As Turkey seeks Fethullah Gulen's extradition, how will the US respond?

AFP (file photo) |

Following July's failed coup in Istanbul, Turkey was quick to lay the blame on US-based cleric and opposition figure Fethullah Gulen and demanded his extradition. But how will Washington respond to this request from a key regional ally?


in New York

Since the July 15th coup, in which rogue members of the military bombed parliament and seized control of parts of major cities, the Turkish government led by president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly accused Gulen of being the mastermind behind the failed attempt to seize power and piled pressure on the US to extradite him, suggesting close ties between the country could be at stake if it does not cooperate.

Earlier this week Turkey officially filed an official extradition request with Washington, according to media reports.

FRANCE 24 spoke to Amy Jeffress, partner at Arnold & Porter law firm with expertise in extradition cases and a former senior official at the US Department of Justice (DoJ), to look at the US's options. 

FRANCE 24: If Turkey has indeed made an official request for Gulen's extradition, what happens next?

Amy Jeffress: "If Turkey has made a request then that will be initially reviewed by the State Department and by the Department of Justice to determine if it meets the requirements under the treaty. If the Justice Department believes that the extradition request is valid then it would act on that request by seeking the individual's arrest.

The treaty between the US and Turkey is like most other (extradition) treaties and the requirements are that the extradition request states an offence which is among those under which extradition is legally viable.

There are clauses in the treaty that could be invoked if the US decided that certain exceptions were met. For example, there is a specific exception in the extradition treaty for offenses of a political nature or those motivated by political beliefs. There are also in most extradition treaties clauses that allow extradition to be denied if it is contrary to the essential interests of the country. The fairness of a trial might come up in those circumstances. If there are real concerns about human rights then that could be a basis to deny a particular request. But it is a reciprocal obligation and it's very rare for US authorities to invoke those sorts of essential interest clauses.

Could politics play a part in the DoJ's decision on whether or not to extradite Gulen. Could the US government intervene to overturn that decision?

The US authorities treat extradition as a matter of law enforcement and cooperation. We'd expect other countries to cooperate with us on law enforcement matters and on extradition matters and our allies will seek the same cooperation from us. The US government authorities try very hard, in my opinion, to make sure that politics don't come into play and that these requests really are treated as law enforcement matters and not political ones.

The Secretary Of State has ultimate authority in certain circumstances and can exercise that authority. But it's very rare for these decisions to be made at that high a level; normally the decision would be made by people on the front lines -- the people who are working on these cases on a regular basis -- and it would be very unusual for their decision to be overturned. I'm not saying that it couldn't happen but it's very rare.

If Gulen is arrested, can he fight the extradition?

An individual who is arrested pursuant to an extradition request is entitled to a court hearing, so the individual can challenge the extradition in court in the US.

It's very rare for extradition to be denied by a court but it does sometimes happen. If I were the attorneys of Mr Gulen I would be arguing that this is a political offense and that he should not be extradited because of that exception. They could also raise the issue of human rights concerns and whether there's a guaranteed fare trial.

But it is important to note that a person facing extradition does not have the right to a trial in the US; the trial would be held in Turkey. The whole premise of an extradition treaty is that the two countries party to the treaty will allow extradition to occur because they have faith in the justice system of the other country. So we allow extradition to Turkey because we've made a decision that the justice system there is fair and we hope that the same is true when we request extradition of an individual in Turkey. So it's a reciprocal obligation and one that in the US, at least, is taken very seriously.

Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning