Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Wind farm industry forced to admit environmental benefit of wind power in reducing carbon emissions is only half as stated

UK Telegraph: Promoters overstated the environmental benefit of wind farms, by Patrick Sawer
The wind farm industry has been forced to admit that the environmental benefit of wind power in reducing carbon emissions is only half as big as it had previously claimed.

Last Updated: 8:14AM GMT, Dec 21, 2008

The British Wind Energy Association (BWEA) has agreed to scale down its calculation for the amount of harmful carbon dioxide emission that can be eliminated by using wind turbines to generate electricity instead of burning fossil fuels such as coal or gas.

The move is a serious setback for the advocates of wind power, as it will be regarded as a concession that twice as many wind turbines as previously calculated will be needed to provide the same degree of reduction in Britain's carbon emissions.

A wind farm industry source admitted: "It's not ideal for us. It's the result of pressure by the anti-wind farm lobby."

For several years the BWEA – which lobbies on behalf of wind power firms – claimed that electricity from wind turbines 'displaces' 860 grams of carbon dioxide emission for every kilowatt hour of electricity generated.

However it has now halved that figure to 430 grams, following discussions with the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).

Hundreds of wind farms are being planned across the country, adding to the 198 onshore and offshore farms - a total of 2,389 turbines - already in operation. Another 40 farms are currently under construction.

Experts have previously calculated that to help achieve the Government's aim of saving around 200 million tons of CO2 emissions by 2020 - through generating 15 per cent of the country's electricity from wind power - would require 50,000 wind turbines.

But the new figure for carbon displacement means that twice as many turbines would now be needed to save the same amount of CO2 emissions.

While their advocates regard wind farms as a key part of Britain's fight against climate change, opponents argue they blight the landscape at great financial cost while bringing little environmental benefit.

Dr Mike Hall, an anti-wind farm campaigner from the Friends of Eden, Lakeland and Lunesdale Scenery group in the Lake District, said: "Every wind farm application says it will lead to a big saving in the amount of carbon dioxide produced. This has been greatly exaggerated and the reduction in the carbon displacement figure is a significant admission of this.

"As we get cleaner power stations on line, the figure will get even lower. It further backs the argument that wind farms are one of the most inefficient and expensive ways of lowering carbon emissions."

Because wind farms burn no fuel, they emit no carbon dioxide during regular running. The revised calculation for the amount of carbon emission they save has come about because the BWEA's earlier figure did not take account of recent improvements to the technology used in conventional, fossil-fuel-burning power stations.

The figure of 860 grams dates back to the days of old-style coal-fired power stations. However, since the early 1990s, many of the dirty coal-fired stations have been replaced by cleaner-burning stations, with a consequent reduction in what the industry calls the "grid average mix" figure for carbon dioxide displacement.

As a result, a modern 100MW coal or gas power station is now calculated to produce half as many tonnes of carbon dioxide as its predecessor would have done.

The BWEA's move follows a number of rulings by the ASA against claims made by individual wind farm promoters about the benefits their schemes would have in reducing carbon emissions.

In one key adjudication, the ASA ruled that a claim by Npower Renewables that a wind farm planned for the southern edge of Exmoor National Park, in Devon, would help prevent the release of 33,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere was "inaccurate and likely to mislead". This claim was based on the 860-gram figure.

The watchdog concluded: "We told Npower to ensure that future carbon savings claims were based on a more representative and rigorous carbon emissions factor."

The ASA has now recommended that the BWEA and generating companies use the far lower figure of 430 grams.

In a letter to its members, the BWEA's head of onshore, Jan Matthiesen, said: "It was agreed to recommend to all BWEA members to use the single static figure of 430 g CO2/kWh for the time being. The advantage is that it is well accepted and presents little risk as it understates the true figure."

This is now the figure given on the BWEA's website. The organisation will also be forced to lower its claim for the total amount of carbon dioxide emission saved by the 2,389 wind turbines currently operating around Britain.

But the association denied the change weakened the case for wind farms.

Nick Medic, spokesman for the BWEA, said: "Wind farms are still eliminating emissions. The fact is that fossil fuel burning power stations belch out CO2 and wind farms don't. That has not changed.

"The fact is we need to reduce carbon emissions, however you account for them. But there are people who just don't like wind farms and will use any argument against them."

Claire Belinski's The Looming Crisis in Turkey

Excerpts of The Looming Crisis in Turkey. By Claire Berlinski
A country of massive economic and strategic significance could be headed for disaster

The American. Friday, December 19, 2008

ISTANBUL—In the wake of the First World War, Turkish General Mustafa Kemal Atatürk drove the occupying Allied Forces from the rump of the defeated Ottoman Empire. The liberated territory, he announced, would form the new Turkish Republic. Its paramount value would be nationalism, anchored in an exceptionally stringent brand of secularism. Islam would henceforth be banned from the public sphere and subordinated entirely to the state’s authority.

Atatürk’s victory over the Entente powers was complete and irreversible, but if contemporary critics of Turkey’s governing Justice and Development Party (known by its Turkish acronym, AKP) are correct, his victory over the retrograde forces of religion is not. Recently, the AKP’s attempt to lift a 1989 prohibition on headscarves in Turkish universities prompted a constitutional crisis. In March, Turkey’s chief prosecutor initiated a legal case to ban the party outright for plotting the Islamist subversion of the Republic. The challenge to the headscarf ban formed the gravamen of his brief. Months of ferment and feverish rumors ensued as the Constitutional Court weighed the evidence. Prominent critics of the party were arrested in pre-dawn raids and charged with plotting a coup. In August, the judges came down narrowly—by one vote less than the required majority—against the party’s closure. Ten of the eleven judges agreed, however, that the AKP had become a “focal point of activities against secularism.” The Court rebuked the party sharply and curtailed its state funding.

The verdict resolved the immediate crisis, but the conflict between Turkey’s arch-secularists and the AKP has hardly been settled. Indeed, a casual reader of the Turkish press could be forgiven for concluding that headscarves are Turkey’s most urgent concern.

They are not. Turkey’s most urgent concerns are the weakness of its political and legal institutions and the corruption that permeates its economy. Absent institutional reform, it does not much matter which palace faction emerges ascendant in the short term or how many girls wear headscarves to school, for the long-term outcome is apt to be the same: Turkey will not become a theocracy, but it will likely suffer severe economic turmoil, preceded or followed by more political instability.

It would be a stretch to say that Turkey is on the verge of becoming the next Iran. The percentage of Turks who believe political parties should be based on religion has dropped during the AKP’s time in power from 41 percent to 25 percent. The number who wish to see their country ruled by Islamic law has declined from 21 percent to 9 percent. Poll after poll has indicated that under the AKP, the number of Turks who pray five times daily and fast during Ramadan has diminished. Popular support for a theocracy is largely absent.

Also largely absent, however, are a coherent constitution, an effective legal system, a trusted judiciary, enforceable contract law, a disinterested civil service, modern bookkeeping, accurate property records, a rational system for tax collection, a successful education system, honest cops, incorruptible politicians, transparent campaign financing, a responsible press, a deep popular commitment to democracy, and a widespread sense of civic responsibility. Amid the (mostly manufactured) hysteria over Turkey’s imaginary future as an Islamic Republic, attempts to rectify these problems have been crowded out.

Turkey’s institutions are weak for historical reasons. In 1922, the new Republican assembly of Turkey overthrew the House of Osman, assuming its authority. Atatürk purged the bureaucracy of its Ottoman elements and radically Westernized the education system. Even the Ottoman script was replaced with a Latin one, cutting off every Turk born thereafter from 600 years of Ottoman culture and signaling the alignment of the Republic with Europe, not the Muslim East. Islamic courts were abolished and replaced with a secular legal apparatus modeled word-for-word on the Swiss, German, and Italian civil and penal codes.

The development of these institutions in Europe, however, was accompanied by centuries of coterminous social and cultural evolution; and while the later Ottoman sultans engaged, often vigorously, in Westernization, Turkish institutional reform came haltingly, if at all. Atatürk’s reforms were by no means a commensurate process; if so, he would not have famously declared them to be “for the people, despite the people.” The Turkish state—hypertrophied under Atatürk’s étatist rule—has since tended to suppress the growth of the non-state institutions, such as a free press, that work in tandem with parliaments, bureaucracies, and legal systems to ensure their efficacy.

Turkey thus remains under the sway of Byzantine and Ottoman social, economic, and legal habits that poorly serve a modern nation-state. This historical background, more than the rise of political Islam, is the greatest barrier to Turkey’s integration into Europe and the global economy; and because it has ensured a perpetual cycle of rising expectations followed by political and economic crises, it is a major cause of the rise of political Islam in Turkey.

It should surprise no one to learn that Turkish politics are colored by oriental clientelism, Byzantine nepotism, and widespread corruption. But these problems are more severe than commonly assumed; their ramifications are more profound than commonly appreciated; and the situation is not getting better under the AKP—or, if it is getting better, it is not getting better fast enough.

The AKP came to power promising reform. It has stayed in power because it is perceived, in Turkey, to be delivering reform, and it has received tremendous support from Europe, the United States, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, foreign investors, and the foreign press for the same reason. If the AKP is not, in reality, getting very far—if the reports of substantial reform are wrong, predicated on faulty data, and derived from faulty analysis—then it is only a matter of time before Turkey experiences its next major financial meltdown, much like the one that brought the AKP to power in the first place. When this happens, the AKP will be voted out of power, if it has not already been ousted by the courts or the military.

It is therefore less essential than people assume to know whether, in the small hours of the night, the leaders of the AKP dream of neutering the army, ending democracy, and destroying Turkish secularism: this is said to be their long-term plan, not their medium-term strategy, and chances are that they won’t survive long enough for anyone to know. But it is essential to grasp that without the reform of Turkey’s institutions, nothing much better—for Turkey or the world—is likely to replace them.


We must appreciate just why the AKP was elected. Rigorous research on this subject has been done by Konda, a Turkish consulting group known for its unusually prophetic opinion polls. (Prior to the June 2007 elections, Konda predicted that the AKP would take 47 percent of the vote. They took exactly 47 percent of the vote.) As Konda’s founder, Tarhan Erdem, told me, the AKP is “perceived above all as the party that can best manage the economy. That they are the party of Islamic values is secondary.”

Konda surveyed the electorate in August 2007. It found that 70.4 percent of Turks ranked poverty as the nation’s most pressing problem. “Acts against secularism” and “acts against democracy” ranked well below “insufficiency of social security system.” The electorate believed the AKP to be the party most able to address the problem of poverty. A plurality of respondents said no party could solve the problem, but 34.9 percent believed the AKP could do it. Only 10.5 percent said this of the CHP, Turkey’s oldest party and the only real rival to the AKP. The CHP calls itself “center-left,” but the correct description is really “statist-nationalist,” and whatever you call it, it is moribund. In the past two general elections, the CHP has been thrashed.

Konda’s founder, who directed this research, is no fan of the AKP. Erdem joined the CHP in 1953 and served briefly as the party’s general secretary. He is also a columnist for the left-leaning newspaper Radikal and makes no secret of his belief that the AKP leadership dreams of destroying Turkish secularism. Nonetheless, he trusts what his polls tell him: that the people who voted for the AKP do not share this dream.

