06. December 2018
Just a few minutes earlier, a plane had touched down at nearby Pristina international airport, a Bombardier Challenger private jet with the registration TC-KLE.
‘Extraordinary rendition’: that was the term the US notoriously gave to one of its secret operations in the “War against Terror“. The CIA kidnapped terror suspects from around the world and flew them to secret and remote locations, including in Poland and Thailand, where they were subjected to torture. Neither internationally recognized human rights nor local laws applied at these so-called black sites.
This investigation can now reveal that Turkey is running a similar programme, but with a difference. While the Turkish intelligence service MIT is kidnapping Turkish nationals in foreign countries often with the connivance of local governments, people are also being disappeared inside Turkey, according to accounts by victims and human rights activists. And unlike the CIA, the Turkish state has no need to fly the victims to locations abroad.
Speaking to CORRECTIV, Frontal 21, the investigative programme of German public broadcaster ZDF, and other journalists from the international team, two Turkish nationals have separately detailed what they say were their forced disappearances and their months-long ordeals in black sites in Turkey. These are the first eye-witness accounts of their kind. Both are followers of the Gülen movement. The details of their accounts are impossible to verify. But under examination, both appear credible.
Inside, he was subjected to a vicious beating. Then everything went dark as a black sack was yanked over his head.
He would continue to wear it for the next three months. When he was no longer able to resist, his hands and feet were bound. Tolga’s mind was racing. He had heard about these kidnappings: “Is that what’s happening to me now?”
The drive didn’t take long. Tolga heard a heavy door slide open and he was taken into a hall, forced to remove his clothes, given pyjamas and shoved into a cell.
From behind the locked door, he was ordered to kneel down with his back to the door and to lower his head. Half an hour later, they entered. And took him from his cell to another room.
Then it started. Several men beat him with clubs, and administered electrical shocks. They screamed at him, insulted him.
Something was placed in his hand. A sex toy. The men stripped him and forced him onto his knees and onto the ground. “Now you know what we’re going to do with it,” they jeered. One of them sat on his back.
Tolga was given very little water. In the morning, he received a small cheese and tomato sandwich, in the evening, a bowl of rice soup and a piece of bread. Between meals, he was interrogated and tortured two or three times a day.
As soon as he closed his eyes, he had nightmares. He sees his crying children. That’s why he tries not to sleep. The beatings are easier to bear than the threats to his family. “We will do these same things to your wife, your parents. Your children are going to watch.”
Sometimes they remove the sack from his head and place him in front of a wall with pictures. They ask him for information about other members of the Gülen movement: who’s in financial trouble, who has a weakness for material things. They seem to know almost everything anyway.
Erdoğan’s war on the Gülenists
CORRECTIV and its media partners subsequently identified a second possible victim. We’ll call him ‘Ali’. We also interviewed him several times.
He too had worked at an organization tied to the Gülen movement in Turkey. According to his account, he was kidnapped in a different city and then held at a torture site in Ankara for more than three months. He confirms the kidnappers’ modus operandi as well as their torture methods independently from Tolga.
Ali says he was not allowed to pray, was forced to stand upright and naked until he collapsed from exhaustion. “They told me I was a terrorist and accused me of all kinds of crimes.”
"They had worked out a plot in their heads and handed one role to me. I was supposed to accept that role under torture.”
Turkish intelligence does not always rely only on its own assets, it seems. To abduct Gülen followers from the Republic of Moldova on 6 September, the kidnappers chartered a commercial airliner. On 12 May, 2017, the Malaysian authorities forced Ismet Özçelik, a physics teacher had who fled the country after the failed coup, to return to Turkey on a scheduled Turkish Airlines flight. He was accompanied by Turkish security personnel as well as two more captured Gülenists.
Sühleyl recorded everything on his mobile phone. There was brawl, his father received a blow to the chest.
Tolga can hear when somebody outside is passing by and he can hear voices from neighboring cells. A window is sometimes open in the interrogation room. Tolga can hear traffic from what sounds like a main road.