The outgoing U.S. ambassador to Ankara, John Bass, has faced criticism during his three years in the Turkish capital for interfering in domestic issues, including political and judicial issues.
Recent remarks by Bass, who is expected to end his Turkish posting this weekend, on the arrest of Metin Topuz, an employee at the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul, are an apparent attempt to interfere in the Turkish judiciary.
Topuz was arrested under an ongoing investigation against a 2013 plot by the Fetullah Terrorist Organization -- the group behind last year’s defeated coup attempt in Turkey -- known locally as the Dec. 17-25 incidents.
As Topuz is accused of attempting to topple the constitutional order, spying, and attempting to destroy the government of the Republic of Turkey, Bass came under fire for commenting that the accusations were motivated by “revenge”.
No explanation of FETO ties
Bass was the highest representative of his country in Turkey during FETO’s July 15,
But he failed to explain to his bosses in Washington the importance Turkey places on the extradition of U.S.-based FETO members, most especially its leader Fetullah Gulen.
Moreover, when reports emerged that Adil Oksuz, one of the top suspects in the coup bid, made a telephone call to the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul just days after the defeated coup attempt, the U.S. mission claimed it was a “visa-related” conversation.
Furthermore, several telephone conversations between suspects in the National Intelligence Organization (MIT) trucks case and the U.S. diplomatic missions in Turkey were documented in an indictment on the case prepared by the Istanbul Public Prosecutor’s office.
Despite a request by the prosecutor’s office, the U.S. missions have yet to offer an explanation.
Though Bass used to issue rapid reactions on Turkish-related issues, his comments over the deadly coup attempt were lagging, coming three days after the critical events.
Denies assistance to PYD
The PKK, listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.S., and the EU, has waged a terror campaign against Turkey for more than 30 years, during which more than 40,000 people have lost their lives.
The PKK/PYD and PKK/YPG are the group’s Syrian offshoots.
Bass has repeatedly rejected reports that his country has been providing military aid to the PKK/PYD terrorist organization in Syria.
However, photos and videos contradicting Bass’ assertions have appeared many times.
After Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan charged that the U.S.-led coalition is supporting Daesh as well as the PKK/YPG and PKK/PYD, Bass said, “The United States government has not provided weapons or explosives to the YPG or the PKK -- period.”
His statement drew a strong reaction from Ankara. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu rebuffed him, saying, “The U.S. provides weapons to the YPG -- period.”
Moreover, National Defense Minister Nurettin Canikli said Thursday that the U.S. weapons and ammunitions contributions to the PYD terrorist organization are so large, they could equip a force of 40,000-50,000 troops.
Belittling the media
Bass' recent statements, especially in the runup to his departure, became a controversial issue in Turkey. One of these incidents happened in Istanbul last week when he called "only a group of journalists" for a press conference.
He blacklisted some press institutions at this press conference, breaking the precedent of earlier U.S. ambassadors who met with the full range of media organizations in Turkey. Thus, just before leaving, he struck a huge blow to the freedoms of press and information, subjects he often stressed during his term.
Arguing for accreditation of the Turkish press during his meeting, Bass said he wanted to meet with representatives of "serious" media organs, and claimed that others published fiction, not facts. Bass was criticized by the Turkish press for saying, "I can’t see them as journalists."
A few days ago, he invited representatives of a few press organizations to his farewell reception at his residence in Ankara, where he showed an attitude unlike his statements on freedom of the press.
‘Over nine months with no terror attacks’
Bass’ remarks at a farewell meeting with diplomatic correspondents in Ankara this week recall the campaign claims of then-presidential candidate Donald Trump that then-President Barack Obama and Democratic Party candidate Hillary Clinton were the "founders” of the Daesh terrorist organization.
Bass suggested that the fact that Daesh hasn’t mounted a significant attack in Turkey in nine-and-a-half months resulted from the cooperation between Turkey and the U.S.
He said: "Fortunately, this country has not experienced any significant attacks by Daesh in nine-and-a-half months… The absence of attacks is not a result of Daesh deciding it no longer wanted to try to conduct attacks in Turkey. It’s a result of Daesh no longer being able to conduct these kinds of attacks.”
In Turkey, these remarks were seen as a threat by Bass.
Deputy Prime Minister and government spokesman Bekir Bozdag said that the outgoing ambassador must explain what he meant by those words.
Interference in the judiciary
Using the excuse of the freedom of the press and expression, Bass had made statements on many issues that were going through Turkish courts.
On Nov. 27, 2015, Bass posted a black image on his Instagram account related to the arrest of Can Dundar, former editor-in-chief of daily Cumhuriyet, and Erdem Gül, its Ankara bureau chief, who were accused of political/military espionage, revealing state secrets, and helping a terrorist organization knowingly and willingly without joining the group.
He once again interfered in a domestic Turkish issue and the judiciary by commenting underneath the image: "Deeply disturbed to see more voices of independent media in Turkiye silenced today.”
After Turkish authorities launched an investigation against 1,100 academics -- who called themselves the “Academics for Peace Initiative” and in January 2016 signed a joint declaration supporting the terrorist PKK -- the ambassador diplomatically said, "Turkish democracy is strong and resistant enough to embrace disturbing ideas freely.”
Visiting offices of FETO-linked detainees
Following the detention of the Amnesty International’s Turkey branch head Taner Kilic and its director Idil Eser, who were arrested after it emerged that they used ByLock, an encrypted messaging app used by FETO members, Bass visited the Istanbul Amnesty International office this July.
Around the same time, Bass argued that they would continue to work “very closely” with Turkey "with the same spirit and determination" on the extradition of FETO leader Fetullah Gulen. However, the U.S. has taken no concrete steps on the extradition process since the 2016 defeated coup attempt.