A medical doctor who was assigned to conduct physical examinations in a gymnasium-turned-mass detention center following a failed coup in Turkey in 2016 spoke for the first time about the torture he witnessed and recorded there to the Bold Medya news website in an interview with exiled journalist Cevheri Güven.
The doctor requested anonymity for security reasons. His account is worth noting because he is the first government official to bear witness to the brutal torture engaged in at the gym.
“They brought a blindfolded man with his clothes on, unlike the others, with two policemen holding him by his arms. I was surprised that he had his clothes on. The policemen said he was a civil servant at the General Staff of the Turkish Armed Forces and one of the masterminds behind the coup plot. They unfastened the blindfold for examination without showing themselves, slipping behind him. I don’t know what they did to the man, he was constantly falling to the ground. They would lift him up, and he would fall again. He stated that he had high blood pressure and a heart condition, and after his medical examination was over, they blindfolded him again and took him away,” he recounted.
Military personnel were resilient and tough, civilians were scared to death
“Civil servants were scared to death, they were all trembling, while the soldiers looked resilient despite all the torture. Later, a police officer said, ‘They were still upright, no matter how much we beat them.’ The soldiers were in good shape.
“They brought a soldier who had been hit hard in the head. His face was disfigured. The police were calling him ‘aide.’ He kept repeating, ‘I am no aide.’ The police said, explaining his disfigured face, that the hatch fell on his face while he was getting out of a tank. However, they obviously did it themselves. I sent him for a tomography. The tomography report stated superficially that his cheekbone (maxilla) and nose were broken without a thorough explanation or details about his other lesions. Judging from the court proceedings I read later, I think this person was Lt. Col. Ertuğrul Terzi.
“They handcuffed the detainees from behind with plastic handcuffs. They were tightened to such a degree that almost all of them had their wrists cut by the cuffs. I warned the police that it might cause a bone infection, which is very difficult to cure and which may result in amputation. They replied, ‘Don’t pay too much attention to it.” I saw inflamed wounds on their wrists when I had their handcuffs removed for their examinations. I sent all of them for dressings. After a while, the healthcare workers said, ‘We don’t have enough materials, don’t ask for any more dressings’.”
Soldiers developed foot drop
“They had the soldiers sit on their knees leaning their bodies forward, handcuffed from behind, the position of prostration, like the torture inflicted on the Uighurs. A person who is kept in that position develops muscle contractions, edema and joint problems. Because the soldiers were kept in that position for a long time, the peroneal nerve did not work due to the edema, which caused foot drop, in which case the person walks like a duck. I saw soldiers with these symptoms, waddling. An orthopedist dismissed the incident, just saying they had developed foot drop.
“They brought in a military staff member. Looking in the mirror he said, ‘They battered my face’, adding, ‘I’m a doctor, too.’ He was an ENT specialist at the Gülhane Medical Academy, a professor and a colonel. He went away. I think most of the soldiers had broken noses, the nose being the most vulnerable part of the face to blows.
“There were also high-ranking military officers including generals in the gym. But because I recorded examinations in detail, they sent another doctor, not me, to examine them. The doctor who examined them later said they looked dehydrated. The generals told him that they refused to give them water for three days, saying, ‘You are traitors, you don’t deserve water.’ ‘One of them asked if I had water,’ he said. The first word of one of the soldiers who came to me for an examination was, ‘Can I drink?’ pointing to a can of soda on my table.
‘We came specifically for this job’
“I think it was a professional team that carried out the torture. One of them told me, ‘We came from Manisa specifically for this job.’ I kept hearing heartrending screams from inside the gym. After a while we were denied access to the hall where the detainees were held en masse.
“They were inflicting torture according to the soldiers’ rank. They had the soldiers in the hall grouped based on their rank. One colonel was mistakenly seated among the lieutenant colonels. When he pointed out the mistake, they regrouped him with the colonels, saying, ‘Idiot, he doesn’t know he’ll be beaten more there.’
“A female police officer named Elif came rubbing her foot. She hurt her foot by kicking detainees. A young police officer likewise hurt his hand. A colleague of his jokingly warned him, ‘Pal, don’t hit that hard.’
“They make privates beat their commanders, constantly provoking them by saying, ‘This happened to you because of this scum.’ They also brought a group of 30 or 40 cadets in full uniform. They were utterly in shock. They had obviously been beaten in the bus while they were being brought here.
“They designated the Keçiören Teaching and Research Hospital for the treatment of soldiers who were in serious condition. They sent them there if they were in critical condition, fearing the consequences. The ground floor of the hospital was filled with tortured soldiers, I subsequently heard. Plastic surgeons were cosmetically covering up the soldiers’ visible wounds. If only those doctors would also speak out…
“From the moment I went there, I tried to do my job and record everything I saw in the report as faithfully as possible. I tried to send the soldiers in poor condition to the hospital. Since I recorded everything I saw, they sent me to a back room to ‘get some rest.’ I subsequently left the medical profession when I realized I couldn’t continue on where I worked. Everyone I examined that day was tortured to various degrees. Keeping people in those conditions in the gym was torture in itself.”
After the coup attempt, torture became widespread and systematic in Turkish detention centers, a fact evidenced by the UN special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.
“[I]n the immediate aftermath of the failed coup, torture and other forms of ill-treatment were widespread, particularly at the time of arrest and during the subsequent detention in police or gendarmerie lock-ups as well as in improvised unofficial detention locations such as sports centers, stables and the corridors of courthouses,” the special rapporteur found on his mission to Turkey between November 27 and December 2, 2016.
Turkey also vetoed the publication of a torture report by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT). CPT, a Council of Europe-affiliated body combatting torture and other ill-treatment through unannounced visits to places of detention of member states, which had conducted inspections between August 28 and September 6, 2016 in Turkey.
The delegation’s visit came amid widespread allegations raised first by Amnesty International, which stated that it had collected credible evidence that detainees in Turkey were beaten, tortured, and on some occasions raped in official and unofficial detention centers across the country.