Time for Turkey to pay up for Sheridan Circle attack

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On March 9, 2021, the Department of Justice moved one step closer to holding the Turkish government accountable for an attack on protesters in the heart of Washington.

It was a clear spring day four years ago when all hell broke loose in front of the Turkish ambassador’s residence in Sheridan Circle. As Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrived following a White House meeting, the presence of protesters infuriated him.

Video shows he had a quick conversation with a bodyguard who then barked an order. Turkish security agents attacked peaceful protesters in the heart of Washington, D.C., bloodying some and sending others to the hospital. Erdogan was unrepentant. “If my bodyguards cannot protect me, then why am I bringing them with me to the U.S.?” he quipped.

Erdogan likes his bubble.

Inside Turkey, he reigns supreme. Turks live in fear. He has filled his prisons to overcapacity with political opponents and civil society activists. Turks tell one joke about a prisoner who goes into a prison library and requests a book. The librarian apologizes profusely and says they no longer have any books, just their authors.

Americans, though, should never live in such fear nor face a dictator’s arbitrary violence in the heart of their capital. To drive home the point, the victims filed a civil suit. Turkey sought to have the case dismissed, but last year, a federal court denied its request.

Throughout the legal battle, Turkey has eschewed responsibility. Turkey’s lawyers say Erdogan’s agents “perceived” a threat and acted to protect their president, notwithstanding the fact that Erdogan was 100 yards away, protesters were orderly and unarmed, and D.C. Metro Police were keeping order.

Turkey has testified that foreign security details have wide discretion to act when perceiving such a threat. Had the court accepted the idea that discretion extended to the ability to beat Kurds and Armenians in Washington to silence anti-Erdogan slogans, then by the same logic, they would have allowed Chinese security agents to hunt Uyghurs in the capital to neutralize a perceived threat.

Fortunately, the District Court found that the actions of the Turkish security agents were not consistent with those Congress intended to shield with immunity. Turkey promptly appealed and argued that the District Court had erred because the agents acted within their discretion. On appeal, a panel of three judges sought clarification from the Department of Justice in consultation with the State Department and Secret Service.

That clarification came yesterday when the Department of Justice argued that Turkish agents did not act reasonably and had no claim to immunity because, in the absence of a threat, discretion does not apply. The House Foreign Affairs Committee and Senate Foreign Relations Committee have taken a similar position in a letter.

While normally the State Department runs interference in such cases, often to the detriment of Americans victimized by state sponsors of terror or other foreign state abuses, Turkey will likely receive no such service here. The State Department has significant input into the Justice Department brief, and so it appears that Secretary of State Antony Blinken is simply allowing the case to take its true legal course. Had he wanted to block the lawsuit, the best way to do so would have been when the appeals court had asked for input.

The victims of the attack deserve recourse. It is time for Turkey to pay up and, failing that, to have its property seized, auctioned, and distributed. That Sheridan Circle ambassador’s residence certainly would make a nice Kurdish cultural center or museum commemorating the Armenian genocide.

By: Michael Rubin (@Mrubin1971) – a contributor to the Washington Examiner’s Beltway Confidential blog. He is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a former Pentagon official.

Source: Washington Examiner

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