The Supreme Military Council (YAŞ) will convene within a week to discuss promotions in the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK), and observers expect the government not to settle for annotating the council decisions but to take a step further and obstruct the promotion of military higher-ups who are on trial -- mainly on terrorism and coup charges -- at the council.
What would be best for the government to do, according to observers, is to force the armed forces to either expel or suspend officers on trial until they are cleared of all charges. The president, the prime minister and the minister of defense have the right not to put their signature on YAŞ decisions, which will eventually result in the nullification of unlawful promotions within the armed forces.
TSK official policy does not allow the promotion of a military officer if he is on trial. Article 65 of the Law on TSK Staff stipulates that a member of the military who is imprisoned or is still being tried cannot be promoted. In addition, Article 82 of the Regulation on the Personal Records of Military Officers requires the cancellation of an officer’s promotion if he is promoted in violation of the laws.
YAŞ decisions need to be approved by the president, the prime minister and the defense minister to go into effect. Observers say an annotation by the three on the decisions will not satisfy people. For them, the president, the prime minister and the defense minister should do something more active, such as refusing to put their signatures on the promotion decisions, to prevent the armed forces from violating the law.
There are currently 25 active duty generals who are mentioned in indictments into terrorism or coup-related cases. In accordance with official TSK policy, these generals have no chance of promotion at YAŞ, but there are fears that the TSK may contravene its own rules and promote the generals on trial to higher positions within the military.
Retired military judge Ramadan Toprak, who spoke to Sunday’s Zaman, said the government can obstruct the promotion of those generals if it wishes to do so. “There is no rule or law that says YAŞ decisions must be made unanimously or with a majority. But the government has to this day blindly approved demands coming from the armed forces. … The promotion of generals on trial is not lawful. The government can prevent it,” he added.
According to Professor Mehmet Altan, who teaches at İstanbul University’s department of political economy, YAŞ meetings are a “murder of the law” as its decisions are not subject to judicial review. There is no judicial body that hears appeals against YAŞ decisions.
“One of the sine quo non principles of a state governed by the rule of law is the judicial review of all decisions made by administrative bodies. But officers who are expelled from the military cannot seek justice. The government can annotate YAŞ decisions easily if it wishes. The fact that YAŞ decisions were not annotated or obstructed before does not mean that it is unlawful. If you are afraid of the military, you cannot do this. The government should obstruct the unlawful promotion of generals without fear,” he said.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has annotated many YAŞ decisions in which officers were dismissed from the armed forces due to disciplinary reasons. The prime minister believes that the decisions made by the council should be overseen by a judicial body. A constitutional amendment package backed by his government seeks the establishment of a higher body to review YAŞ decisions.
Officers on trial
Among the active duty officers who are currently on trial is Col. Dursun Çiçek, who is accused of having drawn up a coup plan against the government, titled the Action Plan to Fight Reactionaryism. The colonel is now jailed at the Mamak Prison in Ankara. He was denied promotion to admiral last year on the grounds that there was no vacancy at the post. The main reason behind his not being promoted, however, was his standing trial on coup charges.
Experts believe Çiçek will be dismissed from the military at this year’s YAŞ.
Some other high-ranking officers who are on trial and who thus have no chance of getting promoted at YAŞ are Vice Adm. Mehmet Otuzbiroğlu, Gen. Nejat Bek, Maj. Gen. Ahmet Yavuz, Maj. Gen. Gürbüz Kaya and Rear Adm. Caner Bener. The suspects are accused of a failed attempt to destroy Parliament and overthrow the government. Such a charge calls for a jail sentence of up to 20 years in prison.
For former Justice Minister Hikmet Sami Türk, an annotation on YAŞ promotions by the prime minister would cause trouble because such a move is against common practice. He said promotions within the armed forces were decided in full consensus between the government and the top military brass thus far and, thus, the prime minister’s probable annotation on this year’s promotions would increase the already existing tension between the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government and the TSK.
Retired officers not in favor of promotion of officers on trial
The prospect of promotion of officers who are on trial is not being welcomed by retired members of the military either. For most, an officer should not be promoted to a higher position before he is fully cleared of all charges.
Retired Maj. Kemal Şahin said the president should step in if the officers on trial are promoted in violation of the law. “The prime minister and the minister of defense have one vote each. Thus, their annotation will not obstruct the promotion of those officers. Therefore, the president should refuse to approve the decisions if the officers are promoted against the law,” he said.
Şahin also said the armed forces will suffer a loss of reputation in the eyes of the people if the officers on trial are promoted unless they are acquitted of all charges.
“The officers who are currently being tried should absolutely not be promoted. They will serve in critical positions within the TSK. It will be problematic if they are promoted before being cleared of all charges. The president should step in if the officers are promoted in violation of the law. For instance, there is no legal obstacle before the promotion of Gen. Saldıray Berk, the commander of the 3rd Army. But he openly violated the law when he refused to comply with an order by civilian prosecutors to testify [in a terrorism case]. How can this general be promoted?” Şahin asked.
In the past 15 years, 529 officers were dismissed from the military on the grounds that they were engaged in acts of reactionaryism while 126 officers were dismissed for being engaged in illegal acts such as drug use. Seventy-seven officers have been expelled from the TSK since 2003, and the AK Party government put an annotation on all of the dismissals.