Either Donald Trump got his deal, or this is a remarkable coincidence. After two years of imprisonment over charges of abetting terrorism — and at the center of an international battle between two supposed allies — a court in Turkey convicted Pastor Andrew Brunson on the charges. And then they let him go:
A Turkish court effectively freed American pastor Andrew Brunson on Friday after he spent nearly two years in jail and more time under house arrest on charges related to terrorism and espionage. Brunson had become entangled in a diplomatic dispute between Turkey and the United States and American officials had hoped that the fourth hearing in Turkey’s case against him would result in his release.
The court in the city of Aliaga found Brunson guilty and sentenced him to three years in prison, but released him on time served, based on a prosecutor’s recommendation. That move will allow him to leave the country.
Turkey’s government had faced threats of further U.S. sanctions over its treatment of the pastor, who denies all charges against him, but President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had insisted that the Turkish judicial system be allowed to proceed.
Erdogan had wanted to get a trade from Trump to free Brunson for Fethullah Gulen, the anti-Erdogan cleric living in the US. At times, Erdogan made that exchange an explicit demand. In the end, though, Gulen seems safely ensconced in the US while Brunson has gone free.
So what did Erdogan get out of the release? The “prosecutor’s recommendation” certainly sounds like some sort of executive intervention. Perhaps it’s related to another international crisis involving Turkey, the US, and Saudi Arabia. Turkey wants the US to start twisting arms over the fate of Jamal Khashoggi, and they’re apparently willing to expose their intelligence assets to do so:
The Turkish government has told U.S. officials that it has audio and video recordings that prove Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi was killed inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul this month, according to U.S. and Turkish officials.
The recordings show that a Saudi security team detained Khashoggi in the consulate after he walked in Oct. 2 to obtain an official document before his upcoming wedding, then killed him and dismembered his body, the officials said.
The audio recording in particular provides some of the most persuasive and gruesome evidence that the Saudi team is responsible for Khashoggi’s death, the officials said.
“The voice recording from inside the embassy lays out what happened to Jamal after he entered,” said one person with knowledge of the recording who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss highly sensitive intelligence.
“You can hear his voice and the voices of men speaking Arabic,” this person said. “You can hear how he was interrogated, tortured and then murdered.”
Did the Turks have the Saudi consulate bugged? That certainly seems to be the case, or else they have someone on the inside, which is just as much a violation of diplomatic sovereignty. Nations do not reveal those capabilities unless they find it absolutely necessary, not even to allies. One reason they don’t is to keep those capabilities from being splashed all over the Washington Post, of course, but the Post says they got this from both US and Turkish sources.
John Bolton told Hugh Hewitt this morning that the Trump administration wants to get to the bottom of this, although he suggested that the Saudis are getting damaged by the secrecy:
“We need to find out what the facts are, and we need to get this resolved quickly, because if it is another operation, people need to understand that,” Bolton said on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show Thursday. “I think the Saudis themselves are being damaged, because we don’t have the facts out.”
Bolton’s comments came as criticism mounts against both the Saudi regime, which has been repeatedly accused of murdering Khashoggi in its Istanbul consulate, and the Trump administration, for its tepid confrontations with Saudi Arabia. Khashoggi was known for his intimate knowledge of the Saudi royal family and wrote critically about the Saudi regime. He lived in self-imposed exile in order to write freely about the Saudi government, and went missing after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. …
Bolton rejected the notion that the president is anything less than dedicated to finding Khashoggi. Bolton said Trump ordered Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to speak with Khashoggi’s fiancee, who was with him the day he disappeared, and that the administration was taking numerous other steps that “I really can’t get into at the moment” to locate Khashoggi.
“I think this is ridiculous,” Bolton said. “I think that it’s just hypocritical to say that somehow the president’s not concerned about these things when manifestly his words and his actions are to the contrary.”
The last question regarding Brunson is whether the pastor returns to the US now. He had expressed a desire to remain in Turkey and continue his evangelization for Christianity there. “I love Jesus, I love Turkey,” Brunson declared in court this morning while proclaiming his innocence. At this point, though, Brunson might have worn out his welcome there and patience in the US. If he sticks around and gets caught up in the same authoritarian persecution, his case might not get as much diplomatic attention the next time around.
Brunson’s attorney expects him to return to the US. That would be the wise decision. Brunson has a hero’s welcome awaiting him here, and it’s time for this shepherd to take some well-earned rest.
Update: Whether this was a deal or not, Trump celebrated Brunson’s release on Twitter:
PASTOR BRUNSON JUST RELEASED. WILL BE HOME SOON!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 12, 2018
Let’s hope so. Here’s footage of Brunson leaving the court, courtesy of the AP:
A Turkish court convicts an American pastor of terror charges but releases him from house arrest and allows him to leave Turkey. Watch as Pastor Andrew Brunson is driven driven out of the court complex. Story: https://t.co/0KyYe7oFVG pic.twitter.com/KEPVviKRWh
— The Associated Press (@AP) October 12, 2018
Go straight to the airport, Pastor.
Update: That’s apparently what Brunson did:
BREAKING: Freed US pastor Andrew Brunson on plane back from Turkey: lawyer pic.twitter.com/KLSjUlsFmN
— AFP news agency (@AFP) October 12, 2018
Cue up the band and put up some bunting!