Torture is the issue
Although human-rights abuses
remain widespread in Turkey, Providence-based Textron, Inc., is poised to sell
$4.5 billion worth of attack helicopters to the US ally
by Steven Stycos
They put Xebat Baran in a dark room that smelled of urine and human excrement,
blindfolded him, and tied a long board to his arms, forcing him to stand as
though he were being crucified. Then, the Turkish police in Istanbul hoisted
the board off the ground, so that Baran's feet couldn't touch the floor.
Pulling down his pants, the police applied electricity to his genitals.
Retelling this 10-year-old story is still more torture for Baran. Sitting in
his apartment in West Warwick, with a cup of tea on the table in front of him,
the 33-year-old Kurdish émigré starts to cry and leaves the room
to compose himself.
When he returns, Baran explains that the police had sought his help to locate
two people from his Kurdish village, and he'd feared for their safety. "I
thought my arms were going to pop out," he recalls of the torture. At one
point, his tormentors asked if he were married. When Baran said no, one officer
responded, "Don't worry, you're never going to have a kid."
Eventually the torture stopped, although Baran continued to hear the cries and
screams of other prisoners through the night. In the morning, the police took
him to several Kurdish bakeries and asked him to identify others who might know
the two villagers' whereabouts. Continuing to say that he had no information,
Baran was finally released. But his traumatic experience is hardly isolated. In
their most recent human-rights reports, Amnesty International, Human Rights
Watch, and the US State Department each describe the use of torture by the
Turkish police and military as widespread.
Into this human-rights hellhole, Providence-based Textron, Inc., wants to send
145 of its AH-1Z
KingCobra attack helicopters.
Turkey selected Textron for the $4.5 billion contract in July. Because of
Turkey's abysmal human-rights record, Amnesty International opposes the sale
and is urging the State Department to deny an export license to the huge
weapons maker. But backed by its annual $4.5 million lobbying operation
and $359,000 in contributions during the recent campaign season, Textron -- the
third-largest defense contractor in New England -- is pushing hard for
Human-rights advocates expect the Cobras to be used in southeastern Turkey,
where the Kurdish minority lives under martial law, and where human-rights
violations are most frequent. Like the Kurds in Iraq, Turkish Kurds have been
struggling to establish their own nation since the end of World War I.
Although Kurds are allowed to participate in all levels of Turkish life, they
must do so as Turks, not Kurds. Belief in a united Turkey has led to
repression, including severe restrictions on the use of the Kurdish language on
radio and television. Kurdish agitation, led by the violent leftist Kurdish
Workers Party (PKK), intensified after a military coup toppled the elected
Turkish government in 1980.
In response to both peaceful protest and armed rebellion, the Turkish
government has burned or evacuated 3000 Kurdish settlements in the southeast
since 1984, creating as many as three million refugees, according to Amnesty
International. The army has quieted the armed revolt, diminished the PKK
guerrillas' access to food and support, and captured their leader, Abdullah
American-made helicopters, including Textron Cobras, have played an integral
part in this scorched-earth policy by transporting soldiers in the southeast,
say human-rights groups. They have also been used to bomb unarmed civilians
and, in one instance, to help soldiers abduct, torture, and murder four men,
according to Human Rights Watch.
Because Turkey will not allow human-rights monitors and journalists to visit
the southeast, it's impossible to ensure that Textron's helicopters will not be
used in future human-rights abuses, says Maureen Greenwood, Amnesty
International USA's Washington-based advocacy director for Europe and the
Yet Turkey's membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and
its long history as a strategic ally of the US make it unlikely that the
$4.5 billion deal will be quashed. US jets have used Turkish air bases to
bomb nearby Iraq, and Turkey's military trains with that of another embattled
US ally, Israel. President Bill Clinton warned earlier this year that angering
Turkey could have "far-reaching negative consequences for the United States."
Eager to bolster its stock price, which has lost more than half its value in
the last 18 months, Textron is using Clinton's views to its advantage. "We
agree with the State Department," says Gene Kozicharow, Textron's
Washington-based director of public affairs, referring to Clinton's warning.
