Backlash from Congress grows over attack on protestors by Turkish security

As Turkey attempts to shift the blame to US law enforcement for a violent attack by Turkish security personnel on protestors outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence in Washington last week, the reaction against Ankara on the part of US lawmakers is growing.

Senators Lindsey Graham and Patrick Leahy said in a letter sent Monday to Turkish Ambassador Serdar Kılıç that there could be “potential implications for assistance to Turkey should this matter be given less than the highest attention and consideration it deserves by the Government of Turkey,” according to an Associated Press report.

Graham and Leahy, who oversee the US foreign aid budget, warned of the financial repercussions if Ankara fails to punish the bodyguards responsible.

Also on Monday Rep. Carolyn Maloney, along with nearly 30 Democratic congressmen, wrote to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson demanding that the Turkish guards be “arrested, prosecuted and jailed,” however unlikely due to the issue of diplomatic immunity and the fact that some of the security personnel have already returned to Turkey.

The Democrats also faulted Tillerson for what they suggested was his failure to speak out loudly against the Turkish actions.

“This kind of behavior by a foreign security detail is reprehensible and cannot be tolerated,” they wrote, according to the AP.

The demonstrators were protesting the policies of Turkey’s autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who was visiting Washington for a White House meeting with Donald Trump earlier in the day, and were countered by agitated supporters of the Turkish head of state.

Police intervened in the fighting between the two groups, while a video recording posted on social media the same day also revealed that Erdoğan’s guards were involved, physically attacking the protesters. Nine people were injured, with at least one of them in serious condition

Another video of the violent confrontation showed that President Erdoğan watched from a car as his bodyguards assaulted peaceful protesters across the street.

The Turkish Embassy released a statement last Thursday claiming the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) was responsible for the fracas, while the US State Department expressed concern about the “violent incidents involving protestors and Turkish security personnel” and summoned Ambassador Kılıç on Thursday to explain the incident.

After summoning the US ambassador to Turkey on Monday in a reprimand of the Washington incidents, the Turkish Foreign Ministry now Is requesting a “full investigation of this diplomatic incident” claiming “lapses of security … caused by the inability of US authorities to take sufficient precautions at every stage of the official program” during the visit of President Erdoğan to Washington.

“This is really rich,” Rep. Zoe Lofgren said in response to the ministry statement, according to a report by Fox News on Monday.

“D.C. Police intervened when Erdogan’s security thugs attacked Americans peacefully exercising their first amendment rights outside the Turkish Embassy,” Lofgren said, adding that “[t]he security thugs should not have been released from jail as they were clearly a flight risk. They should be charged with assault and arrested if they ever try to enter the U.S. again.”

Senators Tom Cotton, Ted Cruz, Mike Lee and Marco Rubio last week issued a joint statement saying: “We strongly condemn the violence that took place yesterday outside the Turkish Embassy in Washington. Reports indicate that some Turkish officials were involved in assaulting protestors, which violates the most basic rules of diplomacy and is an affront to the United States and the value we place on the right to free speech, as embodied in our Constitution. It is even more concerning coming from one of our own NATO allies. We call upon the Turkish government to apologize immediately for the involvement of any officials.”

US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said “The State Department has raised its concerns about those events at the highest levels,” while Secretary of State Tillerson told “Fox News Sunday” the incident was “simply unacceptable.” However, according to a report today by the Washington Examiner, “the State Department on Monday declined to give a public defense of U.S. officials accused of ‘aggressive and unprofessional’ behavior by the Turkish Foreign Ministry.”

Other members of the US Congress have expressed outrage at the violent treatment of the protesters by Turkish security personnel last week, among them Arizona Senator John McCain, who on Thursday urged the expulsion of Ambassador Kılıç, saying: “We should throw their ambassador the hell out of the United States of America. This is the United States of America. This isn’t Turkey; this isn’t a Third World country, and this kind of thing cannot go unresponded to diplomatically,” in an interview with MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” adding that legal action could also be pursued.

Rep. Don Beyer, a Democrat representing the 8th District of Virginia, in a statement urged the Trump administration to expel the Turkish ambassador the United States after President Erdoğan’s bodyguards attacked peaceful protesters outside the ambassador’s residence on Tuesday.

“President Trump should immediately expel the Turkish Ambassador to the United States,” said Rep. Beyer. “President Erdogan’s attacks on human rights and democratic institutions in Turkey are disgraceful, but condoning such attacks on American soil betrays our deepest values,” adding that “the US must take a stand.”

In addition, McCain and Senator Diane Feinstein wrote a joint letter to Turkish President Erdoğan expressing concern over the behavior of his security detail outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence when they violently attacked demonstrators protesting Erdoğan’s policies in Turkey.

“The violent response of your security detail to peaceful protestors is wholly unacceptable and, unfortunately, reflective of your government’s treatment of the press, ethnic minority groups and political opponents,” said the letter.

Rep. Ed Royce, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee in the US Congress, also sent a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Secretary of State Tillerson urging immediate action to hold individuals accountable for the brutal attacks on peaceful demonstrators outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence on Tuesday.

“To send a clear message that these acts of violence will not be tolerated, I ask that you immediately look into this matter and bring all appropriate criminal charges before these individuals leave the United States. Agents of foreign governments should never be immune from prosecution for felonious behavior,” Royce said in the letter. ( May 23, 2017

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