Overwhelmingly, the poorer the voter, the more likely he or she was to vote AKP. When asked which issues were most important to them in casting their votes, 78.3 of respondents chose “economic situation and expectations.” “One can easily see,” concludes Konda’s analysis of these data, that “these elections progressed, not on the secular-anti-secular axis as generally claimed, but rather on an axis of aggravation.”

The leaders of the AKP are pious Anatolian businessmen who look and sound like ordinary rural Turks. They visit the poorer regions of Turkey and speak earnestly and respectfully to people for whom the CHP leadership can barely disguise its contempt. Given Turkey’s massive income inequality—87 percent of the population earn less than the average income—it is not surprising that the CHP, a party correctly associated with the wealthy urban elite, is in deep electoral trouble.

This is not to say that religion and the AKP have nothing to do with each other. From the 1950s through the 1980s, Turkey experienced slow but steady economic growth. In the 1990s, the economy stalled and then shrank. “During this period,” Erdem said, “people were forced to lean on each other. They met in cafes and mosques, and the things that helped them to stick together were, basically, Islamic qualities and principles…. During this time there was a search for new political values. During the preceding 30-year span, they had tried every single party and realized none of them were any good, so they were looking for another avenue.” The AKP was that avenue.

Last year, the AKP was returned to power with an increased share of the vote. Again, the reasons for this were chiefly economic: the party was perceived to have delivered the goods. Foreign observers have been rhapsodic about the AKP’s economic record. The Economist magazine expressed the consensus view: “They are more successful than any secular predecessor.” The words repeatedly invoked are “shrewd,” “sound,” “disciplined,” and “miracle.” This economic miracle is generally taken as axiomatic, even as domestic and foreign observers remain deeply divided about the party’s commitment to secularism and democracy, tending to argue either that Turkish secularism is, as the AKP claims, so strict that the rights of pious Turks are routinely violated, or so fragile, as its opponents claim, that the rights of impious Turks are in immediate jeopardy.

Both perspectives are easily understood. The 1982 Turkish constitution defines “secularism” in a particularly severe manner. The preamble, for example, states that there “shall be no interference whatsoever by sacred religious feelings in state affairs and politics.” In other words, no politician here may proclaim his faith in the manner that every mainstream American politician does, and must, to be elected. The constitution was clearly intended to function as an iron barrier against the encroachment of political Islam, but it has resulted, in practice, in the denial of education to roughly three-quarters of Turkish women. This cannot be reckoned a workable, durable separation between religion and the state. Further undermining the constitution’s utility is the issue of its legitimacy: it was ratified by referendum during a period of military rule; no public debate about its terms was permitted.

But if the AKP has a fair case against the Turkish constitution, the constitution’s defenders have a fair case against the AKP. The blood associated with political Islam—from Algeria through Iran to Afghanistan—is hardly calculated to reassure. Neither is the company the AKP used to keep: Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s political mentor was former Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan, who came to power promising to “rescue Turkey from the unbelievers of Europe,” wrest power from “imperialists and Zionists,” and launch a jihad to recapture Jerusalem. Weeks after taking office, Erbakan departed on a rapturous friendship tour of Iran. He was soon ousted by the Turkish military. The AKP’s critics have not forgotten this, nor should they.

Nonetheless, much of the handwringing about the AKP’s crypto-Islamism is political theater. The reality is that if the Turkish economy tanks, the AKP will lose popular support. Indeed, when the court case against the AKP spooked the markets, polls immediately showed a substantial drop in the party’s approval ratings. When the markets rallied in response to the court’s conciliatory verdict, the AKP’s ratings went right back up. Turkey is now beginning to feel the effects of the global financial crisis: the lira has plummeted; exports have fallen off; unemployment is soaring. Polls show that support for the AKP is sharply attenuated. This party cannot stay in power without the support of the electorate. The military is in the hands of the AKP’s enemies. No one doubts that if the AKP were to announce tomorrow that it no longer saw the need for elections, the military would immediately hang its leaders.

The most important question to ask, then, is not whether the AKP is committed to secularism and democracy—the military is devoutly committed to the former and more or less in favor of the latter—but whether it has really delivered the economic goods, and if not, what that means for Turkey.


According to the standard narrative about the AKP’s economic record, the nationalist-secularist establishment opposed foreign investment in Turkey, which it viewed as a form of imperialism. The elites were well served by the state-run economy and the patronage system to which it gave rise, even if the rest of the country was not. The AKP represents a free-market revolt: small businessmen from Anatolia had been cut out of the spoils system; they took power, deregulated, privatized, removed barriers to foreign investment, and reduced the state sector over the anguished screams of the secularist bureaucracy that had long controlled and profited from it. Lo, an economic miracle occurred.

Here are some commonly reported statistics: when the AKP took power, foreign direct investment (FDI) in Turkey was $1 billion; in 2007, FDI stood at $19.8 billion, an amount equal to the past 20 years combined. Under the AKP, Turkey’s average economic growth rate has been over 7 percent, compared with an average of 2.6 percent during the previous decade. Per capita income rose in their first term (2002-2007) from $2,598 to $5,477. In the 1990s, inflation reached highs of 100 percent; under the AKP it has been reduced to an average of 10 percent. Foreign debt has declined from nearly 80 percent of GDP in 2001 to less than half of GDP today. The budget deficit has dropped from 16 percent of GNP to 1 percent. Public sector debt has been reduced from 91 percent of GNP to 51 percent.

Looks good, doesn’t it? I thought so, too. Previously, I have accepted these statistics at face value and applauded the AKP’s economic record. But having looked more closely at the question, I am now recanting. These statistics might be right, but they might also be nonsense. The truth is, nobody knows.

I say this because Turkey has one of the largest underground economies in the world. By definition, data about the size of the underground economy do not exist. But economists in Turkey estimate it to be worth somewhere between one-third and two-thirds of Turkish GDP. Every major economic sector in Turkey—agriculture, construction, markets, textiles, tourism, shipping—is largely underground, off-the-record, and undeclared. No one knows how big these sectors really are. No one knows if they are growing or shrinking. No one knows how they are being financed. No one knows where the profits are going. Of the 23 million people working in Turkey, only 10 million are working on the record. The economic growth rates commonly cited in the press cannot be meaningful. They cannot even be approximate. They probably pertain to less than half of the Turkish economy.

Osman Altug, an economist at Marmara University who specializes in the study of Turkey’s underground economy, told me that he can think of only one country in modern history with an underground economy so large by comparison with the official one: Argentina under Carlos Mendez. “Not even Africa is this bad,” Altug said. Other economists may not go so far, but most agree that as underground economies go, Turkey is top-tier.

Altug has been campaigning since the 1970s to establish a system for collecting income tax modeled on America’s Internal Revenue Service. He has been an adviser to all of the major political parties. He told me that he has pleaded with all of them to make the institution of such a system a priority. So far, he has had no success. “We know from questionnaires,” he said, “and this is the only way we can get data, that only 3.5 million people in Turkey pay income tax. The other 60 million? Nothing. Only 7.5 percent of the Turkish budget comes from income tax.”

Without income taxes, you have no tax returns, and thus no data about who is earning what, or how. “The statistics used by foreign observers when they talk about the AKP are totally distorted by this situation,” said Altug. “They’re based on the overground economy. They bear no relationship to reality.” (It is important to note that none of Altug’s research has been translated into English. He has done some of the key work on the Turkish economy, and very few Westerners can read it.)

No recent Turkish government has made much effort to change this situation. A progressive income tax system would obviously be more sensible than regressive indirect taxation, but the parties do not want to inflame their benefactors, and they do not want to appear to be levying taxes. Instead, they borrow and borrow and raise indirect taxes, penalizing the poor far more than the rich. When the price of oil goes up, they blame U.S. policy in Iraq, even though two-thirds of the price of a liter of gasoline goes into government coffers. “They borrow money from the U.S. to stay in power, then blame them for Turkey’s financial problems,” said Altug.

For the same reasons, the AKP has been funding many of its popular subsidy and development projects with borrowed money, rather than with tax revenues. In particular, it has been raising a great deal of money through the issuance of bearer bonds—instruments that are, in effect, signed “To whom it may concern.” This means that the government does not know whom it is borrowing from, or if it does, there is no record of it. “Whoever has money,” said Altug, “they take it.” A number of the AKP’s critics have charged that the party is financing its activities with “green money”—money funneled through Islamist banks and holding companies, particularly those sponsored by the Saudis—but Altug suspects that this green money is, in fact, recycled Turkish money. “You make the money here, underground, you kick it out of the country to launder it, then bring it back.” Sounds plausible, but who knows? There is no way to track this.

The challenge of analyzing the Turkish economy is compounded by the almost complete absence of bookkeeping. Only 260,000 firms in Turkey hold balance sheets; what the rest of them are doing is unknown. The property deed system is similarly opaque. An acquaintance of mine—an American who works in commercial real estate—rolled his eyes when describing the pointlessness of looking for a deed at Tapu Dairesi, the property records bureau. If you’re lucky enough to find it at all, he said, you have no guarantee that it bears any relationship to reality.

It is not even clear what the population of Turkey really is. Last April, the head of the Election Commission noted in passing that 5 million voters seemed to be, curiously enough, missing. This week, 6 million of them were reported to have been found. Interestingly, they were found just ahead of upcoming local elections, and discovered in particularly large numbers in districts where the AKP could use a bit of extra support.

You might think it would still be possible to measure the inflation rate accurately. You go out to the stores and see if prices are rising, right? Not quite. The Consumer Price Index (CPI), according to the Turkish National Bureau of Statistics, is based on, among other things, rental prices. No one is telling the government the truth about those: landlords here tend to keep two rental contracts, one for the tenant, one for the tax authorities. I calculate the CPI every time I go shopping here in Istanbul. I buy roughly the same basket of commodities every week. According to my calculations (based on the cost of toothpaste, soap, milk, eggs, bread, kitty litter, and trash bags at the Cam mini-market on Susam Sokak, a block or so up from the big white mosque), inflation in Turkey is rising faster than the government claims. My CPI isn’t very meticulous, but neither is the government’s.

The paucity of meaningful statistics means that we have no idea whether there has been an economic miracle here, and neither does the AKP. On March 1, 2008, the government claimed that per capita GDP was $5,480. On March 15, it claimed it was $7,500. On March 27, it claimed it was $9,000. A bit of hand-waving accompanied the revision of these statistics: the new figures, supposedly, were based on a fancy formula for calculating the size of the underground economy. Given that economists’ estimates of the size of various sectors of the underground economy diverge by as much as 60 percent, it is amazing that anyone took these numbers seriously.

“Didn’t anyone notice this?” I asked Altug.

He raised an eyebrow. “Everybody knows, but nobody knows.”


The opacity of the economic system perverts the political system profoundly. “Whoever controls the money, controls politics,” said Altug, “but no one knows who controls the money. It’s all off the record. So the underground economy says, ‘I’m the boss. I decide.’”

Party finance laws? There are some on the books, but they are vague to begin with and anyway ignored. “Campaign financing is a total mystery. All the parties are exactly the same this way. In this sense, there is no true multiparty system. Turkey’s like a chocolate factory where the wrappers come in different colors—blue, red, green—but the chocolate is the same, because the people who finance the system stay the same.”

