ANKARA - Turkish Daily News
The Wednesday attack at the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul, killing three policemen and injuring two others, raised questions on the ethical dimension of the security system employed in the building which automatically locks the gates in case of an alarm.
Whether the wounded policemen could have survived if the gates were not locked remains an unanswered question, though widely covered by Turkish newspapers yesterday.
American officials are not keen on taking a side in the debate over the self-locking gates of the building, arguing the real issue is to concentrate on the vicious attack, which is suspected to be an al Qaeda act, though not yet officially identified as such.
�We have a standard procedure to secure U.S. embassies worldwide in a situation like this. The doors are locked down to prevent trained and armed people to come inside and harm innocent civilians,� Kathy Schallow, spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, told the Turkish Daily News.
According to Schallow, everybody, including the Turkish police, followed their own procedures during the Wednesday attack, which are mutually recognized by both sides. �When we were building the consulate, we had close cooperation with Turkish police. We do take the security of the police very seriously, we have a bulletproof booth for them. The bullet holes in the windows after the attack show we tried to make it as safe as possible,� she added.
Meanwhile, Turkish security sources confirmed Wednesday that the procedure followed by the U.S. consulate to automatically lock the gates and keep American personnel inside is considered legitimate.
Consulate staff also left outside
Several consulate staff were also left outside once the gates were locked at the time of the attack, Schallow confirmed. She avoided giving a specific number but said some employees of the consulate were outside talking to visa applicants. �They could not get in either. One of them risked his own life trying to provide medical assistance to a wounded Turkish policeman,� she added.
Many embassies decline to comment on their own security procedures, describing it as a matter of special confidentiality. However, the automatically locking gates stand out as a common practice for the American and Israeli missions, especially after Sept. 11. Diplomatic sources note that the level of security at embassies and consulates is generally set according to the scope of expected threats.
Turkey expected to protect US premises
Article 22 of the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which sets a code of conduct for diplomatic missions deployed in any country, states �The receiving State is under a special duty to take all appropriate steps to protect the premises of the mission against any intrusion or damage and to prevent any disturbance of the peace of the mission or impairment of its dignity.� It also guarantees that the premises of the mission, its furnishings, other properties and the means of transport of the mission shall never be intruded upon by a foreign government.
In keeping with the convention, it is the duty of the Turkish police, who are in charge only outside the frontiers of the U.S. consulate, to provide the necessary code of conduct for their personnel serving at the gate.