American Pastor Andrew Brunson has now been held hostage in Turkey for more than one year and five months. While there are other American citizens being held as part of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s hostage diplomacy, Brunson is by far the most high profile and longest suffering of them. Accused of somehow being in league with the exiled Cleric Fethullah Gulen, Brunson has been used as a political bargaining chip by the Turkish government since October of 2016. And now he is facing possible sentencing which could keep him in Erdogan’s dungeons for the rest of his life. (Fox News)
A 50-year-old American pastor who had already spent more than 500 days in a Turkish jail without charge now faces a veritable life sentence – 35 years – in a case his attorneys and many supporters are calling a sham.
A Turkish prosecutor on Tuesday made the request for the long prison term in the case of Andrew Brunson, who until being swept up with tens of thousands of others following a 2016 aborted coup attempt in Turkey had quietly operated a church in the coastal city of Izmir for 23 years.
Brunson is accused of being an “executive” in the Fetullah Gulen organization, which the Turkish government of President Tayyip Erdogan blames for the coup attempt. Brunson has vigorously denied being part of the Gulen organization – which itself has aggressively fought back accusations it was involved in the coup attempt.
Brunson has been accused of preposterous charges of nearly everything short of plotting the 2016 coup himself. Turkey has yet to produce a shred of evidence of his guilt and may now move to impose sentence. The question is, when does President Trump plan to do something about this?
More than a year ago, before Trump was even sworn into office, I took part in a conference call where I asked members of the GOP congressional leadership if the President-elect was aware of Brunson’s situation and if any plans were being formed to secure his release. We were assured that he was up to speed on the situation and plans were in the works. Since that time, President Trump has met with Erdogan in person on multiple occasions, including a meeting during the UN General Assembly in September. The two leaders have also spoken on the phone.
Former Secretary of State Tillerson met with Pastor Brunson’s wife last March and supposedly talked to Turkish officials about the situation as recently as last month. Vice President Pence spoke to Erdogan about Brunson’s case last May and again last November.
On the one hand, it’s good to know that Brunson wasn’t totally forgotten and that our diplomats at the highest levels have been pressing his case. But by the same token, none of this is worth a hill of beans if you can’t produce some results. And there are no meaningful results at this point which don’t begin with the pastor’s release.
Turkey has turned out to be an unreliable and occasionally hostile “ally” to the United States under Erdogan. While it’s true that Turkey is a major player in a complicated situation in that region, if they aren’t going to be honest brokers who are interested in advancing the causes of interest to the west, there should be a limit to our patience. We still have leverage which could be brought to bear if carrots need to be replaced with sticks. It’s time for this situation to come to an end before Andrew Brunson disappears into a prison to await his death in captivity.
I don’t know what the solution is which gets Brunson back home. But then, I didn’t run for President. This is Donald Trump’s job now and has been for over a year. It’s time he gets it done.