But when asked whether Textron agrees with the State Department's damning
assessment of human-rights abuses in Turkey, Kozicharow responded, "I think I'm
going to cut this off, Steve. Talk to you later," and hung up. Textron's chief
executive officer, Lewis Campbell, who lives on Providence's East Side, refused
the Phoenix's request for an interview through another company
Textron, whose defense operations are spread among its four divisions, employs
68,000 workers in plants in 30 countries. The company records
$11.6 billion in annual revenue and is the 10th-largest American defense
contractor, with $1.4 billion in sales to the US government in fiscal
1999, according to a survey in Government Executive magazine. Other than
the Providence headquarters, Textron's New England presence consists of plants
that make auto parts in the New Hampshire cities of Dover and Manchester; and
the Textron Systems plant in Wilmington, Massachusetts, which manufactures
"smart" munitions such as mines and bombs.
In Rhode Island, Textron has bolstered its image as a good corporate citizen by
donating $1.1 million to scholarships for women and minorities at
Providence College, and by helping to establish the Textron Chamber of Commerce
Academy charter school in Providence. The conglomerate's founder, Royal Little,
is fondly remembered for creating the charitable trust that each year pays the
administrative expenses for the United Way of Southeastern New England.
But throughout its corporate history, Textron has been accused of putting
profits ahead of human concerns. In 1948, 9000 workers lost their jobs and two
congressional investigations were launched when the company closed textile
factories in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire and moved
production to South Carolina, Georgia, and Puerto Rico.
Textron's weapons manufacturing has been controversial since the conglomerate
purchased Bell Helicopter, based in Fort Worth, Texas, in 1960. In 1979,
Textron admitted that it had paid $2.95 million to a company in which the
former chief of the Iranian air force had an interest -- while Textron was
finalizing a $500 million helicopter deal with the shah of Iran. That same
year, the company admitted making payments to generals in Ghana and the
Dominican Republic in connection with helicopter sales. The Wall Street
Journal reported that payoffs were made in helicopter deals with Ceylon
(now known as Sri Lanka) and Mexico. And Textron has helped arm dictators in El
Salvador and Indonesia.
In 1992, the company was able to reverse a decision by Richard Cheney, then
secretary of defense, that development and construction of the V-
Osprey Tilt Rotor aircraft was unnecessary. Lobbying by Textron persuaded
Congress to reinstate the project, the cost of which is estimated by the
Defense Department at more than $36 billion. The Osprey was expected to go
into full-scale production soon, but the Marines asked for a delay after four
soldiers were killed this past Tuesday, December 12, during a training exercise
in North Carolina -- the second Osprey crash this year, according to the New
York Times. The crash came not long after the Associated Press reported the
findings of the Pentagon's top civilian supervisor of weapons testing: that
although the Osprey is "operationally effective," it has not proven to be
"operationally suitable," meaning that the hybrid helicopter-airplane's use
poses maintenance and repair costs that may be unacceptably high.
SITTING WITH Baran at the dining-room table of his West Warwick home is Bawer
Azadi, another Kurdish immigrant who has established a new life in Rhode
Island. Like Baran, he is using a pseudonym and declines to be photographed. If
they are identified, the two men fear, the Turkish government will retaliate
against their relatives in Turkey.
Azadi, who is also in his early 30s, fled Turkey less than two years ago,
leaving behind a profitable tour-bus business and three homes. Now, he works in
the jewelry industry and as a store clerk, making half of what he earned in
Turkey. But Azadi doesn't regret leaving. He tells of being blindfolded and
beaten by police for two days after refusing to be an informant, and he was
arrested on another occasion for attending a celebration of the Kurdish new
year. A friend, Azadi says, was killed for reading a Kurdish newspaper. An
uncle who was arrested last year in the Izmir bus station has not been seen
since. Describing his decision to emigrate, Azadi says, "My friends were being
killed one by one. I knew my turn was coming."
