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Fairly frequently these days, I see people cynically dismiss discussions of corruption and malfeasance abroad with the claim that we're not really any different.  TARP! Warrantless wiretaps!  Gross miscarriages of justice in the drug war!


Without minimizing the very real problems that exist in the US criminal justice system--Radley Balko is doing God's work--claiming that we're really no different seems to me like sophistry.  It's not as if bribing your way out of tax bills and traffic tickets somehow disempowers privileged elites who fight to protect their position.  Similarly, though the criminal justice system (and the war on drugs) do sometimes abuse the powerless, I submit that it is very difficult to imagine something like this happening to anyone in the United States, or most of Europe:

The core allegation remains the same: a group of senior officers prepared an elaborate plot in 2003 to destabilize and topple the newly elected AKP government. The evidence rests on a set of documents (in Word and other electronic formats) detailing the coup preparations and which the prosecutors say were produced by (and for) the coup perpetrators.

None of the documents have signatures or other authenticating features. None have been traced to the computers used by the defendants. Prosecutors say that the metadata - the names and time stamps on the files - prove the documents' authenticity, even though such metadata can be easily manipulated by altering the system clock and usernames on a computer.

Since the first indictment was produced a year ago, a torrent of evidence has come to light demonstrating beyond any doubt that the Sledgehammer plot is fictional and that the coup documents are fabricated. Most importantly, the documents - both the initial batch and the more recent ones -- contain irrefutable anachronisms that prove they were produced not in 2003, as the prosecution maintains, but in 2009 at the earliest.

Documents that appear to have been prepared in 2003 (judging by their metadata) make references to military units, hospitals, NGOs, and companies that did not exist until years later. They name a gunboat that had not yet been commissioned and a license plate that was yet to be issued. They place many individuals at positions they had yet to occupy. One document (also supposedly from 2003) contains the number and exact text of a 2005 amendment to a law, together with the precise date of the amendment!

There are countless such anachronisms and inconsistencies in the Sledgehammer documents. In addition, two forensic reports commissioned by the defendants (one of which is from a U.S. expert) have independently verified that the handwriting on the disputed CDs is most likely the product of mechanically copying individual letters from an original source. The alleged authors of several of the documents have documented that they were posted abroad or on ships with no access to the computers on which they are supposed to have prepared them. The list of problems with the prosecutors' evidence goes on and on.

Astonishingly, the second indictment is completely silent about all this. There is not a single word about the anachronisms, even though they have been widely discussed in the media and repeatedly brought up by the defendants in court. There is not the slightest effort to account for how information from 2008 or 2009 could have found its way into documents allegedly written in 2003. Even though several forensic reports have spelled out what every teenager already knows, namely that the dates on digital files can be easily altered, prosecutors continue to take the metadata on faith (and as their proof of the coup documents' authenticity).

The rule of law is not where you have trials; the rule of law is where the government cannot use prosecution to eliminate alternative centers of power, because there's no way for the government to get a conviction.  It's true that farther down the socioeconomic ladder, people are tragically, and too frequently, convicted by junk science or bad eyewitness evidence, and we should be aggressively interrogating the system constantly.  But even there, it's hard to imagine prosecutors going forward with something this ridiculous.  And that is a distinction with a difference.

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Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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