Why Haven't Erdogan's Thugs Been Charged with Crimes?

By Dan Cadman on May 30, 2017

Shortly before President Trump's recent overseas travels to the Middle East and Europe, he was visited by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is known to be both Islamist and authoritarian in outlook.

During his visit earlier this month, when Erdogan went to the Turkish embassy in Washington, D.C., a brawl occurred between protesters (many of them Kurds, our allies in the war against Islamic State, but in general opponents of his regime) on one hand, and his supporters on the other. (A video of the brawl can be seen here.)

Some have alleged that while looking on as the violence escalated, Erdogan perhaps even signaled his approval of the attack on protesters. The D.C. police showed themselves distressingly incapable of handling the matter — possibly because many of the thugs who attacked the protesters appeared to be part of Erdogan's official security detail (who, ironically, are trained by the State Department's Diplomatic Security Service), and police bosses perhaps were concerned over repercussions if they, the police, attempted to take them into custody.

Videos of the melee certainly suggest that most of the violence was inflicted on the protesters and not the other way around, despite which the Turkish government blamed the United States for what transpired. As has been noted elsewhere, this isn't the first time Erdogan's protectors have chosen to step outside the boundaries of professional conduct; something similar happened a year ago, also in Washington, D.C.

This time, public outcry was a lot louder, and the State Department promised to look into the miscreants via video and still photos to see if they could be identified from visa records. Some observers said they should be prosecuted; others noted that, being members of the security detail, they would be protected by diplomatic immunity and unlikely face charges. So what exactly is permitted in this circumstance?

U.S. law provides that even diplomats may be charged with crimes when appropriate to do so. The accredited government (in this case, Turkey) may waive the individual's diplomatic status — after all, the accreditation, once granted by the United States, attaches to the individual only so long as that government wishes it. The individual has no say-so if his own government withdraws its protections.

If, on the other hand, the government — again, Turkey in this case — refuses to withdraw those protections and insists on maintaining the diplomatic status, the prosecution won't go forward, but the United States is then within its rights to declare that the individual is persona non grata and eject him (note that this doesn't constitute deportation as such). What's more, the State Department, acting on behalf of the United States, can then revoke any visas, watch-list the person, and make known to the Turks that it will refuse to extend diplomatic accreditation to the individual on any future visit. If that person ever shows up at a U.S. port of entry in the future, he can then be taken into custody and the previously initiated charges can go forward.

The important point, though, is that the charges must be brought for this sequence of events to be triggered. I'm unable to figure out why that hasn't happened. After all, Washington, D.C., isn't just our nation's capital, it's a federal city. The "local" prosecutor, the equivalent of a district attorney elsewhere, is in fact the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia. All of this is within the federal government's hands. Doing nothing sends absolutely the wrong message to goon squads-qua-protective details everywhere that they can do as they choose while on "official duty" in the United States, without consequence.

Since the incident, though, it has come to light that some number of the thugs who engaged in the violence, which seriously injured a number of other people, apparently weren't in fact cloaked in diplomatic immunity. Rather, they appear to have been Turks living in the United States who also happen to be enthusiastic supporters of the Erdogan regime and its affiliated Justice and Development Party (AKP). So far, none of these individuals has been criminally charged either. I don't get that.

But, it's worth nothing that, even in the absence of charges and a conviction, they appear to be amenable to removal from the United States — provided, of course, that they haven't already naturalized. Section 237 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 USC § 1227) says this at paragraph (a)(4):

(4) Security and related grounds
(A) In general
Any alien who has engaged, is engaged, or at any time after admission engages in ...
(ii) any other criminal activity which endangers public safety or national security .. .is deportable. (Emphasis added.)

Given the availability of video evidence of what happened, it would be difficult for anyone culpable to argue that he hadn't engaged in criminal behavior; and in light of the injuries sustained, it's reasonable to say that the actions endangered public safety.

Now, has this deportation charge been used with frequency? Almost certainly not, but it sure looks to me like it fits the situation to a tee. After all, what's the point of a statute that's never put to use? Will it be? Probably not, for the same inexplicable reasons that no one has been charged criminally. That in itself smacks of nonfeasance.