Like Baran, Azadi urges Textron's Campbell to reconsider the company's
helicopter deal with Turkey. "That person who makes the decision to sell
helicopters to Turkey," he says in Kurdish as Baran translates, "should imagine
he was born a Kurd and living in a Kurdish village. Then, this village has been
bombed by Cobra helicopters. Once he can imagine this vision, he could decide,
`Should I send these helicopters to Turkey?' "
Another thing US decision-makers might consider: although Kurds are the most
frequent victims of Turkey's human-rights violations, they are hardly the only
In 1999, an elected delegate to the Turkish parliament was prevented from
taking her oath of office because she was wearing a Muslim headscarf, according
to Human Rights Watch. Also last year, the president of the Turkish Human
Rights Association was sentenced to a year in prison for using the phrase "the
Kurdish people" in a speech. In addition, the fundamentalist Muslim mayor of
Istanbul was imprisoned, and banned from politics for life, for reading a few
lines of a poem that did not contain any advocacy of violence.
Free speech is regularly suppressed in Turkey, according to the US State
Department. Books are banned and newspapers seized. Last year, an appellate
court upheld the imprisonment of nine students, for up to eight years, for
unfurling a protest banner in parliament. Also in 1999, poet Yilmaz Odabasi was
jailed for telling a judge, "I am ashamed to be in the same era and country as
you"; cartoonist Dogan Guzel was sentenced for "insulting the president"; and
playwright Mehmet Vahi Yazar and four actors were imprisoned for performing a
play that was "insulting [to] the military."
In 1998, in response to pressure from human-rights groups, the State Department
set eight human-rights benchmarks that Turkey supposedly must meet before
Textron receives an export license for the Cobras. According to Amnesty's
Greenwood, a coalition of human-rights groups told State Department officials
in October that, although Turkey has taken small steps to improve human rights,
"there hasn't been major progress" on the whole.
Technically, Congress could overturn a State Department decision to grant an
export license, but that has never happened. And although congressional
opposition exists, it appears to fall far short of the necessary majority.
Neither of Rhode Island's US senators has joined that opposition. Although
Democrat Jack Reed is concerned about human rights and Turkey's continuing
occupation of Cyprus, he supports the helicopter sale, according to press
secretary Greg McCarthy, because Turkey is "an ally and NATO partner, and a
country that's strategically located."
Republican Lincoln Chafee, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee,
admits he knew little of the issue before Kurds approached him this fall at a
town meeting in Providence. He refused to sign a congressional letter
supporting the sale, because "as those fellows at the town meeting said, Turkey
uses these helicopters against the Kurds." But when asked if he would sign a
letter opposing the sale, Chafee takes a long pause and remarks, "I'd have to
find out more about it."
On the House side, US Representative-elect James Langevin "would be inclined to
oppose the sale," according to spokesman Ray Sullivan. In April, US
Representatives Robert Weygand and Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island and James
McGovern of Worcester, Massachusetts, along with 26 others (none of them from
New England), wrote to Clinton, urging him to deny an export license. Clinton's
response was noncommittal, but he lauded Turkey's "significant progress" on
Because contract negotiations between Textron and Turkey are unlikely to be
completed until spring, George W. Bush will have to make the export-license
decision. But recent congressional action suggests that Textron and Turkey will
EARLIER THIS year, the US House of Representatives buckled rather than confront
a historical violation of human rights that was Turkey's most horrific abuse
ever. In 1915 and 1916, Turkey forcibly deported its Armenian population to the
Syrian desert to create living space for the Balkan Turks who lost their
property during the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, according to the
Encyclopedia of Genocide (ABC-CLIO, 1999). Some Armenians were massacred
outright; more than 500,000 others died from hunger or disease as they were
deliberately denied food and water on the forced march. The Turkish government
continues to deny that the elimination of its Armenian population was
A coalition of more than 80 representatives, including Kennedy, Weygand, and
McGovern, sponsored a House resolution recognizing the Armenian genocide. The
resolution had no legal effect, but urged federal employees to be aware that
the Turkish government sanctioned "ethnic cleansing" during World War I.
