A Turkish commander tried by military court for severely beating a Kurdish conscript and indicted by a high criminal court for leaking confidential documents to a gang in exchange for sexual favors was rewarded by the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Lt. Col. İhsan Gökoğlan, 43, was promoted to deputy commander of the 49th Motorized Infantry Brigade, part of the 3rd Army and assigned to lead a garrison in Turkey’s southeastern province of Muş. Units of the 49th Brigade have been deployed to Syria as part of Turkey’s military incursion into the neighboring country.
Gökoğlan’s record suggests he was not fit to lead a brigade unit, yet he is one of many unsavory characters who were promoted within the ranks, especially after the Erdoğan government purged thousands of highly qualified officers including generals and admirals from NATO’s second largest army in terms of manpower. In 2011 he was brought to the attention of the parliamentary Human Rights Committee when he attacked and severely beat a Kurdish private, an incident that was initially hushed up by the military.
A conscript identified as Murat Kılıç was beaten with an iron bar on September 6, 2011 by Gökoğlan, who was a major in the 2nd Commando Brigade in the southeastern province of Şırnak. As if the beating were not enough, the private, a Kurd, was ordered to stand guard for 12 hours the next day, causing him to pass out. Gökoğlan was further infuriated and had him awakened and started beating him more. He even bashed Kılıç’s head with a large can that was full of sand, almost killing the conscript. He had to be taken to an infirmary at the base instead of a hospital in the city in order to prevent the incident from becoming public.
The statement of Lt. Col. İhsan Gökoğlan to a prosecutor in which he reveals he was also being tried for beating a soldier:Ihsan_gokoglan1
His family in Şanlıurfa province was informed by Kılıç’s friends, also doing their compulsory military service. When his family called the base in Şırnak, they were told only the mother was allowed to speak to her son. However, his mother did not speak Turkish and had to address her son in Kurdish and asked how he was doing. The officer monitoring the conversation cut off the call, saying that speaking Kurdish was not allowed on the army base. The family publicized the incident and appealed to the parliamentary commission.
This is not the only scandalous incident in which Gökoğlan was involved. He admitted to beating his soldiers and said that was his only crime when he was arrested and charged with involvement in an espionage gang that ran a sex trafficking and prostitution ring during the course of an investigation that was launched in Izmir province in 2012. When questioned by prosecutor Zafer Kılınç on July 3, 2012 about leaking secret military documents to the gang, he denied the charges but said he was also being tried in a military court for beating a soldier. He had defended himself in the military trial by saying that he just wanted to toughen up his soldiers and make sure they were disciplined.
A profile note kept by the illegal gang described him as an officer who kept beating his soldiers. It added that the gang warned him about this but that he still kept doing it. “He is a person with whom we had contact before and continue to keep in touch with. He is a qualified asset. He has done some good work for us with information about his battalion.” The note further stated that he got tired of his wife and secretly kept coming to meet with prostitutes provided by the gang.
The profile note about Lt. Col. İhsan Gökoğlan, who leaked a top secret document to a gang in exchange for sexual favors:Ihsan_gokoglan2
Documents seized during the execution of search and seizure warrants in the homes of suspects in this espionage gang revealed that Gökoğlan handed over a confidential PowerPoint document titled Kommadtaburu.ppt, which was classified as top secret and included war games planned by the General Staff in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. The prosecutor verified with the General Staff that the leaking of this document fell within the scope of Article 327 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK), which states: “Anyone who obtains information that should remain secret because of its nature in relation to the state’s security or in terms of domestic or foreign politics should receive a prison sentence from between three and eight years.”
An explanatory note accompanying the classified document stated that “the information concerns the use of Turkish and Greek commando units, something the south [Greek Cypriot government] would want.”
According to the indictment, Gökoğlan worked with Coşkun Başbuğ, a retired colonel and intelligence officer who was also indicted in the same investigation. The gang set up a honey trap scheme to blackmail government officials and force them to hand over top secret documents so that the gang could sell them to the highest bidder.
According to the instructions provided by Başbuğ, the officers marked for the honey trap were to be determined by him. When the mark was lured for sex, the women were instructed to record the sexual encounters, profile the clients and determine their weaknesses. He ordered VIP treatment for some clients he identified as high value targets. Archived videos would be used to coerce clients to bring more documents and share sensitive information if they showed an unwillingness to continue, according to Başbuğ’s instructions. The investigation file included Başbuğ’s secret notes about profiled gay military officers and those who had sexual relations with transvestites.
The discovery of Başbuğ and other gang members’ illegal activities was made after police in Izmir received a tip on August 10, 2010 which informed them of a sex and human trafficking network that was involved in blackmail, prostitution, invasion of privacy and other criminal activities. Police briefed the prosecutor’s office and submitted preliminary findings on the people named in the tip. The prosecutor on October 26, 2010 ordered the organized crime unit to investigate the claims and suspects named in the whistleblower’s account.
The detention warrant issued for Lt. Col. İhsan Gökoğlan:Ihsan_gokoglan3
A report dated December 3, 2010 shows the police investigated the claims made in the tip and identified nine people, including Russian and Belarusian women, who were involved in the gang. The report indicated that the gang forced women to engage in sex, seized the passports of foreign women who were lured to Turkey and forced to work in honey trap schemes. The gang was recording the sexual encounters to blackmail government officials. The report showed that the police obtained wiretap authorizations from the court in order to learn more about the gang and map out the network.
The investigators had worked on the case for two years, obtained wiretap authorizations from the courts and ran surveillance on suspects to decode the network. It turned out the gang was much more than a sex trafficking network and resembled more of an espionage group collecting top secret information from various government and military officials through honey traps, sexual favors or blackmail. Among the thousands of pages of secret documents were classified NATO and FBI documents that were shared with the Turkish government as a member of the alliance.
The first wave of arrests took place on May 9-10, 2012 at the order of prosecutors, and additional criminal evidence was gathered from the homes and offices of suspects during the execution of search and seizure warrants. More arrests were made after further evidence was obtained from the suspects and their homes and workplaces. In the end 357 suspects including 55 active duty officers and numerous retired officers were indicted when the prosecutor filed criminal charges against the gang in 2013.
The indictment also revealed how NATO and US security was compromised. For example, NATO documents such as the assets and capabilities of the Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EAD) units operating in every NATO member state, secret US and NATO directives in bomb-making and bomb-diffusion techniques, FBI bomb-making analyses, electronic warfare data used in the NATO alliance, technical, tactical and procedural data for F-16s and sensitive information on US-made Hawk medium-range surface-to-air missile systems.
However, the criminal case against the gang members was quashed by the Erdoğan government, and all the suspects were let go. Gökoğlan was detained and arrested in July 2012 but released on January 28, 2014. Like him, many returned to their duties in the Turkish military, advancing up the ladder despite their controversial records.
In the meantime, prosecutors, judges and police investigators who uncovered the massive espionage ring were punished either by dismissal or arrest on trumped-up charges.
Gökoğlan’s predecessor, İsmail Işık, a staff colonel who headed the 49th Brigade units in Muş, was arrested in July 2016 after a failed coup even though he had no involvement in the abortive putsch. Işık was sentenced to aggravated life in April 2018.