Murat Fırat, a 41-year-old officer at the Turkish navy’s elite special forces unit, Underwater Offense (Su Altı Taarruz, or SAT), an equivalent of the US Navy SEALS, testified in court on January 7, 2020, relating accounts of the torture he was subjected to, first on a military base and then at a police station.
Fırat was at the SAT command, located on İstanbul’s Keçilik Bay, on the morning of July 15, 2016, doing routine work. He was actually making preparations to welcome a US team that would be at the base the next day to start a two-week joint military exercise. Around 18:00 hours, he received an emergency deployment order from his commanding officer. He had gotten used to such calls as part of a rapid response team at the SAT command. At 23:00, three vehicles transported him and his navy colleagues to the military section of Atatürk Airport, from where they were flown on a CASA aircraft to Akıncı Air Base in Ankara. When they landed, they were briefed on their mission, which was to secure the base against a terrorist threat.
There was nothing out of the ordinary that could have raised red flags for Fırat, who had completed similar missions many times, often to respond to an emergency situation under verbal orders from commanding officers. He recalled in court how he had joined a special SAT team to evacuate some 1,200 Turks from Lebanon during the 2006 Israel–Hezbollah War and how he and his team had rescued 150 African and Middle Eastern migrants in the Mediterranean when their boat was about to sink in 2003.
Moreover, he was also familiar with continuous alerts at the SAT base, which had received multiple intelligence reports from the police, the General Staff and intelligence agency MIT about possible terrorist attacks on military bases and installations in the weeks leading up to a failed coup on July 15, 2016. He had no idea he was one of many soldiers who were mobilized to make it appear that the military was carrying out a coup when in fact it was a false flag operation planned by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his military and intelligence chief in order to launch a mass purge of NATO’s second largest army and staff the vacated positions with Islamists and neo-nationalists.
Part of the court transcript that reveals torture:Murat_Firat_torture1
The terror alerts were taken seriously by all military bases and installations around the country, especially after the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) attacked General Staff service busses that were transporting military officers in Ankara on February 17, 2016, killing 29 people. Deadly terrorist attacks in Ankara and Istanbul by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) killed hundreds of people in 2015 and 2016, which raised the alert level across the country. The General Staff issued orders to all commanders to beef up security in and around bases, military housing compounds and key strategic locations.
At Akıncı Air Base, he was deployed to guard a fenced area away from the airstrip and stood guard there until morning. When the base was bombed in the morning, allegedly against the putschists on the base, he and his team members realized something was not right. They returned to the SAT base in Istanbul following fresh orders that the mission was cancelled. When Fırat arrived at the base in Istanbul on July 16, he was surprised to see retired SAT members there. He saw former captain Erme Onat, former colonel Ali Türkşen, former major Eren Gunay and retired noncommissioned officer Bulent Kuru moving around with weapons and giving orders. They had all been convicted in the past for their involvement in a neo-nationalist group that wreaked havoc in Turkey.
Retired Col. Türkşen, although he had no authority as a retired officer, was apparently in charge and giving direct orders to SAT Group Commander Col. Mustafa Turan Ecevit. Before he managed to figure out what was going on, Fırat was handcuffed and beaten in one of the rooms on the base and then taken to the main entrance. He had a gun put to his head by Ecevit, who said he would kill him right then and there after a false alarm was given and gunshots were heard.
SAT member Murat Fırat told the court he had been deployed on emergency orders many times in the past and that the one on July 15, 2016 was no different:Murat_Firat_torture3
“When we were at the main entrance, suddenly everyone started shooting. As the firing continued, Turan Ecevit put a gun to my head and said, ‘Don’t worry, if they’re here to pick him up, they’ll only take him dead.’ Your Honor, he took the safety off before he put the gun to my head. With the gun cocked, the trigger could go off with only 2.5 kilograms of pressure and fire the bullet. So his finger was on the trigger. I was so close to death. Then they stopped shooting because they said there was a misunderstanding,” Fırat said in recalling those horrifying minutes when he felt his life would be over. He was then forced to lie down on the hot asphalt road for two hours before the police came to pick him up. When his blindfold was taken off, he saw he was not the only one who had been detained. Maj. Murat Çetinkaya, Maj. Kürşat Göztok, Maj. Tahsin İşlekel and Petty Officer Timur Ağca were also there and looked to have been tortured as well.
When they were turned over to the police, Ecevit told the officers that Fırat had been trained in Germany in tactics to survive interrogation as part of a NATO assignment, in an apparent hint that more torture should applied on him. The police assured Ecevit, saying, “Don’t worry about it; we’ll take care of him at the police station.”
Medical report on July 17, 2016 indicated torture and beatings on the body of SAT member Murat Fırat:Murat_Firat_torture_medical_report1
“We were handcuffed from behind in a police vehicle. The Beykoz district police department public security bureau chief Alper Korkmaz came to me in the vehicle and said: ‘We won’t hit you now. First we’ll get a report of no assault from the hospital, then we will beat you, then we’ll get a new report from the hospital so that we can document the battery because I want put the torture I’m going to do to you on the record.’ I felt like he had gotten orders to torture us, and if he somehow proved that he had, he’d get a reward,” Fırat explained.
As the police chief had said, he was first taken to a hospital to check whether he had been abused or tortured and then transported to the police station in the Beykoz district of Istanbul. At the station he was beaten with kicks and punches while on the ground and handcuffed. Then a big man from the police special forces, nicknamed Rambo, entered the station to rounds of cheers and applause. Rambo started working on him, broke his nose and ribs, inflicted a three-inch gash on his jaw and ruptured his eardrums.
