in my first interview with Sabah in January 2015, that it is important to have opportunities for the U.S. Embassy and others to interact with journalists here in Turkey, and I look forward to continuing to do so on a basis of trust.

John R. Bass