Each party, Altug believes, is financed by about 40 people. “They vary from party to party, but they’re the ones with all the power.” The financiers choose candidates they can control. “You want your party candidates to be uneducated and easily manipulated,” he said, “not educated and competent.” This system gives rise to staggering levels of corruption. “If there were a corruption Olympics,” said Altug, “Turkey would get the gold medal.”

Altug reckons that 94 percent of all construction in Istanbul is illegal. I’m not sure how he arrived at this estimate—it is probably too high; others to whom I’ve spoken believe the figure is closer to 60 percent—but 60 percent is still extraordinarily high. There is a lot of construction going on in my neighborhood, but it takes place only at night. Istanbul lies on a massive fault zone. Everyone knows this construction is shoddy; everyone knows what will happen when the big earthquake comes. “If the construction companies are fined, they just pay the penalties and keep on building,” said Altug. “It’s not enough to stop them. The government doesn’t really clamp down because they need those companies to support them financially.”

Is there any difference between the AKP and the other parties, I asked Altug?

“No difference at all. Absolutely no difference. Red money, green money, headscarves—that’s all a distraction until the economy is on the record. Otherwise you’re just doing business with Al Capone.”


Mustafa X is in one of the following industries (he does not want me to say which one or use his real name): construction, waste management, water management, garbage collection. He has been working since the 1980s with municipal governments throughout Turkey. A period of massive corruption, he told me, began under Turgut Özal, who came to power after the 1980 coup. Özal famously declared that his bureaucrats “knew how to take care of business.” The comment was widely understood to mean, “My bureaucrats don’t get paid enough, but they sure know how to make up for it.”

This was roughly when Mustafa X went into business. “I was very clearly aware of the change. Prior to this, Turkish governments tended to be ideological; from here on in, it was all business. Before, if you got caught with a suitcase of dollars on you, you went to jail. But our society wasn’t ready for freedom. It got corrupt.”

Has there been any improvement in this situation under the AKP, I asked? He shook his head emphatically. No. “There used to be checks and balances on the amount of corruption possible. But now that the municipal and national governments are in the hands of the same party, it’s out of control. It can’t get worse.”

The AKP had initially been better than its predecessors, he said: “When they came to power, they were new. The truly religious elements of the party were afraid of God, so they stayed clean. But when the party gained power, the opportunists flocked to it. If you’re in the ruling party, no one will have the courage to challenge you about this.”

Mustafa X acknowledged that at first the AKP had taken action against corrupt business alliances. “When the AKP came to power,” he said, “they caught and imprisoned a handful of toughs who were alleged to have ties to the Deep State.” (It is widely believed here that a shadowy coalition called the Deep State runs the country. It is supposedly comprised of high-level figures in the military, the intelligence services, the judiciary, and organized crime. There is some evidence that it really exists.) “But each party inevitably creates its own rich men,” Mustafa X said, “and now they give the tenders to Albayrak.”

The Albayrak Group, a massive holding company, is involved in construction, garbage collection, road construction, and public buildings. The son of CEO Mustafa Albayrak, Berat Albayrak, is married to Prime Minister Erdogan’s daughter. The media broadcast their marriage, live. “When Erdogan was mayor [of Istanbul], he made [Mustafa] Albayrak into a rich man,” Mustafa X said. “Now the party is linked to his media conglomerate, which owns [newspaper] Yeni Safak and [television channel] Kanal 7 .... Of course, there were conglomerates like this in the ’90s, too. Demirel had Çörtük, for example.” (Süleyman Demirel served seven times as prime minister; Kamuran Çörtük is chairman of the Bayindir group, another powerful Turkish conglomerate.) “But this level of consolidation is new.”

The AKP’s failure to transform Turkey’s culture of corruption and cronyism is massively significant. The AK Party’s name is a pun: the word ak means white—in other words, “clean.” The AKP leaders promised to stamp out corruption, and because they said they were God-fearing, people believed they might really mean it. According to Konda’s surveys, corruption is the electorate’s second-biggest concern after the economy, and the concerns are related, because a profoundly corrupt economy is an inherently uncompetitive one. Erdogan came to power promising to end the kind of cronyism that the Demirel-Çörtük alliance represented. That was the ostensible raison d’être of the AKP.

But if four legs are good, two legs are better. Last year, the Çalik Grup, another AKP yandas (the Turkish language is rich with synonyms for “crony”), purchased the ATV channel and Sabah newspaper. Erdogan’s son-in-law is Çalik’s top manager. Berat Albayrak’s brother, Serhat Albayrak, is the top manager of Çalik’s media subsidiary, Turkuvaz. The transaction was financed by the state banks Halkbank and Vakifbank.

How corrupt, I asked Mustafa X, is the AKP compared to the other parties? “The AKP isn’t the most corrupt,” he said. “The most corrupt was the DYP.” (Demirel founded the right-leaning DYP, or True Path Party, in 1983. There have been four DYP governments, one led by Demirel, the other three led by Turkey’s first woman prime minister, Tansu Çiller.) “Under their governance, during the Tansu Çiller years, control by the Deep State reached an apex. The next most corrupt is Anavatan.” Anavatan is the party founded by Turgut Özal.

The AKP’s corruption, which Mustafa X considered average by Turkish standards, does, however, come in a slightly different flavor. The other parties, for example, like flat-out bribes. “I was doing a deal in a town of about 60,000 people recently,” Mustafa X said. “The deputy mayor said to me, ‘My TV has bad reception.’ He named the brand he wanted, the size of the screen. A $2,000 TV. We got it for him, we got the contract. That’s how it normally goes.”

He sketched it out for me on a napkin. When you do business with the CHP, you generally have to pay off the following people: 10 percent to the mayor, 10 percent to the deputy mayor, 10 percent to the opener (who announces the tender), 5 percent to the controller, and possibly you need to sweeten the account manager, too. “Now,” Mustafa X said, “if you do business with AKP municipalities, the top people—the mayor and deputy mayor—will stay clean. They’re afraid of God. But if they can’t stack the government with their own people, they’ll use CHP and Anavatan deputies. They take the usual cut, and the mayor knows it, but he can’t replace them, so he tolerates it.”

If the AKP mayors and deputies don’t take bribes quite so brazenly, this doesn’t mean they’re not on the take. “Instead of asking for a television, they say, ‘I’ll give you the tender, but you need to sponsor the girls’ volleyball team.’ Their mentality is different. Their goal is less about personal enrichment, more about power: they want to gain support for the people who support them. So they get you to buy things for—or from—their supporters.”

In other words, the biggest problem with the AKP is not that it is so different from the other Turkish political parties, but that it is so similar to them: short-sighted, self-aggrandizing, autocratic, and crooked. The corrupt practices Mustafa X describes, which take place at every level of government, ensure massive waste, shoddy public services, and a business climate that is severely hostile to competition, innovation, and sustainable economic growth. Obviously, it isn’t possible to say what percentage of the economy is touched by this kind of corruption, but clearly we are talking about a significant percentage.

Recently, Mustafa X claimed, a $4 billion construction budget was handed out without a public announcement. “Four billion?” I said to him. “I can’t believe that. How is that possible? How many people knew about this?”

“Everybody knew,” he said. “But nobody knows.” His expression suggested that he found my question amusingly naive.

“The majority of tenders are just given away like that,” he added, “to relatives, friends, or a firm that supports them politically.”

I do not know if that particular story is true, but I am persuaded—based on the sheer number of stories like this I hear, from credible, first-hand witnesses with no reason to lie to me—that the story is plausible. Every sector connected to the state is affected by this kind of corruption, and the state sector in Turkey remains enormous, despite the AKP’s commitment to denationalization. Stories such as the one related by Mustafa X raise obvious questions about that commitment to denationalization. To whom has the government been selling state assets, and why? Last week, it was reported in the Turkish press that the government has devised an insanely complicated scheme to sell its own offices, including the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Defense, to private financial institutions. The government will henceforth be a rent-paying tenant in its own buildings. The rent, obviously, will be paid from the public purse. The financial institutions will then use these assets to back the sale of loan instruments to foreign investors. After a fixed time, the government will buy back the buildings, returning to the happy financial institutions all of their initial capital outlay. Unsurprisingly, many Turks find themselves wondering just who is going to profit from deals like these. It is quite hard to see the logic in this plan unless one imagines that quite a few cash-stuffed suitcases are involved.

Although anecdotes like the ones Mustafa X told me are ubiquitous in Turkey, they are still anecdotes. They are consistent, however, with wider research: a 2006 Transparency International survey of bribery among the top 30 exporting countries ranked Turkey among the worst offenders. “It’s very frightening,” Marie Wolkers, the senior research coordinator at Transparency, remarked to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, “and it is actually very consistent with the monitoring of Turkey by the OECD convention process, which produced a report on Turkey which is quite alarming, I mean it is very bad.”

The AKP prefers to give tenders to its own people. “You can do business up to a certain point with the AKP, after which you have to be one of them or have one as an intermediary,” Mustafa X said. “This isn’t true of the CHP, although it is true of the MHP. You have to be a nationalist to do business with them.” The extreme-nationalist MHP took 14.3 percent of the vote in the 2007 elections. Militias attached to this party shed a great deal of blood in the 1970s; now the MHP, like the AKP, claims to have embraced moderation.

Mustafa X appears to be successful, although he is not a member of the AKP. How did he get by in this climate, I asked? He shrugged. “I can do business with them,” he said, “because they know I’ll keep a secret.”


Ogün Altiparmak was born on the day Atatürk died, hence his name, o gün, which means “that day.” In his youth, he was a Turkish football hero; a street is named after him in Kadiköy, a neighborhood on the Asian side of Istanbul. In the 1980s, he was a founding member of Turgut Özal’s Anavatan Party. He has had a business career, a sports career, and a political career in Turkey. “Everything Professor Altug told you is true,” he said.

Altiparmak agreed with Mustafa X: the corruption in Turkey became substantially worse during the Anavatan years. “After Özal made the ‘my bureaucrats know how to do business’ comment, every last bureaucrat became a thief.”

“If you work honestly in Turkey you have no chance of getting rich,” he continued. “You can’t compete in a system like this.” Honesty also prevents one from becoming a politician. “Of 550 MPs, 400 come from the bureaucracy. You need 250,000 dollars to become an MP in Turkey. An average businessman can’t afford this. Even the highest-paid bureaucrats make only 8,000 lira a month. So where is this money coming from?

“Here’s how the bribery works,” Altiparmak said. “First, the whole system of property deeds is rotten. They find little old ladies who own property, haven’t given anyone power of attorney, don’t have any heirs; they transfer the deeds into their names, sell the property out from under them, then they bump them off.”

I wasn’t sure I had heard that right. “They do what? Like in ‘The Sopranos’?”

“Did that happen in ‘The Sopranos’?”

“Yeah, you know, with Paulie’s mother?”

“That’s probably where they got the idea.”

It later occurred to me that even the Sopranos hadn’t bumped the old women off. I don’t know if this story is true—although I have heard the same rumor elsewhere and read it in the Turkish press—but it is telling that a founding member of a major Turkish political party finds it perfectly credible. It suggests the extraordinary distrust that permeates the political system.

