More than 13,000 Turkish military personnel have been dismissed since July 2016 on the basis of an algorithm used by the authorities to assess the alleged “terrorist” credentials or connections of military officers and their relatives in violation of multiple human rights, a report published by the UK-based, non-profit Statewatch on Thursday said.
According to the report, “Algorithmic persecution in Turkey’s post-coup crackdown: The FETÖ-Meter system,” the algorithm was deployed following a coup attempt in July 2016 to profile all active and retired military officers to root out alleged followers of the faith-based Gülen movement. The so-called FETÖ-Meter is an Excel-based algorithm that uses 97 main criteria and 290 sub-criteria to determine their level and degree of “terroristness.”
According to the state-run Anadolu news agency, at least 810,000 individuals were subjected to this profiling algorithm.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the Gülen movement, a faith-based group inspired by Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen, since the corruption investigations of December 17-25, 2013, which implicated then-Prime Minister Erdoğan, his family members and his inner circle.
Dismissing the investigations as a Gülenist coup and conspiracy against his government, Erdoğan designated the movement as a terrorist organization and began to target its members. He intensified the crackdown on the movement following the coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that he accused Gülen of masterminding. Gülen and the movement strongly deny involvement in the abortive putsch or any terrorist activity.
Some of the criteria used by the algorithm include “Getting married within six months (without, or with a very short engagement period)”; “Being divorced between 2015 and 2016”; “Serving as a Military Attaché, or being assigned to a NATO post or another post”; “Having attended a foreign language course abroad”; and “High graduation grade from the Military School and the Military Academy.”
The algorithm was designed by former Rear Admiral Cihat Yaycı and operated by a special unit called The Office of Judicial Proceedings and Administrative Action (ATİİİŞ) within the Turkish Navy. The unit became operational on September 11, 2016. Yet, despite the official starting date, Yaycı said in an interview that his efforts to design such a system started seven or eight years before the coup attempt of 2016 and that the authorities were aware of his work.
Following the abortive putsch, the Turkish government declared a state of emergency and carried out a massive purge of state institutions under the pretext of an anti-coup fight. More than 130,000 public servants, including 4,156 judges and prosecutors, as well as 29,444 members of the armed forces, were summarily removed from their jobs for alleged membership in or relationships with “terrorist organizations” by emergency decree-laws subject to neither judicial nor parliamentary scrutiny.
The report, which includes testimony from several former military officers who have since sought asylum in the EU, highlights that application of the algorithm has been arbitrary and underpinned punitive measures not only against primary suspects but anyone in their social circle, including their family members, colleagues and neighbors.
The report’s authors, Dr. Emre Turkut and human rights lawyer Ali Yıldız, argue that the FETÖ-Meter system therefore gives rise to a dangerous standard of guilt by association, in flagrant violation of many fundamental human rights and principles of modern criminal law.
“The use of catch-all criteria in algorithms to turn entire population groups (in this case from the military ranks) into plausible suspects or ‘threats’, often based on flimsy circumstantial evidence, reveals the danger of unrestrained data collection and analysis,” the report said.
According to the report, the FETÖ-meter bears a worrisome resemblance to the Mischling Test, introduced in Nazi Germany by the Nuremburg Laws, which compromised a series of questions to identify whether a person could be considered a Jew or a Mischling (“of mixed blood”).