Does NATO’s Outgoing Head Have Kurdish Skeletons in His Closet?

The secret story of how the outgoing head of the most powerful military alliance landed his job “has everything,” according to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

“It has the Kurds. It has the destruction of an entire TV station. Corrupt deals between intelligence agencies and the judiciary. The corruption of a Scandinavian country, Denmark. And the head of that country, the prime minister, doing a corrupt deal to get his job,” Assange told teleSUR English in an exclusive interview.
Continuing, Assange lamented the “whole thing, signed off, explicitly by Barack Obama.”

The story with “everything” is now a pending case before the European Court of Human Rights, but it begins two years ago, with the prosecution of a Kurdish language television station in Denmark.

Something Rotten in Denmark

In 2012 Roj TV became the first television station in Denmark’s history to be charged with having links to a terrorist organization. The Kurdish station was slapped with a fine worth nearly US$900,000, and eventually Roj TV was pushed off the airwaves.
The decision by a Danish court came after seven years of lobbying by the Turkish embassy for the station to be shut down, due to Roj TV’s broadcast into Turkey itself.
As Assange explained, “They operate out of Denmark, beam their satellite signal up, it gets broadcast down by Eurosat and people in Kurdistan and in Turkey are able to watch it.”

“It’s very important to have a national language broadcaster. But that had infuriated the [Turks] over many years. And so they had been making constant complaints to Denmark saying ‘Ah, they’re too critical. They´re too biased. We think they’re promoting terrorism, etc,’” he stated.

Danish broadcast authorities responded to Turkish criticism of Roj TV by launching three investigations into the station’s programming over a number of years, but found no evidence the station was supporting terrorism. Despite the broadcast authority’s investigations, by the middle of the decade, the Roj TV issue became a major sticking point in Danish-Turkish relations.

When then Danish prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen was nominated a candidate for secretary general of NATO, Turkey was the only member state to object. Ankara’s embassy finally got its way in February 2014, when Roj officially closed its doors, after the Supreme Court upheld the revoking of the station’s Danish broadcast license — effectively closing the last option of appeal within Denmark.

At the time, the long-running dispute seemed closed, though some Danes questioned the implications of the decision on free speech.

“It cannot be true that anti-terrorism legislation in a democratic country must mean that the press cannot provide information freely without fear of legal repercussions,” the left wing Red-Green Alliance, Enhedslisten stated earlier this year.


However,the following May WikiLeaks released a bombshell: secret documents indicating Rasmussen had struck a shadowy deal with the government in Ankara. Under the secret deal, the Turkish government agreed to support Rasmussen’s bid to head NATO if Danish authorities shut Roj down.

The leaked document that WikiLeaks published as 09COPENHAGEN241_a and dated May 26, 2009, brought light to the inner workings of the deal.

The cable was allegedly sent by Terence McCulley, the Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. embassy in Copenhagen at the time.

“Danish pledges to intensify efforts against Roj-TV —  among the measures offered to Turkey for not blocking former PM Rasmussen’s appointment as NATO secretary general — have given additional impetus to the investigation (into Roj TV),” the cable states.

The cable’s author further explained “senior officials” were trying to “tread carefully, to avoid the appearance of a quid pro quo (i.e., sacrificing freedom of speech in exchange for a high level post).”

Yet while officials were trying to keep things quiet, a major investigation into the station was being conducted behind closed doors. The cable states a criminal investigation into the station was focusing on establishing links between the PKK and Roj TV.

“No clear evidence has been found to connect the broadcaster with the PKK,” the cable stated.

However, authorities also appear to have been frantically looking at any possible way to shut Roj TV down. While commenting that the “Danes would welcome an opportunity to take action against Roj-TV and rid themselves of this issue once and for all,” the cable bemoans, “they will not move without some new evidence or approach that can shield them against charges of trading principle for the former prime minister’s career.”

However, as Assange argues, this is exactly what happened in reality. Under the deal, Rasmussen recruited Danish prosecutors and intelligence agents to “crush” Roj TV, as Assange described it.

“They were going to try all different methods and use creative tax investigations — it even uses that word ‘creative’ — in the cable to work out how to smash (Roj TV),” Assange said.

Today, Roj TV is appealing the Danish decision to remove it from the airwaves in European courts. “And this cable is the star exhibit for that case,” Assange finished.

The U.S. Connection

If Assange’s allegations prove true, it means the head of the largest military alliance in the world secured his job through shady backroom deals. However, there is more to the story than that. Supporting Assange’s allegation, Roj TV’s lawyer, Bjorn Elmquist, has alleged the deal was done with Washington’s approval.

