Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan places the blame for this weekend’s failed coup attempt on an Islamic preacher and one-time ally, Fethullah Gulen (above), who now resides in Pennsylvania with a green card. Erdogan is demanding the U.S. extradite Gulen, citing prior extraditions by the Turkish government of terror suspects demanded by the U.S.: “Now we’re saying deliver this guy who’s on our terrorist list to us.” Erdogan has been requesting Gulen’s extradition from the U.S. for at least two years, on the ground that he has been subverting the Turkish government while harbored by the U.S. Thus far, the U.S. is refusing, with Secretary of State John Kerry demanding of Turkey: “Give us the evidence, show us the evidence. We need a solid legal foundation that meets the standard of extradition.”
In light of the presence on U.S. soil of someone the Turkish government regards as a “terrorist” and a direct threat to its national security, would Turkey be justified in dispatching a weaponized drone over Pennsylvania to find and kill Gulen if the U.S. continues to refuse to turn him over, or sending covert operatives to kidnap him? That was the question posed yesterday by Col. Morris Davis, former chief prosecutor of Guantánamo’s military commissions who resigned in protest over the use of torture-obtained evidence:
If Fethullah Gulen is considered a threat to Erdogan & Turkey's gov't doesn't Turkey have a right to drone strike him in Pennsylvania? @CNN
— Col. Morris Davis (@ColMorrisDavis) July 16, 2016
That question, of course, is raised by the fact that the U.S. has spent many years now doing exactly this: employing various means — including but not limited to drones — to abduct and kill people in multiple countries whom it has unilaterally decided (with no legal process) are “terrorists” or who otherwise are alleged to pose a threat to its national security. Since it cannot possibly be the case that the U.S. possesses legal rights that no other country can claim — right? — the question naturally arises whether Turkey would be entitled to abduct or kill someone it regards as a terrorist when the U.S. is harboring him and refuses to turn him over.
The only viable objection to Turkey’s assertion of this authority would be to claim that the U.S. limits its operations to places where lawlessness prevails, something that is not true of Pennsylvania. But this is an inaccurate description of the U.S.’s asserted entitlement. In fact, after 9/11, the U.S. threatened Afghanistan with bombing and invasion unless the Taliban government immediately turned over Osama bin Laden, and the Taliban’s answer was strikingly similar to what the U.S. just told Turkey about Gulen:
The ruling Taliban of Afghanistan today further complicated the status of Osama bin Laden and rejected the ultimatum of the United States that he and his lieutenants be handed over to answer for their suspected role in last week’s terrorist attacks in the United States.
The Taliban’s ambassador to Pakistan, Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, said at a news conference in Islamabad, “Our position in this regard is that if the Americans have evidence, they should produce it.” If they can prove their allegations, he said, “we are ready for a trial of Osama bin Laden.”
Asked again whether Mr. bin Laden would be surrendered, the ambassador replied, “Without evidence, no.”
The U.S. refused to provide any such evidence — “These demands are not open to negotiation or discussion,” said President George W. Bush at the time — and the U.S. bombing and invasion of Afghanistan began two weeks thereafter, and continues to this day, 15 years later. The justification there was not that the Taliban were incapable of arresting and extraditing bin Laden, but rather that they refused to do so without evidence of his guilt being provided and some legal/judicial action invoked.
Nor are such U.S. actions against individual terror suspects confined to countries where lawlessness prevails. In 2003, the CIA kidnapped a cleric from the streets of Milan, Italy, and shipped him to Egypt to be tortured (CIA agents involved have been prosecuted in Italy, though the U.S. government has vehemently defended them). In 2004, the U.S. abducted a German citizen in Macedonia, flew him to Afghanistan, tortured and drugged him, then unceremoniously dumped him back on the street when it realized he was innocent; but the U.S. has refused ever since to compensate him or even apologize, leaving his life in complete shambles. The U.S. has repeatedly killed people in Pakistan with drones and other attacks, including strikes when it had no idea who it was killing, and also stormed a compound in Abbottabad — where the Pakistani government has full reign — in order to kill Osama bin Laden in 2010.
U.S. drone kills of terror suspects (including its own citizens) are extremely popular among Americans, including (in the age of Obama) those who self-identify as liberal Democrats. Yet it’s virtually certain that Americans across the ideological spectrum would explode in nationalistic outrage if Turkey actually did the same thing in Pennsylvania; indeed, the consequences for Turkey if it dared to do so are hard to overstate.
That’s American Exceptionalism in its purest embodiment: The U.S. is not subject to the same rules and laws as other nations, but instead is entitled to assert power and punishment that is unique to itself, grounded in its superior status. Indeed, so ingrained is this pathology that the mere suggestion that the U.S. should be subject to the same laws and rules as everyone else inevitably provokes indignant accusations that the person is guilty of the greatest sin: comparing the United States of America to the lesser, inferior governments and countries of the world.