“There’s a property deed office,” Altiparmak said, “Tapu Dairesi, in each district. Each one takes in about 50,000 lira a day in bribes. The bribe you have to pay just to get a legal transaction completed in a timely fashion is 100 lira. If you multiply that by 500, you get 50,000. If you don’t pay it, you’ll wait weeks to get the documents you need to buy a home. If you need something illegal done, the price rockets in proportion to the illegality and how much work it will take to make it look legal. There are 1,000 Tapu offices in Turkey. Multiply 50,000 lira times 1,000 times 300 work days per year…. That’s just Tapu. The customs officials skim off $2.2 billion per year. What Professor Altug says is all true. I’m 70 years old. I’ve been in business, I’ve been in politics, I’ve been in sports—it’s all true.”

When Altiparmak helped to found Anavatan in 1983, he was responsible for bringing together the Kadiköy establishment. Kadiköy is a leftist stronghold; but because Altiparmak was a football hero, he was able to bring together people of all political orientations, people to whom everyone in Turkey could relate. “I agreed to do it because Anavatan was nationalist and conservative, but also in favor of free enterprise and social justice.”

When Anavatan took power, “one of the first items on the agenda was to build a municipal building. This guy came in and made an excellent bid, but they picked someone else. Why? Because the daughter of the prime minister was in partnership with the company. At Kalamis, in Kadiköy, they wanted to build a marina. Again, people close to the PM took the tender.”

These stories multiplied. “When I was doing business in the U.S. in the ’70s, I noticed, in Illinois, that every farmer had a silo,” said Altiparmak. “It occurred to me that if Turkey had quality storage like this, farmers could increase their profits by 15 percent.” After Anavatan won, Altiparmak contacted a U.S. company that made storage bins. “I told the company, ‘Come up with the highest quality product at the lowest price, and I promise you, you’ll get the tender. I’m one of the founders of the party, I can guarantee this.’ They made the best bid, a little less than $28 million dollars, and guaranteed this bid would have no surcharges. But they gave the contract to someone who wanted $34.5 million. They stuck on another $3 million in surcharges. The deal was financed with a loan from the World Bank. The project in the end cost about $54 million.” Altiparmak went to Özal and provided him with evidence of the corruption. “It turned out that Özal’s nephew—the minister of agriculture—had been in on this all along. Özal did nothing. He turned a blind eye.

“SoI started a war against them. The party entered a civil war. Özal held delegate elections, but then he had a heart attack. His wife was running the country behind the scenes. Özal’s right-hand man cancelled the elections.” When Altiparmak asked why, he was told that “Communists had invaded the party.”

“I have 115 employees,” said Altiparmak, bewildered. “How can I be a Communist?”
Demoralized, Altiparmak resigned. “From then on,” he said, “everyone started robbing the country blind.”

I have visited Altiparmak’s home. It is very modest. He is not a wealthy man.

Had there been any improvement under the AKP, I asked?

“The AKP is the same as everyone else,” Altiparmak said. “There are honest people among them, but they’re few and far between. It’s a little different, because they take smaller bribes—maybe 10 percent, as opposed to 50 percent—but don’t forget that the tenders are a lot bigger, too.”

Altiparmak believes that government officials created foundations to channel these bribes. “Like Yeditepe University. The former mayor of Istanbul is the president of that university, and all the departments of the university that do trade are run by his kids. All the contracts get kicked back to that family, and if you say anything about it, they say, ‘What are you talking about? This is a government foundation.’ This is true of Bilkent University and Kadir Has University, too. Tasyapi is in a secret partnership with Erdogan’s brother. The company controls $5 billion dollars worth of projects. In Izmir, in a CHP-controlled municipality, they put some land up for sale. One of my friends participated in the tender. To bid, you had to put up a financial guarantee. After taking everyone’s guarantee, they cancelled the tender and kept the guarantees. They did this five, six times. From Anatolia to Istanbul, you cannot build without a bribe. The former mayor of Besiktas owns a five-star hotel in Antalya. You can’t afford that on a mayor’s salary. Look at the assets of the heads of the labor unions. Your eyes will pop out. They’re feudal lords. Ankara has the highest per-capita wealth in the country, but why? There’s no industry or business there. But people there own more cars than in Istanbul. All the million-dollar villas in Ankara are owned by bureaucrats.”

I am reporting only about a quarter of what Altiparmak told me, and even if it’s only a quarter true—and I suspect a good amount of it is true, because many other Turks have told me stories like these—it still represents a massive amount of corruption. “You could put everyone in jail because of it,” Altiparmak said.

And the AKP? “If they’re so afraid of God,” Altiparmak asked, “why aren’t they paying taxes? Cheating like this isn’t in the interests of God, social justice, capitalism, ethics.”

Kuvayi Milliye, an ultra-right-wing organization named after a militia assembled by Atatürk, claims that $250 billion in siphoned money, laundered in the underground economy, is sitting in Swiss banks and offshore accounts. The group is determined to find it, bring it back, and use it to pay off the national debt. The whole Turkish budget is about $150 billion. In the wake of the 2001 financial meltdown, the International Monetary Fund arranged a $39.5 billion rescue package for Turkey. If Kuvayi Milliye is correct, that bailout represents only a fraction of the stolen money now sitting in those Swiss banks.

Members of Kuvayi Milliye are now in police custody, charged with plotting against the government. Perhaps they were. Turkey has a long history of plots and coups; indeed, there have been four military interventions in as many decades. But perhaps the Kuvayi Milliye members were telling the truth, which would also explain why they’re now sitting in jail cells. There is no way for me to know, obviously. But it is a measure of the pervasive atmosphere of distrust in Turkey that it is both plausible to imagine they are making this up—to legitimize efforts to overthrow a democratically-elected government—and equally plausible to imagine they have been arrested for attempting to expose widespread government corruption.

There is something particularly tragic about these stories, because ordinary Turks are honest. Countless times I have tried to tip a cab driver or a delivery person for good service. They have misunderstood, thinking I have accidentally overpaid, and they have tracked me down—even long after I have left the cab or long after they have left my apartment—to return my change.


Although many note the explosion of corruption during the Özal years, the mentality that led to this state of affairs can be traced back to the Ottoman Empire. Bribery was not, of course, a uniquely Ottoman tradition, and in fact the early Ottoman sultans were known for their intolerance of corruption. But the later ones were not. This is chronicled by Ottoman historian Halil Inalcik in An Economic and Social History of the Ottoman Empire:

In his Relazione dated 1596, Venetian Bailo Malipiero concurs with the Ottoman memorialists that high offices were obtained only through huge sums of bribe money—for the grand vizierate 80,000, for the finance ministry 40-50,000 gold pieces. Once in office they redeemed these bribes by taking bribes for other major appointments so that all officials were involved in bribery. This practice became so routine that Evliya candidly gives two amounts for the income of a judge, one with the bribe and the second without. At the bottom of the system those officials in direct contact with the taxpayers used all kinds of devices to extort extra money in the name of a service fee or gilt.... As was the case with monarchies in the West, bribery and the sale of offices became part of public administration and a source of public revenue. In the Ottoman Empire, the sale of offices became a widespread practice in the seventeenth century and were given to those who bid the highest amount.... Those who had authority, including a ruler or his delegate, regarded the office as a source of material gain and therefore negotiable for compensation….

As the author of this passage observes, this was also the case in the monarchies of the West. But as Mustafa X remarked, “There was no Enlightenment in the Ottoman Empire. Modern thinking never entered into the equation.”

The Ottoman legacy is not a complete explanation for present-day corruption in Turkey. Corruption is endemic in the developing world—the Ottomans are hardly to blame for that—and corruption is not precisely unknown in the developed world, as any citizen of Illinois may attest. But the Ottoman legacy goes some way toward explaining the intractability of the problem in Turkey. It will not be easy to solve, particularly given the weakness of the institutions that might hold it in check.

It would be too optimistic to expect things to chug along in the corrupt but functional way they have for the past six years. The Turkish economy collapses—that’s what it does. It did so repeatedly before the AKP came to power. And since it has not been reformed root and branch, there is no reason to expect the pattern to change. The AKP’s fundamentalism may be difficult to discern, but an economic debacle might well give rise to a less ambiguous Islamist movement in Turkey. Radicalism, of all stripes, is often bred out of chaos.

From the 1980s to 1999, Turkey set low real interest rates and high exchange rates. Imports were expensive and exports were cheap. Since 1999, the opposite policy has been in place: the AKP has set low foreign exchange rates and high interest rates. Cheap foreign exchange has been the source of growth in an otherwise contractionary economy. High interest rates keep inflation down but discourage investment. Foreign investors come in for the quick returns, but they are not so stupid as to invest for the long term in a corrupt, indebted economy with shaky contract law and a long history of instability.

As a senior executive of a leading multinational firm put it to me, “I’m frustrated after three years [of working in Turkey] about the lack of progress on the necessary reforms—reforms that other countries are putting in place. This is not the kind of thing that inspires foreign managers here to run home to their head offices to argue for more investment. You’re more likely to caution your company to not get overextended in an environment where reforms are slow and the lack of transparency and efficiency in government poses threats to your existing businesses and investments.”

In recent years, foreign investment has been flowing in, but it can go right back out again, and quickly. It is already. The situation closely resembles earlier cycles of growth fueled by speculation, which have always been followed by a crash. Turkey’s budget is in the red. Its balance of payments is in the red. The position of its treasury is in the red. Its central bank is in the red. Its private sector is in the red. And this is just going on the official statistics. Debt is not inherently a bad thing, if your economy is creative and productive. But Turkey’s economy is not.

In countries with legitimately competitive economies, there is much to be said for denationalizing and selling off state assets: the private sector is almost always more efficient and productive than the state. But in a country where there is little genuine competition—where the honest, talented businessman has slender hope of providing a better product or service and thereby getting rich—privatization tends chiefly to reward the people who collect the bribes.

Turkey temporarily benefited from the IMF bailout package, from a massive infusion of aid from Europe, and from a strong global economy. But the AKP did not create an economy where hard work, innovation, efficiency, and productiveness are rewarded. That would be a real economic miracle. The AKP has thus far failed to achieve it.


The problems in Turkey go well beyond high-level corruption. Popular attitudes toward commerce and the law, generally, are another huge drag on the economy.


[I]n Turkey, contracts do not enjoy the same status that they do in America or Europe. The contract law, on the books, looks perfectly modern; indeed, it was copied from European contract law. But you cannot copy a mentality, and a contract is only valuable if it is viewed by all parties and the justice system as binding and enforceable.

Contract law is a basic prerequisite for a functioning free-market economy. If contracts are not viewed as binding, people will not rely on them. They will instead do business only with people they trust, such as family members and friends. The amount of time spent gaining trust, in such an economy, is time that is not spent on producing something that other people want to buy. The marketplace becomes profoundly inefficient.

Much like the economy, Turkish party politics suffer greatly from the disparity between the great-looking laws on the books and the collective willingness to abide by their spirit. Turkish political parties are structured, in principle, around district and provincial organizations. Party members elect the district delegates, the district president, the board members, the members of the inspection committee, and the members of the discipline committee. The district delegates go to the provincial convention, where they elect the provincial delegates, the provincial president, the provincial board members, members of the inspection committee, and members of the discipline committee. The provincial delegates go to the grand convention, where they pick the party leader, the general board members, members of the party inspection committee, and members of the party discipline committee.

So far, so good. All very democratic.

