We’ve been covering the story of Pastor Andrew Brunson’s false imprisonment in Turkey for nearly two years now and there has been no progress made by either the Obama or Trump administrations toward securing his release. The Turkish government claimed that Brunson was involved with sedition and plots to overthrow the government following the attempted coup in 2016. Bruson was actually performing missionary work and serving the needs of Christians in the country.

Today Andrew Brunson went back to court yet again and the Turks still seem determined to use this kangaroo court to lock him up permanently. (Associated Press)

Andrew Craig Brunson, a 50-year-old evangelical pastor from Black Mountain, North Carolina, was arrested in the aftermath of a 2016 coup attempt for alleged links to outlawed Kurdish rebels, as well as a network led by U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Turkey blames for the unrest. Brunson, who faces up to 35 years in prison, denies the charges.

The third hearing in the case that has strained Turkish-US relations opened in Aliaga on Wednesday.

Today’s hearing had less to do with the actual charges against Brunson and focused primarily on a motion to dismiss the charges which had been brought by his attorneys. Unfortunately, sticking to the playbook which Turkey has been running thus far, the judge flatly rejected the motion and sent the pastor back to his prison cell yet again. (WaPo)

A Turkish court on Wednesday rejected appeals to release Andrew Brunson, an American pastor being tried on terrorism-related charges whose prosecution and lengthy imprisonment has become a flash point in the increasingly testy relationship between the United States and Turkey…

Speaking after the hearing, Philip Kosnett, the U.S. charge d’affaires in Turkey, said he was “disappointed.”

“I have read the indictment, I have attended three hearings, I don’t believe there is any indication that Pastor Brunson is guilty of any sort of criminal or terrorist activity,” he said. The case has tested Trump’s preference for flattery over confrontation with some world leaders, as he is weathering harsh criticism in the United States for praising Russian President Vladimir Putin during a summit between the two leaders in Helsinki.

Now Brunson isn’t scheduled for his next day in court until October. At that point, it will have been two full years since he was arrested on these trumped up charges. The failure of the United States government to secure his release should be far more of an outrage than we’re currently seeing.

Of course, as most international observers have long agreed, this is nothing more than a case of Turkey engaging in hostage diplomacy. Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks forcefully about the seditious forces aligned against him in his own country, but what he really wants is to force the White House to extradite cleric Fethullah Gulen from Pennsylvania to Turkey. If that happened, you may rest assured that Erdogan would suddenly “discover” proof of Brunson’s innocence and he’d be on his way home in no time.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom released the following statement from Vice-Chair Kristina Arriaga after the hearing concluded.

“The government of Turkey continues to make a mockery of justice in its treatment of Pastor Brunson. Today I was hoping to see the judge order his complete release and put an end to the miscarriage of justice that Pastor Brunson’s entire case represents. Turkish authorities still have not provided one good reason for depriving Pastor Brunson of his liberties. The Trump Administration and the Congress should continue to apply pressure, including using targeted sanctions against officials connected to this case, until Pastor Brunson is released.”

I have no idea if Gulen was involved in the attempted coup or not, and American intelligence officials don’t seem to have any information to share either. Absent some sort of definite evidence of guilt we would be essentially sending Gulen to his death if we made that deal. But is that the point we’ve reached now? If President Trump has no influence with Turkey sufficient to secure Brunson’s release, will we simply have to hold our noses and give Erdogan what he wants?

That seems like a stomach-turning option, but leaving Brunson to rot in a Turkish prison (for as much as 35 years if he’s found “guilty”) is intolerable. The White House needs to figure this puzzle out, and sooner rather than later.