Could Turkey convince the US to extradite Fethullah Gulen?

The State Department says it will review evidence against the cleric if Turkey provides it.

Chris Post/AP
Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen speaks to members of the media at his compound in Pennsylvania on July 17.

Turkish officials said on Friday that they will request the extradition of cleric Fethullah Gulen from his compound in Pennsylvania by formal means, after the US State Department offered legal assistance from the Justice and State departments.

Serdar Kilic, Turkey’s ambassador to the United States, told reporters at a press conference that the formal request was “going to happen,” and accused Mr. Gulen of responsibility for the failed coup staged last week by members of the military, according to USA Today.

Secretary of State John Kerry has said that the United States would need hard evidence in order to honor an extradition request. And last weekend, Bloomberg quoted him in dismissing "irresponsible" accusations made by some members of the Turkish government that the United States had been involved in the plot.

“The United States is not harboring anybody, we’re not preventing anything from happening,” Mr. Kerry said. “We think it’s irresponsible to have accusations of American involvement when we’re simply waiting for their request”.

In Turkey, foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu exhorted the United States to react speedily to the request, according to Reuters. “If you want to draw out the Gulen extradition issue it can take years but if you are decisive it can be completed in a short period," he said.

European Union officials have expressed concern with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s purging of the public sector following the coup attempt, and warned that Erdogan’s proposal to reinstate the death penalty – abolished in Turkey in 2004 – would defeat any remaining chances the country had of joining the Union.

The coup "is no excuse to take the country away from fundamental rights and the rule of law," said EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, according to the Christian Science Monitor, "and we will be extremely vigilant on that." 

The US and Turkey have had an extradition treaty in place since 1981, according to a US State Department website. The treaty allows either state to reject a request if the offense from which it stems is deemed to be “of a political character,” or part of an effort to “prosecute or punish the person sought for an offense of a political character or on account of his political opinions.”

But there’s one exemption: if the offense in question was committed against a head of state, the treaty says, it “shall not be deemed to be an offense of a political character.”

The coup attempt has greatly strained relations between Turkey and the United States. After it was suppressed, Turkey briefly closed the airspace around Incirlik air base – a key site used by US war planes in airstrikes against the self-proclaimed Islamic State in Syria – and cut off power to it. And in one of his first public speeches after returning to power, Erdogan exhorted the US to hand over Gulen. “If we are strategic partners or model partners, do what is necessary,” he said then, according to CNN.

The cleric, who preaches a moderate version of Islam that emphasizes secular education and charity as part of a religious duty, has condemned the coup and denied any involvement, even suggesting that Erdogan could have staged it.

"I urge the U.S. government to reject any effort to abuse the extradition process to carry out political vendettas," said Gulen in a statement on Tuesday, according to Reuters.

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