But there is a loophole in the system: Turkish party leaders have traditionally arrogated to themselves the power to fire everyone underneath them. Last year, the prime minister decided to dismiss half the MPs in his party. No one got to vote on this—not the members of parliament, and certainly not the people they claim to represent—nor did anyone object all that strenuously. If you kick up a fuss, you won’t get a cut of the action, and there’s a lot of action. Not many people, in a country that’s by no means wealthy, can resist the temptation to go along to get along.

Everyone knows the system is rotten, and no one trusts it. As a result, Turkish confidence in democracy is fragile. The only public institution most Turks really trust is the military.

You will read in the Western press, now and then, that this attitude is not such a bad thing: the Turkish military is like the U.S. Supreme Court, some Western pundits argue, part of a necessary system of checks and balances. It is true that military intervention in Turkey has at times been welcome in its immediate effects. (I, for one, am not mourning the fall of the Erbakan government.) But the U.S. Supreme Court has never hanged the American president. Supreme Court justices are appointed through transparent mechanisms by elected politicians. As Clarence Thomas will attest, you cannot become a Supreme Court justice without subjecting every aspect of your record to invasive scrutiny by Congress and the media. The Turkish military—like all militaries—is by nature secretive, authoritarian, and designed to solve problems with violence. That is their job. But it is immensely risky to repose ultimate political legitimacy in the institution that possesses a monopoly on force and is not elected or removable. The establishment of civilian control over the military is one of the supreme achievements of the Western liberal tradition. No country that counts on the military to save it from its elected politicians is on the fast track to the First World.


What about the press? Are they investigating these things? Raising public attention? Often, yes. The Turkish press is relatively free and feisty. I used to live in Laos, where there was truly no press freedom, and the situation in Turkey is not at all like that, although every newspaper here does have an editor charged with making sure the content of the paper violates no laws, and YouTube has been banned for months, supposedly because someone, somewhere, posted a video depicting Atatürk in a monkey suit.

The larger problem in Turkey—a problem that has grown worse, not better, under the AKP—is that too many media outlets are owned by friends of the government. This does not necessarily reflect a sinister Islamist plot; out-of-control cronyism is a perfectly serviceable explanation. A further problem is that many journalists here are wildly irresponsible. By “wildly irresponsible,” I don’t just mean that they slant a bit toward one party or the other; I mean that they peddle every stripe of insane, paranoid conspiracy theory and frequently provide incitement to murder.

Not long ago, I interviewed Sahin Filiz, a professor of Islamic history and philosophy. As we were talking, he mentioned, almost incidentally, that he was under 24-hour police protection. This was because the Islamist newspaper Memleket had effectively called for his murder, after accusing him of mocking his native city of Konya. (Filiz had merely argued that the Koran does not explicitly instruct women to cover their heads.)

Memleket is related to the Islamist newspaper Vakit, whose articles have been linked to several high-profile murders, including that of of Ali Güzelday, head of the Turkish Bar Association, who was killed on July 21, 1995; Ahmet Taner Kislali, the former minister of culture, who was killed on October 21, 1999; and Mustafa Yücel Özbilgin, a court deputy, who was killed on May 17, 2006. In one case, the murderer actually said, “I killed him because of what I read in Vakit.”

But it’s not just the Islamist papers. The nationalist press is equally reprehensible. An orgy of insane media vitriol preceded the murder of journalist Hrank Dink, an Armenian Turk who had called for Armenian-Turkish reconciliation. Dink had hinted (but never in fact said) that the word “genocide” might well describe the massacres of Armenians by Ottoman Turks in 1915. He was killed on January 19, 2007.


Underlying all of these institutional and cultural problems are profound deficiencies in the Turkish education system. Mehmet Y, an undergraduate in an Istanbul university, asked me not to use his name or say which university he attends. When I asked him why not, he said, “Article 301.” Article 301 is the infamous law that criminalizes “insulting Turkishness.” Dink was prosecuted under this law, and so was the Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk. The law was recently amended: now it is only criminal to “insult the Turkish nation.” This change was supposed to impress the European Union.

I asked Mehmet Y whether he had told me anything that could conceivably violate Article 301. “It doesn’t matter,” he replied. “If they want to prosecute you for something, they will. It’s the same with everything here, even the traffic laws. If a cop wants to pull you over and question you, they’ll find a reason. They can take you in and book you for three days for nothing.” He insisted it was the same way in the United States, and I could not persuade him otherwise. He had not heard of the First Amendment, and when I told him about it, he didn’t believe me.

The Turkish education system, to judge from what Mehmet Y said to me, does not give citizens the tools they need to understand what is going wrong in Turkey, imagine how it might be fixed, or evaluate what their politicians are telling them. This, Mehmet Y believes, is deliberate. The unrest in the 1970s that culminated in the 1980 military coup, he thinks, convinced the government that students posed a grave threat to state security. So the universities were emptied of anyone smart enough to cause trouble. “I figure out which professors were in the universities then, and I don’t take their classes, because they won’t know shit,” Mehmet Y said.

In his view, the national curriculum has been deliberately stripped of any content that might give students bad ideas. “You get discouraged from studying anything that might make you think about politics. All the emphasis is on mathematics, engineering. But it’s not even about the kind of mathematics that might lead you to think; it’s about memorizing multiplication tables. You don’t study anything that would lead you to being able to look critically at what’s going on here. You study no history except Turkish history, and that stops at Atatürk’s death. You never study European or American history. You learn nothing about the Second World War or the Cold War. You never study politics. You don’t even study literature, except for Turkish literature.”

This surprised me. “You don’t learn anything about modern history?”

“Nobody here knows shit about anything after 1923,” Mehmet Y said. “You know that in 1938, Atatürk died. There was nothing in between and nothing afterwards. You learn that there was a new constitution and the Fez was abolished. You study ‘national history’ and ‘national geography.’ National history is, ‘We conquered this, we conquered that, we conquered this, and then they backstabbed us; then we conquered something else, and then someone else backstabbed us.’ If we won a war, it was because we were so great; if we lost a war, it was always because someone backstabbed us. National geography is ‘learning about every lake in Turkey.’”

I checked, and this is pretty much the official curriculum. The Ministry of Education’s website reproduces Atatürk’s guidance: “Education must be free from all superstitions and foreign thoughts.” This statement, it should be noted, is severely uncharacteristic of Atatürk, who was otherwise greatly enamored of foreign thoughts.

Column inch upon column inch has been devoted to the AKP’s attempt to lift a 1997 law prohibiting the graduates of religious schools from continuing their education at secular universities. As with the headscarf controversy, this debate is trivial compared with the bigger issue: whether the schools are secular or religious, no one is getting educated in them. The AKP has done nothing to improve this situation, nor has any other party.

We should not be surprised, then, that so many Turks subscribe to insane conspiracy theories. Mehmet Y, for example, believes that the CHP is secretly collaborating with the AKP. Why? Because, he reasons, the leader of the CHP, Deniz Baykal, could not possibly be as stupid as he appears. “He’s over 70, he loses over and over and over—he has no solid ideas about anything.”

It is immensely sad to listen to Mehmet Y as he explains this, because part of his analysis is correct: it is suspicious that Baykal is still running that party, and he should be asking why this is. I asked Mehmet Y what motivation Baykal could possibly have to collaborate, secretly, with the AKP. “It must be the Israelis keeping him in power,” he said. “Israel and the Jews. They control the economic structure in Turkey. I mean, think about it: Alarko, Vakko, those are Jewish names.” (He is referring to two well-known Turkish companies.) “The Jews have a very strict, closed society. They control the stock market—they control how much it rises and falls. The Turkish economy is easily influenced. The U.S. loans money to us and then controls us economically.”

Mehmet Y is not a bad kid. Nor is he a stupid one—quite the contrary. But he is swimming in a sea of intellectual garbage. When governments and economies are rotten, the ambient culture tends to follow suit. In Turkey, as elsewhere, crooks and incompetents seeking to deflect attention from the consequences of their larceny find it very convenient to blame America and the Jews. Very few young Turks can read any language but Turkish. Only a miniscule portion have ever visited America or met a Jew in person. It is psychologically easier to believe these ludicrous stories than to confront the idea that the problem is closer to home.



The AKP has had some successes. Hyperinflation remains under control, for now. The currency has been stabilized. The banking sector is more transparent and better supervised. Certainly, there has been economic growth, even if it is impossible to say how much and doubtful that it is as much as the government claims. The ease of opening and operating a business has improved. The AKP has been trying strenuously to join the EU, and has implemented a number of important human rights reforms at the EU’s insistence.

It remains risible, however, to imagine that Turkey is institutionally prepared to enter a common market ruled by laws, lofty intellectual abstractions, and well-functioning bureaucracies. So long as Turkey’s institutions remain rotten, Turkey will be vulnerable to political Islam, anti-Western authoritarianism, and violent civil unrest of the kind seen in the 1970s.

It is critically important that Americans and Europeans grasp this. Turkey’s strategic and economic significance is massive. It has the second-largest army in NATO; it provides a crucial energy route to Europe; it is sitting on much of the water in the greater Middle East. For these reasons and more, the West is pinning its hopes on Turkish stability and prosperity: it is fondly imagining a Europe that extends to the southern Caucasus; pipelines overbrimming with oil and gas from the Caspian; and a friendly, Westernized Turkey that cooperates with plans to project democracy (or military force) into the Islamic world.

There is a good deal of wishful thinking and delusion in this vision. In part because the Turkish language is difficult, foreign observers tend to be unaware of a large body of work done by Turkish academics about the real state of the Turkish economy and its civil institutions. In part because Turkish politics are Byzantine—no surprise, that—few make much of an effort to understand them. In part out of desperate eagerness to see Turkey function as an example of a successful Muslim democracy, Westerners tend to ignore evidence to the contrary. In part because U.S. troops aren’t dying here, no one cares.

To quote The Economist magazine again: “A Turkey successfully integrated into the EU...would be a great achievement...setting an example for the Middle East beyond.” It would be evidence, former Italian Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini has remarked, of the “compatibility of Islam with democracy.”

Well, yes, it would be. So would a stable, prosperous, peaceful, and democratic Iraq. The question is not whether it would be evidence of this, but whether it will be evidence of this. As in Iraq, wishful thinking will not make it so.

Claire Berlinski is a writer living in Istanbul. Her latest book is ‘There Is No Alternative’: Why Margaret Thatcher Matters (Basic Books, 2008).

Review of Geoff Colvin's Talent is Overrated

Is Talent Really That Important? By Laura Vanderkam

The American. Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Geoff Colvin argues that ‘deliberate practice,’ not innate ability, is the true key to world-class performance. Go into any Barnes & Noble or Borders bookstore, and you’ll notice that the shelves are bulging with books on “how to win the talent wars.” But where, exactly, does top talent come from? That’s the question pondered by Fortune magazine editor-at-large Geoff Colvin in his new book, Talent is Overrated (Portfolio, $25.95).

