The US Department of Justice has spent more time on Turkey’s request for the extradition of US-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen than on other extradition requests, a US official told the Hürriyet Daily News, underlining increased cooperation between law enforcement officials of the two countries in the past few months.
“At the Justice Department, they tell me they have spent more time on the Gülen extradition request than any extradition request in memory. The term they used is ‘thousands of hours’,” a senior US official said.
However, he noted that US courts require a high evidentiary standard for extradition. In the US system, the justice department reviews the extradition request, and if they think it is sufficiently detailed that the court would accept it, then they send it to the court, the official added.
He said the US Department of Justice has been working very closely with the Turkish Justice Ministry to make sure that when a request is finally put before a judge, “it is detailed enough to have a chance of success.”
Turkish officials have presented a large amount of information about the Gülen organization and about the coup, he said.
“The issue is if there is sufficiently clear evidence of Fethullah Gülen’s personal involvement in the coup to pass muster in a US court. The issue is not whether the average person on the street would think he is guilty. There is very high evidentiary standard,” said the official.
Turkish authorities have repeatedly criticized the US administration for not extraditing Gülen despite multiple official requests by Turkey’s Justice Ministry.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) accuse the Gülen movement of orchestrating a coup attempt on July 15, 2016, although the movement strongly denies it.
The official said in recent months there has been an increase in “dialogue and more effective communication” between Turkish and US law enforcement and that it includes examining the activities of the Gülen network in the US.
“Leaving aside the specific matter of the extradition of Fethullah Gülen, the fact is in recent months, US and Turkish law enforcement and judicial counterparts have significantly stepped up their cooperation in examining the activities of the Gülen network in the US. I think that is a constructive avenue that would be to the benefit of both countries. We expect going forward to see more cooperation in determining what the activities of the Gülen network are in the US,” he said.
The official said the US administration has been investigating the Gülen network for many years when asked about whether US officials have decided to take a step further on the issue of the Gülen network due to the case of pastor Andrew Brunson, a US citizen jailed in Turkey.
“What has happened recently is that the cooperation between Turkish and American counterparts has increased,” he said.
“Ironically, we have been investigating the Gülen network probably longer than the Turkish government has, long before the coup attempt,” said the official.
“The US and Turkey have been discussing the Gülen network for many years. It is a positive story in recent months that we have stepped up our cooperation,” said the official when asked whether the US had warned the government of Turkey about the movement in the past. He did not elaborate on the nature of these talks.
Despite all the ups and downs in bilateral ties, the US official said he is optimistic for the future of Turkish-US ties.
“I think relations between Turkey and the US are going in the right direction. There are a number of areas where our cooperation has improved remarkably in the last several months, he said.
However, the official called for overcoming current bilateral problems. “If we do not, it will be very difficult to focus on long term opportunities because of short term problems,” he said.
The official mentioned finding remedies for detained US consulate staff and US citizens in Turkey, particularly Brunson. Otherwise, “it is difficult to focus on opportunities in the relationship.”