The measure lay dormant in committee until September, when House leaders
suddenly pushed a vote to aid the re-election campaign of US Representative
James Rogan, a Republican from California. One of the House floor managers
during President Clinton's impeachment trial, Rogan represents a district with
a large Armenian population.
Once House leaders decided to move the resolution, it easily passed in
committee and headed to the House floor. Outraged representatives of Turkey's
government threatened to halt negotiations with Textron and instead buy
helicopters from a Russian-Israeli consortium, according to Bloomberg News
Service. Worried that the $4.5 billion deal might collapse, Textron
lobbied the congressmen who represent the area surrounding the company's Fort
Worth plant to kill the resolution. "We felt it was important to support
Turkey," explains Kozicharow.
President Clinton also sided with Turkey, telling House Speaker Dennis Hastert
in a letter, "We have significant interests in this troubled region of the
world: containing the threat posed by East and Central Asia, stabilizing the
Balkans and developing new sources of energy." In response, Hastert withdrew
the resolution in late October. He conceded that it would have passed but
explained, "Every patriotic American should heed the president's request."
The outcome disappointed Baran, who saw the resolution as important to the
Kurdish human-rights struggle. "Had Turkey been condemned with Armenian
genocide, would she be able to get American weapons to conduct another genocide
against Kurds?" he asks. "I do not believe so."
But as has happened so many times, Turkey prevailed. "They play that card NATO
has given them," says Baran, "and they play it at the highest efficiency."
The Armenian-Kurdish lobby did, however, receive a consolation prize. "We sent
a message back to the Speaker," says Aram Hamparian, executive director of the
Washington-based Armenian National Committee of America, by helping to defeat
Rogan handily at the polls.
As for the current question, the signs are mixed. Amnesty's Greenwood is not
ready to concede that Textron will receive permission to sell the Cobras to
Turkey. In 1996, she notes, congressional pressure stopped the sale of 10
Cobras to Turkey and prevented US financing of a $38 million sale of
armored personnel carriers in 1998. Across the Atlantic, the European Union
(EU) shows no reluctance to hold the NATO ally accountable for its past. In
November, the EU passed a resolution recognizing the Armenian genocide and
calling on Turkey to withdraw from Cyprus.
But in Washington, where Textron exerts major lobbying force for foreign arms
sales and other business interests, the corporation's successful effort against
the Armenian resolution was only one of several recent victories on Capitol
Hill. According to the most recent disclosure forms, Textron devoted
$4.5 million to lobbying Congress between July 1, 1999, and June 30, 2000.
In addition, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, Textron made
$359,230 in contributions during the recent federal political campaign, 63
percent of which went to Republicans.
The expenditures paid off. Since July 1999, according to its lobbying reports,
Textron has successfully pushed for improved trade relations with China, and
against stronger automobile fuel-efficiency standards and the proposed
patients' bill of rights. But most of Textron's lobbying focuses on military
sales. According to its report, the company worked to ensure that a variety of
Textron weapons, including the Osprey helicopter-plane, the Sensor Fuzed Weapon
(manufactured at the Wilmington, Massachusetts, plant), unmanned planes, and
the lightweight howitzer, would be financed by the Defense Appropriations Act.
Textron pushed legislation to support sales by its Cessna Aircraft division to
the FBI, CIA, Drug Enforcement Administration, Coast Guard, and Customs
Textron also pushed hard for President Clinton's $1.3 billion anti-drug
aid package for Colombia, a large portion of which will pay for the purchase of
42 Textron-produced Huey helicopters. As part of its Colombia lobbying efforts,
according to Newsweek, the company brought helicopters to Washington's
Reagan National Airport and took congressmen for rides.
The controversial aid package for Colombia passed, but with human-rights
conditions. Then in August, Clinton used his authority to waive the
human-rights provisions, because doing so was in the "national security
interest." Once again, Textron made a big sale.