As Colvin notes, “most people are just okay at what they do.” Few of us play golf like Tiger Woods, compose like Mozart, or pick stocks like Warren Buffett. When we try to explain the success of such extraordinary performers, we typically attribute it to either hard work or talent. “People get extremely good at something because they work hard at it,” we might say. But that is clearly not true: many of us will work hard for 40 years and still never do our jobs particularly well. So do top achievers have a special “talent”? This explanation squares with the evidence that world-class achievement is rare, and it helps us come to terms with our own mediocrity. “A god-given gift is a one-in-a-million thing,” Colvin writes. “You have it or you don’t. If you don’t—and of course most of us don’t—then it follows that you should just forget now about ever coming close to greatness.”

The book highlights a growing body of research which shows that the top achievers in many fields are neither high-IQ geniuses nor former child prodigies turned professionals.But what if the talent explanation isn’t true either? Talent is Overrated highlights a growing body of research which shows that the top achievers in many fields are neither high-IQ geniuses nor former child prodigies turned professionals. In fact, many of these top performers are just reasonably bright people who showed a slight knack for something and then spent decades engaged in “deliberate practice,” which involves spending hours figuring out your weak spots, honing specific skills through constant feedback, and learning as much as possible about your field. The bad news is that such practice is “highly demanding mentally” and “isn’t much fun.” The good news is that if you do it, you will learn that “great performance is in our hands far more than most of us ever suspected.”

It is a provocative thesis, which Colvin first put forth in a 2006 Fortune article that ignited a furious debate in the blogosphere. Like Malcolm Gladwell, who has also written a new book on top talent (Outliers), Colvin is deft at finding studies and anecdotes to back up his assertions. For example, he highlights one study which found that top violinists put in more than twice as many hours of solo practice as their lesser peers. And he describes how comedian Chris Rock hones his act at small clubs, so that by the time he plays larger venues he knows exactly how the audience will react to each joke.

The story of the Polgar sisters, which Colvin tells at length, also seems to undermine the notion of God-given talent. In the 1960s, Hungarian educational psychologist Laszlo Polgar postulated that great performers are made, not born. To test this theory, he designed an experiment. Polgar and his wife, Klara, devoted their lives to turning their three daughters into brilliant chess players. Laszlo was only a mediocre player, and Klara hadn’t played much at all, but they filled their home with chess books and homeschooled their girls so they could spend several hours each day mastering the game. As a result, their oldest daughter, Susan, was eventually named a grand master. The other daughters also became top players.

Even the usual stories of prodigies—such as Mozart and Tiger Woods—indicate that “deliberate practice” is more important than God-given ability. Mozart started playing the piano at age 3 under the tutelage of a father whose coaching methods had a lot in common with Laszlo Polgar’s chess instruction. Mozart did not compose his best symphonies until he had been studying composition and practicing—hard—for well over a decade. Tiger Woods began playing golf as a toddler under the guidance of his father, an excellent coach. By the time he started winning major titles in 1997, he had been honing his game daily for 20 years.

Colvin’s message to readers is clear: if you want to perform at a world-class level, you can. You simply have to put in many hard hours of “deliberate practice.”

Colvin’s message to readers is clear: if you want to perform at a world-class level, you can. You simply have to put in many hard hours of ‘deliberate practice.’Of course, most of Colvin’s readers are not professional athletes or artists; they are business people. With that in mind, Colvin spends large sections of the book explaining how the concept of “deliberate practice” applies to business. His suggestions for corporate leaders—give your employees more feedback, challenge them with projects that stretch their abilities—are a bit pedestrian compared with the idea of nurturing the next Mozart. It is also somewhat comical to think that a manager might read this book and then exhort his team to create an especially brilliant PowerPoint presentation through hours of analysis. Colvin’s chapters on business may have been necessary from a marketing perspective, but they are the least interesting—and least persuasive—parts of the book.

My other quibble with the book is more practical. It may be true that anyone can become a superstar in some fields, but certainly not in all fields. Take, for example, mathematics and theoretical physics: these are two disciplines in which innate intelligence clearly plays a huge role in determining success. Moreover, as Colvin knows, the overwhelming majority of human beings do not possess the drive for self-improvement that characterized, say, Benjamin Franklin.

We could translate the message of this book as: “Most of us are lazy.” But that is a hard message to swallow, and my fear is that many readers will instead interpret the message as: “There is no such thing as ‘talent.’” This is the type of thinking that has produced an aggressively egalitarian school system which too often ignores or neglects its high achievers. The deeper message of Talent is Overrated is that we should nurture the ambitions of high achievers; the more shallow message is that, well, talent is overrated. Let’s hope that readers are not misled.

Laura Vanderkam is a writer living in New York City.

Conservatives On Euthanasia Case in Montana

Excerpts of Euthanasia Comes to Montana, by Wesley J. Smith

Weekly Standard. December 29, 2008, Volume 014, Issue 15.

On December 5, Montana District judge Dorothy McCarter ruled in Baxter v. Montana that the state law banning assisted suicide violates not only the right to privacy guaranteed in the Montana constitution but also the constitutional clause that reads, "The dignity of the human being is inviolable." McCarter found here a "fundamental right" for the terminally ill to "die with dignity"--meaning in the case at hand, to commit suicide by drug overdose.

McCarter also ruled that doctors have a concomitant right to be free from "liability under the State's homicide statutes" if they help a patient commit death with dignity: "If the patient were to have no assistance from his doctor," she explained, "he may be forced to kill himself sooner .  .  . in a manner that violates his dignity and peace of mind, such as by gunshot or by otherwise unpleasant method, causing undue suffering to the patient and his family." That suicide is not a necessity apparently never entered the judge's mind.

Still, McCarter wasn't totally insensitive to the charge that she--like too many judges--would have courts settle all the controversial social questions rather than the people through the democratic process. She just saw no reason to wait for the political branches of government to recognize that the time had come to legalize assisted suicide. "Here, the Court is simply the first in line to deal with the issue," she wrote, "followed by the legislature to implement the right. Thus, both the courts and the legislature are involved."

Montana's attorney general has announced that the state will appeal Baxter, and McCarter's ruling may or may not be affirmed in the state supreme court. The courts of Florida, Alaska, and California have rejected a right to assisted suicide as part of their states' respective constitutional rights to privacy--decisions McCarter acknowledged but then ignored. Already, though, the implications of her decision bear exploring because they illustrate the radical scope of the putative "right to die" and illuminate the larger cultural transformations that are being furthered by radical judicial rulings.

The Montana case involves a terminally ill man (who died before the opinion was issued) seeking the right to assisted suicide. His position is supported by physicians who want to write lethal prescriptions for their dying patients. The broad wording of the Baxter opinion, however, including McCarter's elevation of assisted suicide to the level of a "fundamental right," would seem to preclude any meaningful limitations on who can receive death with dignity and who can help end the lives of the suicidal.

A premise of McCarter's ruling is that people have the right to decide for themselves what constitutes "dignity" according to their personal beliefs. To reach this conclusion, the judge cited an overbroad Montana Supreme Court abortion ruling, Armstrong v. Montana, from 1999. She also quoted a law review article and made reference to a controversial section of a major abortion decision of the United States Supreme Court.

Here is the passage of Armstrong that McCarter quoted:

Respect for the dignity of each individual--a fundamental right protected by .  .  . the Montana Constitution--demands that people have for themselves the moral right and moral responsibility to confront the most fundamental questions .  .  . of life in general, answering to their own consciences and convictions.

And here is the quotation from a Montana Law Review article published in 2000:

The meaning of the concept of individual dignity .  .  . may be directly assailed by treatment which degrades, demeans, debases, disgraces, or dishonors persons, or it may be more indirectly undermined by treatment which either interferes with self-directed and responsible lives or which trivializes the choices persons make for their own lives.

Finally and not surprisingly, she cited U.S. Supreme Court justice Anthony Kennedy's infamous "mystery of life" passage from the 1992 abortion case Planned Parenthood v. Casey (even though the Supreme Court unanimously refused in 1997 to apply the statement to assisted suicide--or create a federal right to assisted suicide):

The most intimate and personal choices a person may make in a lifetime, choices central to personal dignity and autonomy are central to liberty protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.

In essence, Judge McCarter ruled that the individual's right to act upon such metaphysical beliefs trumps all but the most compelling state interests. But if that is so, how can assisted suicide possibly be limited to the terminally ill? Many people suffer more profoundly--and for longer--than people who are dying. Thus, once the right to end suffering through "death with dignity" is deemed "fundamental," how can people with debilitating chronic illnesses, the elderly who are profoundly tired of living, those in despair after becoming paralyzed, or indeed anyone in other than transitory existential agony be denied the same constitutional right as the terminally ill to end it all? Already in the Netherlands, people in these circumstances receive euthanasia and assisted suicide. "Suicide tourism" is a growth industry in Switzerland, with distressed people flying in from around the world to die at the hands of lay assisted-suicide groups. Indeed, the Swiss supreme court recently ruled that people with mental illnesses have a constitutional right to assisted suicide--an opinion cheered last year in an article published in the prestigious American bioethics journal Hastings Center Report.

And why should the participation of doctors be limited to writing lethal prescriptions? Once they are relieved of liability under Montana's homicide statutes, shouldn't doctors be permitted to provide lethal injections--particularly since studies from the Netherlands demonstrate that active euthanasia is less likely than assisted suicide to cause disturbing side effects, such as nausea and extended coma? Moreover, why require doctors at all? It's my life, so why shouldn't I choose to be killed by whomever I want?

Kathryn Tucker, legal director for the assisted-suicide advocacy organization Compassion & Choices and the lawyer who filed all the assisted suicide cases mentioned here, has already opined that some of the protective guidelines found in Oregon may be too strict for Montana's constitutional right to assisted suicide. She told Oregon Public Broadcasting: "Let's take the example of the waiting period. In Oregon there's a minimum 15-day waiting period. That provision very possibly would not survive constitutional scrutiny [in Montana] because it would be unduly burdensome."


Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, a lawyer for the International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide, and a special consultant to the Center for Bioethics and Culture.

Proposition 8: the amendment process cannot be used to extinguish fundamental constitutional rights without compelling justification

California AG Reverses Course: Prop. 8 = Tyranny of the Majority. By Dan Slater
WSJ blogs. December 22, 2008, 9:09 am

A month after California’s High Court decided to review legal challenges to Proposition 8, the state’s ballot measure that banned gay marriage, gay rights proponents picked up a bit more steam in their push to get the ban overturned. On Friday, the L.A. Times reported that California Attorney General Jerry Brown asked the court to invalidate Prop 8. It was an about-face for Brown, who initially said he planned to defend the proposition.

But after studying the matter, Brown (UC Berkeley, Yale Law) reportedly concluded that “Proposition 8 must be invalidated because the amendment process cannot be used to extinguish fundamental constitutional rights without compelling justification.” In his brief to the high court, Brown noted that the California Constitution says that “all people are by nature free and independent and have inalienable rights,” which include a right to “privacy.”

Although voters are allowed to amend other parts of the Constitution by majority vote, to use the ballot box to take away an “inalienable” right would establish a “tyranny of the majority,” which the Constitution was designed, in part, to prevent, he wrote. “For we are talking, necessarily, about rights of individuals or groups against the larger community, and against the majority — even an overwhelming majority — of the society as a whole.”

Mumbai Attacks and the Need for Enhanced India-US Defence Cooperation

Mumbai Attacks and the Need for Enhanced India-US Defence Cooperation, by Arvind Dutta
India and US would benefit by sharing counter-terrorism expertise and increasing joint activities to address regional and global terrorist threats.

