U.S. law enforcement authorities have charged twelve members of the Turkish presidential security detail for their role in assaulting protesters last month. The men are now back in Turkey and unlikely to be extradited to the U.S. for trial.
This stems from an incident on May 16th when the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan made a state visit to the United States. He was met by protesters outside the residence of the Turkish ambassador on D.C.’s Embassy Row. By all accounts the protesters were peaceful, but Erdogan’s security forces rushed the crowd and began to beat them. Soon, D.C. police and U.S. Secret Service personnel were involved in attempting to break up the fight.
According to the original account of the incident:
Eleven people were injured, including a police officer, and nine were taken to a hospital, the Metropolitan Police chief, Peter Newsham, said… Two Secret Service agents were also assaulted in the melee, according to a federal law enforcement official.
The protesters were there to confront Erdogan on his policies and actions, particularly his attack on democratic institutions within Turkey. Since being elected as president of Turkey in 2014, Erdogan has sought to increase his power over the country, particularly following the July 2016 coup attempt by the military. The Turkish military has a history of intervening when it sees the civilian government lurching too far towards Islamism or undermining the country’s democratic institutions. Thus, it decided to act in July 2016 to remove Erdogan and his supporters from power; however, the coup failed. In response, Erdogan arrested many military officers and journalists, closed media outlets, and just recently has blocked access to Wikipedia.
Thus, the assault by Turkish security forces on peaceful protesters on American soil is a symptom of the larger problem of Turkey’s slide towards authoritarianism. The country is part of NATO, but has clashed with other NATO allies, particularly Germany. It has also bombed American-allied militias in Syria while fostering closer relations with Russia. These actions present problems for NATO and the U.S. As a result, planned weapons sales to Turkey have now been put on hold. The U.S. and NATO will still have to determine what to do with an “ally” who appears to no longer have the same interests or goals.