Is Rex Tillerson taking up the cause of Pastor Andrew Brunson?

If the answer to the title question is yes (and that’s still a big “if” at this point) then the response should be that it’s about time. Pastor Andrew Brunson has been languishing in one of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s cells for more than five months on trumped up charges that he’s somehow associated with terrorists in that country. The lack of attention to this situation by Barack Obama was an infuriating embarrassment. The continued lack of action on the part of the Trump administration was an outrage. But perhaps that’s finally changing. A new report from NBC News indicates that on Thursday night, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was in Turkey and met with Pastor Brunson’s wife as well as Turkish officials. But the results of the latter meetings as reported in the Turkish press are not promising.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met with the wife of a jailed American pastor in the Turkish capital Ankara on Thursday night, a State Department official said on Friday.

Pastor Andrew Brunson has been held in Turkey since October on charges of being part of a terrorist organization, according to news reports.

‎”Secretary of State Tillerson wanted to make sure he met with Mrs. Brunson to share the most recent information he had on Pastor Brunson’s case,” the official said.

The State Department is saying that Tillerson is “committed to staying in touch with Mrs. Brunson regarding the case moving forward,” but that’s far from comforting. That makes it sound as if there’s no end in sight and State is preparing for a protracted detention. Further, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu held a joint press conference with Tillerson on the same day and publicly stated that he expects Washington to “take concrete steps” toward detaining Cleric Fethullah Gulen (currently living in Pennsylvania) and working toward his extradition.

What we have here is the formula for what I was predicting before Christmas of last year. Erdogan knows that Pastor Brunson is innocent but he’s effectively holding an American citizen hostage to use as leverage to get his hands on Gulen. This is outrageous and the two situations shouldn’t be tied together whatsoever. We should be demanding the release of Pastor Brunson before any discussions about Gulen even begin. We also need to know a lot more about Gulen’s activities (if any) in Turkey. Is there any evidence to back up Erdogan’s claim that Gulen was behind last year’s coup? If not, then sending him into Erodgan’s custody would be little more than a death warrant. And if our intelligence community does believe that he was actually behind the coup or recent attacks around Turkey, there’s still a humanitarian question as to whether turning him over would be the right thing to do as opposed to perhaps putting him on trial here or in some neutral third country.

Either way, at the risk of repeating myself, Gulen’s situation is completely separate from Pastor Brunson’s. He’s an American citizen being unjustly held by a tyrant who is ostensibly supposed to be an ally of ours. We were being told behind the scenes that the President was going to be looking into this situation as early as late January. The author of The Art of the Deal ought to be able to make this happen and enough time has passed with no results shown.