IDSA. December 11, 2008

The staggered attacks on Mumbai across seven places were extremely demanding on time and resources required for counter operations. The attacks have also amply demonstrated that there is no scope for any lacunae in India’s security apparatus. The guard has to remain up to prevent the real ‘9/11 of India’.

The overall role of Indian security personnel and their sense of dedication were exemplary as has been widely acknowledged. Most experts agree that a terrorist takeover of a hotel as large as the Taj Mahal Palace is a daunting task for any counterterrorism outfit, given the enormity of the place and the problems faced in effectively sanitising such an area. However, some analysts, especially from Israel, have been critical of conduct of the Indian security forces operations in Nariman House, where five Israeli hostages were killed by the terrorists. They also consider the 12-hour battle to liberate this building as "unreasonable".

In a complex hostage-type situation, it is essential that counter-operations are launched speedily and with surgical precision to ensure quick neutralisation of the terrorists and safety of the hostages. Towards actualisation of the same, it is essential that Indian specialised troops continuously hone their skills, remain well trained and respond effectively when facing a threat. To optimise on the expertise available with other nations, a series of defence cooperation events with suitable countries to enhance training standards and further strengthen Indian counter-terrorism capabilities should be undertaken on a priority basis. In this context, the news of the co-option of investigating agencies from the United States and the United Kingdom in the Mumbai probe is indeed a welcome step. To enhance synergy of action in the field of counter-terrorism between India and other countries, Indian defence forces must devote greater focus to co-operation in sub-conventional areas.

As far as the United States is concerned, its defence forces (including the Marines and the Special Forces), after their Iraq and Afghanistan deployments, have built significant skills. Indian security forces should endeavour to utilise this American experience to enrich their own combat capabilities. India currently has a large number of bilateral defence co-operation events with United States. In the wake of Mumbai, an added thrust could be given to the following to learn from the American experience, expertise and technological lead:

Brainstorming Sessions. These could be held between the perspective planners and representatives of Special Forces who may also get embroiled in such challenging tasks. Lessons from this incident could be gainfully utilised for brainstorming the Course of Action followed and better options, if any , available, with American counterparts. Additionally, the preferred course of handling similar challenges in future could also be discussed.

Command Post Exercises. Armies of both countries could conduct command post exercises, wherein mechanics of exercising optimal command and control over multi-organisational agencies involved in an incident can be debated. There is also a need to share ideas and experiences on the establishment of suitable Command Centres in such situations.

Intelligence Sharing. Counter-terrorist operations warrant rapid dissemination and sharing of intelligence. This calls for a paradigm shift from ‘Need to Know’ principle to ‘Need to Share’ principle, since terrorists invariably plan, train and strike in different countries. The exact methodology of intelligence sharing also needs to be crystallised. Though there are a number of joint working groups currently in place in this domain, there is however a need to make them more meaningful and shed the misconstrued image of symbolism alone. Therefore, sharing of quality intelligence, even in the mutually decided ‘Classified’ fields, may also have to be resorted to.

Military Operations in Urban Terrain. With trends of terrorist activities shifting to high value targets in urban areas, there is a need to share views on the conduct of such operations (especially operating in small teams), and the identification of ‘Friend or Foe’ to obviate fratricide occurrences. It is important that tactics, techniques, procedures and best practices available with American forces, as well as doctrinal innovations, where relevant, should be imbibed by Indian defence forces.

Employment of Non-Lethal Weapons. Many operational tasks in urban areas may necessitate the use of non-lethal weapons especially when there is risk to lives of own citizens with whom the terrorists may have mixed together. Non-lethal weapons may reduce non-combatant fatalities and collateral damage. The US Marine Corps Pacific conducts periodic Non-Lethal Weapons Executive Seminars, which, in addition to paramilitary personnel, should also be regularly attended by Indian Army representatives.

Technology Upgrade. It is prudent that India constantly upgrades the equipment profile, including night observation devices, of its forces likely to be tasked with counter-terrorist operations so that terrorists can are denied any technological advantage.

Miscellaneous Activities. Some of the other areas where India must undertake meaningful programmes are in the fields of amphibious warfare, counter ‘improvised explosive devices’ measures, management of casualties in case of terrorist strikes, simulated exercises for assessing own response and identifying weaknesses.

Considering the international dimension of threats posed by terrorists, both India and the United States would benefit by sharing their counter-terrorism expertise and increasing joint activities to address regional and global terrorist threats.

Colonel Arvind Dutta is Research Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.

European Court of Human Rights decision on torture: Gaefgen vs. Germany

“Torture” in the Dock. By John Rosenthal
A tough interrogation in Germany

Policy Review. December 2008 & January 2009. [Complete article with references here]

— Scene 1: Frankfurt, Germany, 1 October 2002, early morning

In the Frankfurt police headquarters, the atmosphere is tense. Deputy Police Chief Wolfgang Daschner is losing patience. On the previous day, his officers arrested one Magnus Gäfgen, a 27-year-old law student. Gäfgen is suspected of having kidnapped 11-year-old Jakob von Metzler, son of the banker Friedrich von Metzler. Two days earlier, Gäfgen had personally collected a 1-million-euro ransom payment. But there is no sign of the boy and Gäfgen has refused to give police interrogators accurate information about his whereabouts. A police psychologist, observing the questioning, describes Gäfgen’s responses as a “pack of lies” [Lügengebäude]. Deputy Police Chief Daschner fears that Jakob’s life may be in danger. In a memorandum, he writes: “We need to ascertain without delay where the boy is being held. While respecting the principle of proportionality, the police have an obligation to take all measures in their power to save the child’s life.”

Daschner decides to act. He dispatches police inspector Ortwin Ennigkeit to the office in which Gäfgen is being held for interrogation. Ennigkeit’s assignment: to make Gäfgen talk — if necessary by threat of torture. Indeed, Daschner has resolved not only to threaten Gäfgen with pain, but to carry out the threat if his prisoner is not otherwise forthcoming. A doctor has been found to supervise the proceedings.

In the interrogation room, Ennigkeit tells Gäfgen that a “special officer” is on his way. If Gäfgen does not tell Ennigkeit where the boy is, the “special officer” will “make him feel pain that he will not forget.” On Gäfgen’s own account, the formula is still more menacing: the officer “will make you feel pain like you have never felt before.” “Nobody can help you here,” Ennigkeit tells him, according to Gäfgen’s testimony. “We can do whatever we want with you.” On Gäfgen’s account, moreover, Ennigkeit already begins to rough him up: shaking him so violently that his head bangs against the wall and hitting him in the chest hard enough to leave a bruise over his collarbone. Gäfgen’s testimony is consistent with the tenor of Daschner’s instructions, which, on Daschner’s own admission, called for the “use of direct force” [ Anwendung unmittelbaren Zwangs].

In any case, whether the mere threat of pain has been sufficient or the latter has had to be supplemented by the “use of direct force,” within minutes of Ennigkeit’s entering the interrogation room Gäfgen talks. He tells Ennigkeit where Jakob is to be found. Police rush to the location and find the boy dead, his corpse wrapped in plastic and submerged under a wooden jetty in a pond.

— Scene 2:Guantánamo Bay Prison Camp, Cuba, ten days later

The atmosphere in Joint Task Force 170 is tense. The task force has been set up to obtain intelligence from detainees, but the effort is lagging and army interrogators are losing patience. They have discovered that one of the detainees appears to have been directly involved in the 9/11 plot. Mohammed al-Qahtani attempted to enter the United States in early August 2001, but was turned back by immigration officers in Orlando, Florida. Telephone intercepts of conversations of 9/11 facilitator Mustafa al-Hawsawi indicate that al-Qahtani was slated to serve as the missing “twentieth hijacker” on September 11. Plot leader Mohammed Atta is known to have been at Orlando International Airport on the day of al-Qahtani’s arrival, presumably to meet him. Al-Qahtani was sent back to his native Saudi Arabia and then traveled to Afghanistan. In mid-December, two months after the start of Operation Enduring Freedom, he was taken prisoner on the Pakistani border along with 29 other suspected al Qaeda members apparently fleeing the Battle of Tora Bora.

In early October 2002, the questioning of al-Qahtani has been going nowhere. Interrogators and staff psychologists are convinced that he is lying: repeating prefabricated cover stories, no matter how implausible, as required by al Qaeda security protocols. He insists, for example, that he traveled to the United States to import used cars and that he was in Afghanistan merely to purchase falcons.

The first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks has only just passed. A spike in intelligence has American officials on high alert. On October 8, Bin Laden deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri releases an audio statement threatening new attacks against America and American allies. The commanders of JTF170 decide they need to act. On October 11, Major General Michael E. Dunlavey sends a memo to U.S. Army Southern Command requesting authorization to use more aggressive interrogation techniques with the detainees. The request gains still greater urgency on the very next day as al Qaeda makes good on its threats, killing over 200 people in multiple bombings on the Indonesian resort island of Bali. Dunlavey’s request will be endorsed by SOUTHCOM and sent up the line to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

The request and the Department of Defense’s response to it have pride of place in the media-driven mythology of what have come to be known as the “torture memos.” The techniques proposed by JTF170 include several milder “Category I” and “Category II” techniques, such as yelling at a detainee (Category I), requiring a detainee to stand for a maximum of four hours (Category II), and “forced grooming” (i.e. shaving a detainee’s beard against his will — likewise Category II). All these techniques will be approved. Included among the harshest “Category III” techniques, however, JTF170 requests authorization to threaten detainees with “painful consequences” if they fail to cooperate. As it so happens, this is precisely the method used by German police inspector Ortwin Ennigkeit a mere ten days earlier to obtain the cooperation of Magnus Gäfgen. Following the advice of Department of Defense general counsel William J. Haynes, the request for authorization of this method is . . . refused.

The Gäfgen torture complaint

In june 2005, the child-murderer and law student Magnus Gäfgen lodged a complaint against Germany with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). In his complaint, Gäfgen accused Germany of having violated his rights under the European Convention on Human Rights and, more specifically, of having violated the prohibition on torture contained in Article 3 of the Convention.

On June 30, 2008, the European Court of Human Rights rejected Gäfgen’s complaint and cleared Germany of the charge of tolerating torture.3 The Court found that the treatment to which Daschner and Ennigkeit subjected Gäfgen did not reach the threshold required to be considered as torture (§69). On the Court’s assessment, it did, however, constitute “inhuman treatment” (§70), which is likewise prohibited by Article 3. Nonetheless, the Court found that German judicial institutions had acted in such a way as to provide Gäfgen sufficient “redress” for the offense suffered and thereby, in effect, to nullify any violation of the Convention. According to the somewhat surreal reasoning of the Court, Gäfgen had been, but was no longer, a victim of “inhuman treatment” (§82). He had “lost” his “victim status.”

The “redress” consists of two elements. In the first place, Gäfgen’s “confession” to Ennigkeit was not allowed into evidence in the German courts. By virtue of this exclusion, the Court was likewise able to find that Gäfgen’s right to a fair trial, as laid out in Article 6 of the Convention, had not been violated.