Medical report on July 19, 2016 also detailed torture and abuse Murat Fırat was subjected to while in police custody:Murat_Firat_torture_medical_report2
POLICE USED SEXUAL SLURS AGAINST VICTIM’S 4-YEAR-OLD TWIN GIRLS
The torture continued for hours with the police taking shifts. The floor was covered in blood. Everybody in the room not only physically abused Fırat but also cursed him and his wife with slurs and profanities. “A police officer asked if I had any children. I told him I had two four-year-old daughters. This police officer was 25 years old, brown skin and had long hair. He had his hair in a ponytail. This creature, who did not have a single shred of humanity in him, uttered profanities about my daughters with same sexual slurs he had used against my mother and my wife. The same police officer tortured me to force me to swear at my own mother, and he started hitting me, saying, ‘I’ll make you say that curse word [against your own mother].’ He hit me relentlessly with his hands, feet, knees and elbows. He kept hitting until he was exhausted. He eventually gave up from exhaustion. But he couldn’t make me say those despicable words he wanted me to utter against my mother. He lost. I’ll never forget his face and would recognize this beat cop if I ever see him,” Fırat told the court.
As the torture continued until the next morning, once in a while a police officer would come into the room to mockingly ask which officer got interrogation survival tactics training in Germany. Then the severity of the torture was increased. They gave him special torture treatment because that was the request from the SAT commander, Col. Ecevit, when he was handed over to the police. He was later shipped to the Security Directorate building in the Vatan neighborhood where he was subjected to further torture. After surviving torture at the Vatan police station for two days, he was formally arrested and sent to Silivri Prison, where the torture and abuse continued.
Detention warrant issued by prosecutor Hasan Yilmaz and executed by police chief Alper Korkmaz, the torturer:Murat_Firat_torture_detention_warrant
COUNCIL OF EUROPE DELEGATION INTERVIEWED THE TORTURE VICTIM
When a delegation from the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT), a Council of Europe-affiliated body, was in Turkey to conduct inspections between August 28 and September 6, 2016, Fırat was one of the victims who was able to tell his horrific story to the CPT delegates. The delegate members came to his cell to interview him and talked to him about his experiences.
Apparently pleased to have had the members of the CPT listen to him and hear his deep frustration at the indifference of the Turkish judicial system, which had ignored his complaints about torture, Fırat said in court:
“Three months later [after July 15, 2016], they [the CPT members] came from the Council of Europe to investigate torture, but although I have documents [about the torture], I have been unable to take any criminal or legal action in my own country for over three years. I submit to the panel of judges the contrast of morality and civilization between Turkish society, of which I am a member and which I had served for many years, and European [society] in that we do not believe in the same religion and do not have the same blood ties.” He was expressing his appreciation of the CPT’s attention to his abuse while the Turkish judiciary ignored his plight.
The CPT delegation’s interview with the victim as recorded in the transcript:Murat_Firat_torture2
The CPT delegation’s visit came amid widespread allegations first raised by Amnesty International, which stated that it had collected credible evidence that detainees in Turkey were beaten, tortured and on some occasions raped in official and unofficial detention centers across the country. However, the details of the CPT report were never made public because Turkey vetoed the publication of the report and has not lifted its objection since 2016. In fact CPT President Mykola Gnatovskyy stated in 2017 that even though he “[wanted] to discuss the findings,” he could not comment on the report due to Ankara’s decision.
IMMUNITY FOR TORTURERS
Fırat also criticized the Erdoğan government for providing immunity for torturers through legal provisions. Torturers in Turkey were protected by a government decree issued by President Erdoğan that provided blanket immunity for officials who were involved in coup investigations. Decree-law No. 667, issued by the government on July 23, 2016, granted sweeping protections for law enforcement officers in order to prevent victims from pressing complaints of torture, ill treatment or abuse against officials. There were multiple cases in which Turkish prosecutors refused to investigate torture allegations, citing this decree-law, or KHK (Kanun Hükmünde Kararname).
Article 9 of this KHK stated that “Legal, administrative, financial and criminal liabilities shall not arise in respect of the persons who have adopted decisions and fulfill their duties within the scope of this decree-law.” The decree was criticized by human rights organizations for being a clear breach of articles of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) as well as the European Convention on Human Rights, to which Turkey is a party, yet it was never annulled. In fact, the Turkish parliament passed the decree into law on October 18, 2016. Another KHK issued by the Erdoğan government even extended immunity to civilians.
“Perhaps the greatest evidence of torture is that the government brought protection and impunity for government employees who torture through Article 9 of KHK No. 667 and Article 37 of KHK No. 668. What is more troublesome is the granting of this protection and impunity to civil servants with KHK No. 669,” he said.
As of today, no prosecution has been initiated against people who tortured detainees under police custody or in prisons despite multiple complaints filed by the victims and their lawyers.
“Despite dozens of applications and hundreds of documents submitted by the defendants regarding torture, the fact that the prosecutor and you honourable panel of judges have not taken any action reveals that the rule of law in Turkey has been suspended. This is an open declaration that there is no rule of law in Turkey,” Fırat added.
Firat’s trial is still ongoing. He was a Ph.D. candidate, studying the Middle East until his imprisonment. He speaks English and Arabic and has two daughters.
The full 55-page transcript of Murat Fırat’s testimony in court:Murat_Firat_sat