According to a written statement by 1st Lt. Yalçın Toker, an officer serving under the chief of staff in the General Secretariat’s planning department, many of his colleagues who were detained in the aftermath of a failed coup in 2016 were subjected to torture in order to coerce false confessions. In a petition filed with the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office from his cell in Sincan Prison on November 7, 2016, Toker revealed details of torture in an unofficial detention facility at General Staff headquarters.
Toker, 32, had nothing to do with the coup and in fact had left his office on July 15, 2016 at its normal closing time. He had continued working for the General Staff until August 2, when he was detained based on an accusations from a person who claimed he was linked to the Gülen movement, a group that was critical of the government. He was taken to a remote section of the General Staff compound by elements of the Special Forces Command (Özel Kuvvetler Komutanlığı) and kept locked up for 36 hours.
“I witnessed that statements were extracted from six of 11 detainees including myself under torture through tactics like electroshock and waterboarding,” he wrote, adding that he was forced to write and sign a false statement under threat of torture, beating and intense psychological pressure. He was not provided food or water during his captivity and was kept handcuffed and blindfolded.
A handwritten note from the police during the handover from the torture center shows his name as well as those of 10 others who were kept at the General Staff compound. Their names were listed as Col. Feridun Bircan, Lt. Kübra Yavuz, Col. Cengiz Aydın, Maj. Yusuf Özbek, Lt. Col. Deniz Aydın, Lt. Mehmet Akçara, Lt. Col. Bayram Akpan, Lt. Halis Ahmet Özer, Lt. Col. Metin Demir and Maj. Asım Şanöz.
The Special Forces handed him and others over to the police after coercing their statements. Toker was formally detained on August 3. He appeared before a judge six days later at his arraignment during which the judge ordered his arrest despite the fact that he denied any links to the coup or the Gülen movement.
He said he wanted to challenge the false statements compelled from him under torture and that there was no evidence of any crime in his case file that would warrant his imprisonment. His complaint of torture was not investigated, and prosecutors did not look into allegations of a secret torture center at the General Staff compound. His case file shows he repeatedly filed petitions with the prosecutor’s office, raising similar claims and seeking his release. But his request was denied every time.
The military investigation into his conduct on the day of the coup found nothing and concluded that he left his office at its regular closing time of 19:03:07, long before any military mobilization started. He was told to stay home on July 16 and 17 when he called in to the General Staff. He resumed his duties on July 18 after he was asked to report for duty. He had continued working until August 2 under the command of Maj. Gen. Irfan Özsert, the general secretary of the General Staff. In fact he was reassigned to a new post but could not start working due to his detention. He was expelled from the military by a government decree on August 14, 2016.
On June 20, 2019 Toker was convicted of terrorism on dubious evidence and sentenced to seven years, six month in prison.
As of March 2019, according to numbers provided by the Ministry of Justice, more than 150,000 public servants had been removed from their jobs by the Turkish government due to alleged links to the Gülen movement. A total of 30,727 of these civil servants were in jail as of March 8. A total of 6,760 members of the military are currently in jail, of whom 5,960 had the rank of colonel or lower and 142 had the rank of brigadier general or higher. One hundred sixty-nine of them were privates and 489 were military school cadets.
Secret documents Nordic Monitor published in June show that the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan specifically targeted generals and admirals who had served abroad at NATO posts critical to Turkey as well as liaison officers and attachés at diplomatic missions in allied nations.
According to data compiled by Nordic Monitor in November 2019, the government has removed nearly all flag officers from NATO’s second largest army, leaving only a small fraction on active duty while allowing Islamists and neo-nationalists to quickly move up in the ranks. Only 42 flag officers out of the 325 who were on active duty at the time of the abortive putsch have managed to retain their rank or receive promotions, confirming the view that Erdoğan’s Islamist government was intent on transforming the military into a bastion of partisans, zealots and loyalists.