But the notion that the exclusion of the “confession” isolates the rest of the court proceedings from the effects of the torture threat — the “fruit of the poisonous tree,” as it is called in legal discussions — is patently absurd. In fact, strictly speaking, Gäfgen did not even “confess” to Ennigkeit. Rather, under threat of torture he was compelled to divulge the location of Jakob von Metzler’s body, thus leading the police to what is obviously the single most important piece of evidence underpinning the murder charge against him. Indeed, as the Bulgarian judge Zdravka Kalaydjieva pointed out in the sole dissenting opinion to the Court’s ruling, without the boy’s body it is doubtful that Gäfgen could even have been charged with murder.

The second element of “redress” identified by the Court is equally spurious and equally obviously so: The majority of the court found that Gäfgen had been afforded redress by virtue of the fact that a German court tried and convicted Daschner and Ennigkeit for their acts (§80). In December 2004, the District Court of Frankfurt am Main found Ennigkeit guilty of having “coerced” Gäfgen (i.e., by threat of violence) and Daschner of having incited his subordinate to do so.

But the verdict was purely theoretical: for while the court did indeed find the two men guilty, it refused to apply sanction. Daschner and Ennigkeit were merely “warned” and given “suspended” fines: or, in plainer language, they were not even fined. The European Court of Human Rights gingerly describes this as a “comparatively lenient” sentence (§78). If words are not to be abused, it is, more precisely, no sentence at all. Making a mockery of the principle that there is no law without enforcement, the German court itself observed: “The upholding of the legal order required a guilty verdict, but not punishment.” As further evidence of the practical nullity of the court’s verdict, neither man has a criminal record as a result of it. In effect, Daschner und Ennigkeit were found guilty, but not convicted. Barely one year after the judgment, Daschner was promoted to Chief of the Police Directorate for Technology, Logistics, and Management of the German state of Hesse.

The German court’s guilty verdict in the Daschner case amounts to nothing more than an alibi for Germany and the German legal order as a whole. By theoretically acknowledging the wrong committed, it permits Germany to appear to respect Article 3 of the Human Rights Convention — not to mention its obligations under the un Convention against Torture — while in practice ignoring them. It is remarkable that the European Court of Human Rights should find such an obviously bogus construction to be consistent with the requirements of the Convention. And it is both ironic and revealing that the only judge to insist on truly upholding the prohibition on torture and inhuman treatment — that is, in practice and not merely “in theory” — should hail precisely from Bulgaria, a new eu member state the European Commission has recently seen fit to chastise for alleged insufficiencies in the rule of law. Judges from Denmark, Germany, and Estonia — all eu member states in good standing — had no such scruples.

The Article 3 prohibition is one of the few legal protections laid out in the European Human Rights Convention that is not burdened with all sorts of exceptions or subject to possible derogation in a “public emergency.” The Court majority itself recognized that the prohibition on torture and inhuman treatment is unusual in this respect (§63): Unlike the highly “relative” guarantees provided elsewhere in the Convention, the prohibition on torture and inhuman treatment is “absolute.” By, nonetheless, citing “mitigating factors” in its ruling (§69), the Court, in effect, jettisoned the absolute character of this supposedly “absolute” prohibition. In so doing, it adopted the perspective of the Frankfurt District Court, which, in its nominal ruling against Daschner and Ennigkeit, cited “massively extenuating circumstances” (massive mildernde Umstände) in order to justify its refusal to apply sanction. These “extenuating circumstances” included both the presumptive “good intentions” of the police officials —saving the life of Jakob von Metzler — and the stressful circumstances under which the infraction took place.

The Strasbourg court somewhat “hid” this relativizing of the prohibition by bizarrely including its own discussion of “mitigating factors” in its assessment of whether torture could be said to have occurred at all (§69) and not, for example, in the discussion of appropriate “redress.” But the result is the same. By finding that the prohibition could be violated without real consequence, the Court has, in effect, transformed the supposed legal protection provided by Article 3 into a discretionary matter. Moreover, as Judge Kalaydjieva notes in her dissenting opinion, in light of the “mildness” — in fact, the nonexistence — of the sanctions held to provide adequate redress, the Court’s ruling will give positive incentive for police officials to torture or threaten torture in the future.6 It thereby undermines the very raison d’être of the Human Rights Convention.

The Gäfgen ruling and the American “torture” debate

The decision of the European Court of Human Rights in the Gäfgen case was eagerly anticipated and widely discussed in the German media. In keeping with the importance attached to the case in Europe, the Court took the unusual step of broadcasting the announcement of its judgment on the Council of Europe website. But the ruling went almost entirely ignored by the American news media. In light of the spectacular nature of the case and, above all, the raging American debate on torture in connection with the Guantánamo Bay prison camp and the war on terror, on first glance this might seem odd.

But on further reflection, it is perhaps precisely its obvious relevance to the American “torture” debate that explains the American media’s indifference to the ECHR ruling. The ruling was announced just as a campaign to charge senior Bush administration officials with “war crimes” was reaching fever pitch this past summer. With leading news organizations like the New York Times openly abetting that campaign, it would hardly have been opportune for those same news organizations to call attention to a European precedent that puts the actions of the American officials in a more favorable light — and all the less so as the editorial boards that have been most adamant in denouncing alleged American “torture” practices typically regard Europe as a paragon of virtue in the matter of respecting international law.

In mid-June, only two weeks before the announcement of the ECHR ruling in the Gäfgen case, the NGO Physicians for Human Rights released a widely-publicized report titled “Broken Laws, Broken Lives,” which purports to provide evidence of torture suffered by detainees held by the United States at Guantánamo Bay and elsewhere. Almost concurrently, British lawyer Philippe Sands published his book Torture Team: Rumsfeld’s Memo and the Betrayal of American Values (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008). The memo in question is the December 2002 Department of Defense memorandum that authorized JTF170 to use aggressive interrogation techniques. (The memo was in fact authored by Pentagon General Counsel William Haynes, but it was approved by Rumsfeld.)

The cover of Torture Team features a close-up of Donald Rumsfeld’s signature on the document, darkly juxtaposed with a photo of barbed-wire. Somewhat comically, in light of the gravity of the context, the signature is accompanied by the following handwritten marginal comment: “However, I stand for 8–10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to 4 hours?” The remark highlights the relative mildness of the techniques actually approved by Rumsfeld and reveals, furthermore, its author’s reference to, so to say, “normal” intuitive standards of human durability in assessing their acceptability. This did not, however, prevent Sands’s publisher from splashing it over the cover of a book whose very premise involves abandoning such normal, intuitive standards in order to stylize those techniques into “torture.”

Two points are particularly notable about the ECHR’s Gäfgen ruling in light of the accusations against Rumsfeld and other Pentagon officials. The first is that the ECHR explicitly found that one of the techniques Rumsfeld and Haynes rejected as too severe does not meet the threshold for being regarded as torture. Citing the Army’s “tradition of restraint,” Rumsfeld and Haynes refused to authorize threats of physical violence, as well as two other “Category III” techniques, “exposure to cold weather or water” and what has come to be known as “waterboarding.” (The only “Category III” technique that was approved was the “use of mild, non-injurious physical contact such as grabbing, poking in the chest with the finger, and light pushing.”) The Court, however, found that mere threats of violence, if they are not carried out, do not as such constitute torture. It came to this conclusion even while recognizing that Ennigkeit’s threats must have caused Gäfgen “considerable mental suffering” (§69). By the standards of the European Court of Human Rights, then, all less harsh measures should not be regarded as torture either.

The Court’s finding in this regard ought not, of course, to have any direct legal relevance. The United States is not a party to the European Convention on Human Rights and it is not represented in the Council of Europe to which the ECHR is attached. Nonetheless, the finding is especially awkward for Physicians for Human Rights and kindred NGOs, since such groups tend precisely to regard ECHR jurisprudence as authoritative even for countries like the United States that are not part of the Council of Europe. In this respect, the NGOs are following the lead of the un special rapporteur on torture, the Austrian professor Manfred Nowak, who, in accusing the U.S. of torture in a highly-publicized 2006un report, likewise cited ECHR jurisprudence.

The fact that the ECHR acknowledged Gäfgen’s “considerable mental suffering” renders its finding even more awkward for Physicians for Human Rights, since the latter makes ample use of the notion of “psychological torture” in order to elevate physically nonaggressive interrogation practices into the torture category. The group has indeed previously devoted a 135-page report to the subject. As it so happens, Ennigkeit appears to have expressly aimed to maximize Gäfgen’s psychological torment, not only by invoking the imminent arrival of the “special officer,” but also, if Gäfgen is to be believed, by threatening to allow him to be sexually abused by fellow prisoners.

Of course, even if the interrogation methods approved by the Pentagon do not rise to the level of torture, they could well be considered “inhuman treatment,” which is likewise prohibited under the un Convention against Torture (more fully, the un “Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment”). No one reading the transcript of Mohammed al-Qahtani’s interrogations that was leaked to the press in 2005 could doubt that the treatment to which he was subject by his interrogators was, by ordinary standards of human interaction, crude and abusive.

But this is where the second salient aspect of the ECHR Gäfgen ruling is especially relevant. For while the ECHR found that the Frankfurt police’s treatment of Gäfgen did constitute “inhuman treatment,” it accepted the Frankfurt District Court’s judgment that under the circumstances this treatment did not warrant punishment.

The compassion shown for the perpetrators in the Frankfurt court’s judgment is striking. In adumbrating the “massively extenuating circumstances” that on its view militated against the application of sanction, it notes that “for both of the accused, it was exclusively and urgently a matter of saving the child’s life.” It is “also to be taken into account,” the Court adds a bit further on, “that g’s [Gäfgen’s] provocative and unscrupulous manner of answering questions had strained the nerves of the investigators to the breaking point (aufs äußerste strapazierte). Trained in law, he knew how to formulate and present his responses, so that they constantly produced doubts, hopes, and disappointments and provided no certainty.” “Moreover,” the Court continues, “the situation was extraordinarily chaotic. The police personnel had been on duty overtime. They were worn out and tired. The accused E. [Ennigkeit] had worked through the night and the accused D. [Daschner] had only slept for a few hours. The overwrought sensibilities of the accused substantially reduces their guilt, since they lowered their inhibitions to acting. Neither man could take any more. Furthermore, both of them had led irreproachable lives up to that point.” And so on.

One may well wonder whether the accusers of Donald Rumsfeld and other Pentagon officials would be prepared to acknowledge “massively extenuating circumstances” in their cases. But if the desire to save the life of an eleven-year-old boy is an extenuating circumstance, how can the desire to prevent a follow-on attack to 9/11 and to save potentially thousands of innocent lives not be one? And if the difficulty involved in questioning a wily and arrogant 27-year-old student who has been “trained in law” is an extenuating circumstance, how can the difficulty involved in questioning an evasive and potentially dangerous al Qaeda operative who has been trained in operational security measures not be one?

To deny the same degree of forbearance to American officials and personnel involved in the war on terror is to imply that irregular combatants forming part of terrorist organizations deserve greater legal protections not only than ordinary prisoners of war, but indeed than ordinary citizens. Such an absurd — and for the United States suicidal — logic could only be embraced by persons who are fundamentally committed to seeing American counter-terrorism efforts fail.

John Rosenthal writes on European politics, with a special focus on Germany and France. His work has appeared in the Claremont Review of Books, Opinion Journal, Les Temps Modernes, and Merkur. He is a contributing editor for World Politics Review.