Turkey is still pushing US to extradite their cleric while Pastor Brunson remains in prison

The discovery that Genneral Flynn had been doing some “side work” for the Turkish government has led to renewed interest in the press over Turkey’s diplomatic stance toward the United States. Even with Flynn out of the picture, McClatchy is reporting this week that the government of President Erdogan is still attempting to pressure the Trump administration into extraditing cleric Fethullah Gulen so that he can presumably be tossed into one of the Turkish tyrant’s dungeons. The descriptions of Gulen in Turkish government controlled media as a secretive mastermind responsible for last year’s coup and countless subversive efforts to overthrow Erdogan’s regime have yet to be substantiated in any significant way. But that’s not stopping the Turks from keeping up the pressure.

Turkey’s insistence on the extradition of Fethullah Gulen, a cleric who has lived in exile in Pennsylvania since 1999, remains a major irritant in the strained relations with the U.S. since last summer’s failed coup against the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

But unlike the military quagmire in Syria, where the Pentagon is backing Kurdish forces that Turkey considers a terrorist group, Ankara sees Gulen’s extradition as a simple matter the U.S. should act on quickly.

“At the moment, the Turkish public has a very negative opinion of the United States,” Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said last week. Sending Gulen back to Turkey would accomplish that.

There’s more than a little irony in the media’s new focus on Gulen while they continue to essentially ignore the fact that American Pastor Andrew Brunson has now spent more than five months as the “guest” of Erdogan in one of his jails. Despite repeated requests from the public and dozens of members of Congress, no progress seems to have been made on this front. In fact, just last week USA Today reported that Turkey was considering accelerating the process of bringing Brunson to trial for his supposed “crimes.”

Turkey will speed up the trial for an American pastor swept up in a crackdown after an attempted military coup last July, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said Thursday.

“What we can do at this stage is accelerate the trial” for Andrew Brunson, who was detained on Oct. 7 for allegedly threatening national security, Yildirim told a group of American journalists visiting Turkey’s capital. “As you will appreciate, judiciary matters are not directly controlled by us.”

The situation has long since passed the point of simply being frustrating and should now be generating outrage. Back in January I was in touch with a source close to the GOP leadership who told me that they were well aware of Brunson’s condition and that President Trump would be looking into it in the near future. Since then we have heard little to nothing on the subject.

At this point it is not some wild conspiracy theory to suggest that Erdogan was planning all along to use Brunson as a pawn in an effort to exert leverage on the United States and get his hands on Gulen. These are not the actions of any sort of “ally” of America. This is more what you would expect from a tyrant. It’s true that Turkey maintains considerable influence in the region and their position, both geographically and militarily, in the ongoing war against ISIS gives them some significant cards to play. But that doesn’t mean that bowing to such demands would be much different from negotiating with terrorists. Pastor Brunson has done absolutely nothing wrong and should never have been jailed in the first place. The status of Gulen and the true nature of his activities remains unknown.

I understand that the Trump administration has a vast number of irons in the fire right now, but surely the author of The Art of the Deal should be able to pick up a phone and make something happen. And the “something” in question really should be a concession by the Turks leading to the release of Brunson with no strings attached. But at this point I would almost be willing to consider giving up Gulen just to put an end to this nightmare.