Can Turkey use drones to its assassinate its critic in the US?


The attempted coup in Turkey has failed and the government there has blamed the uprising on a cleric who lives in a rural retreat in Pennsylvania. They have demanded that the US hand the cleric over to them.

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim warned that further “criminal activity will be forcefully dealt with”, and announced that the United States has been given evidence of the involvement of exiled opposition leader Fethullah Gulen in the failed coup.

In an address on Tuesday before members of his party in parliament, Yildirim denounced the “despicable” and “cowardly” coup plotters, whom he said were being “directed by a cleric” from abroad, referring to Gulen.

Glenn Greenwald asks the awkward question as to whether, if the US fails to hand Gulen over, Turkey would be justified in sending a drone to the US to kill someone they consider to be a terrorist, since the US uses similar rationales to justify its drone killing program in other countries.

In light of the presence on U.S. soil of someone the Turkish government regards as a “terrorist” and a direct threat to its national security, would Turkey be justified in dispatching a weaponized drone over Pennsylvania to find and kill Gulen if the U.S. continues to refuse to turn him over, or sending covert operatives to kidnap him? That was the question posed yesterday by Col. Morris Davis, former chief prosecutor of Guantánamo’s military commissions who resigned in protest over the use of torture-obtained evidence:

That question, of course, is raised by the fact that the U.S. has spent many years now doing exactly this: employing various means — including but not limited to drones — to abduct and kill people in multiple countries whom it has unilaterally decided (with no legal process) are “terrorists” or who otherwise are alleged to pose a threat to its national security. Since it cannot possibly be the case that the U.S. possesses legal rights that no other country can claim — right? — the question naturally arises whether Turkey would be entitled to abduct or kill someone it regards as a terrorist when the U.S. is harboring him and refuses to turn him over.

The only viable objection to Turkey’s assertion of this authority would be to claim that the U.S. limits its operations to places where lawlessness prevails, something that is not true of Pennsylvania. But this is an inaccurate description of the U.S.’s asserted entitlement. In fact, after 9/11, the U.S. threatened Afghanistan with bombing and invasion unless the Taliban government immediately turned over Osama bin Laden, and the Taliban’s answer was strikingly similar to what the U.S. just told Turkey about Gulen:

Greenwald’s questions are, of course, rhetorical. The US justification for its own actions is basically “Because we can” and its rejection of similar actions by other governments is “Because we say so”.

As Greenwald concludes:

That’s American Exceptionalism in its purest embodiment: The U.S. is not subject to the same rules and laws as other nations, but instead is entitled to assert power and punishment that is unique to itself, grounded in its superior status. Indeed, so ingrained is this pathology that the mere suggestion that the U.S. should be subject to the same laws and rules as everyone else inevitably provokes indignant accusations that the person is guilty of the greatest sin: comparing the United States of America to the lesser, inferior governments and countries of the world.

Comments

  1. Reginald Selkirk says

    … and announced that the United States has been given evidence of the involvement of exiled opposition leader Fethullah Gulen in the failed coup.

    Which probably amounts to unsubstantiated allegations and guilt by association. Consider the thousands being purged in Turkey right now. Do you really think that Turkey has evidence against all of them that would hold up in legitimate courts of law?

  2. cartomancer says

    “For ourselves, we shall not trouble you with specious pretences- either of how we have a right to our empire because we overthrew the Mede, or are now attacking you because of wrong that you have done us- and make a long speech which would not be believed; and in return we hope that you, instead of thinking to influence us by saying that you did not join the Lacedaemonians, although their colonists, or that you have done us no wrong, will aim at what is feasible, holding in view the real sentiments of us both; since you know as well as we do that right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak must accede to it.”

    Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War, XVII (c.431B C)

  3. says

    Reginald Selkirk @1

    Which probably amounts to unsubstantiated allegations and guilt by association. Consider the thousands being purged in Turkey right now. Do you really think that Turkey has evidence against all of them that would hold up in legitimate courts of law?

    That in no way invalidates the question because again it’s no different than the drone murders carried out by the US government. If anyone thinks the evidence against every target is rock solid…

  4. sonofrojblake says

    There are a couple of very different questions here.

    The title of the post asks a question with a simple answer: Can Turkey use drones to its assassinate its critic in the US? No, it can’t. The Turkish government may be many things, but suicidally stupid isn’t one of them. Nor are they equipped with drones that could do that.

    A very different question is “would Turkey would be justified in sending a drone to the US to kill someone?”, to which the answer is “Yes, to exactly the same extent the US is justified in doing what it has been doing.”

    I often wonder what the point is of these observations: the US wields the biggest stick. Sometimes it does good things, often it does bad things. But how happy would we all be if a power existed with the realistic ability to do to the US everything the US does to other states? Because without such a power, the US can basically do what it wants, and all we can about it is what we’re doing here: bleat impotently.

  5. sonofrojblake says

    One of my early memories is of news reports of the assassination of Georgi Markov – it seemed incredibly James Bond even at the time – but sending in a person to kill a person face-to-face is a very different proposition to doing it by remote control from thousands of miles away. Could Turkey do that? Of course. Would they? The government there seems less and less concerned with how it looks to outsiders, as the prospects of it ever joining the EU recede. Although it seems unlikely, I wouldn’t put it past them. After all – what would be the likely repercussions? A diplomatic slap on the wrist? Turkey is too strategically important to get too annoyed with.

  6. KG says

    Erdogan in fact said shortly after the failed coup that any country that continues to stand by Fethullah Gulen , whom he blames for it and who is in self-imposed exile in the USA, will be considered at war with Turkey. Erdogan has also demanded Gulen’s extradition. Assuming the USA declines to comply – which is likely, as the global hegemon can’t be seen to give way to threats – what will Erdogan do? It seems quite likely that he is over-reaching himself – however many people he arrests, he’ll be making more determined enemies among their friends and relations – thus setting up the conditions for a coup with broader support, including the USA.

    cartomancer@2,
    Yanis Varoufakis has recently used a different translation of the tag line from your Thucydides quote as the English title of his book on the coercion of Greece by Germany and the ECB: “And the weak suffer what they must?” I don’t know what it’s called in Greek – or indeed, if there’s yet a Greek edition; I think Varoufakis wrote it in English.

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