“There was big pressure from the (United States) to think in a creative manner how to indict and how to prove that Roj television was promoting terrorism. And in the end, the indictment was there,” Elmquist told RT earlier this year.

“The (United States) intervened because they liked very much (for the) then-Danish prime minister to become secretary general. And therefore they felt confident with him as a secretary general,” he said.

The White House probably supported Rasmussen’s NATO bid due to his political conservatism as prime minister of Denmark, according to David Gibbs, a professor of history at the University of Arizona.

“(Rasmussen) was known for shifting the climate of opinion and politics in Denmark to the right, a promoter of neoliberalism in Denmark and also of NATO and U.S. interests,” Gibbs told teleSUR.

As the political and civilian head of NATO, Rasmussen has been no different, Gibbs explained.

“Not atypically, he is obviously very loyal to U.S. interests, because that is invariably what the Secretary General of NATO is for. He’s been supportive of pretty much every aspect of U.S. foreign policy, that I am aware of, from the middle east to the Ukraine. That is basically his function,” he said.

Summarizing his take on the WikiLeaks cable, Gibbs said “it seemed like a rather dirty deal.”

Cracking Down on Kurdish Free Speech?

Speaking to teleSUR English, U.S. dissident and academic Noam Chomsky argued the cable is evidence of more than just a questionable appointment of a NATO head.
Chomsky argued the cable illustrates how the United States “continues to support” the repression of the Kurdish people in Turkey. “Turkey’s murderous and destructive repression of its Kurdish population, particularly in the 1990s, relied crucially on a huge flow of U.S. arms, increasing as Turkish terror increased,” Chomsky said.

The U.S. weapons were used by Turkish security forces to fight the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) — the organization Ankara’s embassy in Denmark claimed Roj TV supported.

For decades the PKK fought an armed rebellion against Ankara to carve out an independent state in southern Turkey. Since its founding leader Abdullah Ocalan was captured in 1999, the PKK has tried to draw down fighting with Turkey, and compromise for autonomy instead of independence. The years of conflict has claimed tens of thousands of lives. Around 5,000 ethnic Turks were killed in the war, while over 35,000 Kurds died.

Thousands of Kurdish villages were razed in Turkish efforts to hunt down PKK fighters. Millions of Kurds were displaced. Human rights organizations have accused Turkish security forces of routinely torturing Kurds suspected of having links to the PKK. Kurds themselves say the government in Ankara also repressed Kurdish culture and freedom of expression, though human rights groups have long criticized the government in Ankara for its restrictions on media freedoms – for both Kurds and Turks.

For two years in a row, between 2012-13 Turkey was considered the world’s leading jailer of journalists by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). In 2013 alone, 40 journalists were put behind bars nationwide.

However, a CPJ spokesperson told teleSUR the government has jailed less journalists this year, and “Turkey is no longer the leading jailer of journalists.”

“Following releases this year, there are currently 11 journalists in jail in Turkey. The leading jailers of journalists are now Iran and China,” The CPJ stated.

Yet Kurdish activists say Turkey’s repression of its Kurdish population continues unabated, while the PKK remains listed as a terrorist organization by Ankara, along with the European Union and the United States. The PKK itself denies the claim, instead arguing its goals are to defend Kurdish rights — including the right to self-determination.
“Today, while cultural rights are still mostly withheld, a seemingly unending economic problem exists in the Kurdish southeastern region of Turkey, with unemployment levels reaching as high as 70 percent,” the Alliance for Kurdish Rights (AKR) states on its website. The AKR describes itself as a Kurdish rights advocacy group.

In an interview with AKR, Roj TV’s former director Imdat Yilmaz said the closure of his station was part of a wider pattern of Turkish discrimination against the Kurds, both in Turkey and abroad.

“Turkey wants to put an end to all that is Kurdish,” he said.

Yilmaz said the broadcaster “tried to start a debate about the oppression in Kurdistan,” and provide Kurdish views that are otherwise missing from mainstream debate.

“The Kurdish people sees Roj TV as their own TV station. They finance it and they are therefore the real owners. It is the only station that brings news about the Kurds and what they are experiencing. The Kurdish language, the dialects, the culture survive through the programs in TV. People learn their own language and dance to the music that is played on the screen,” he said.

The Big Picture

While this rare expression of Kurdish culture was being blotted out, Gibbs explained Rasmussen was playing a key role in reshaping NATO to keep it seemingly relevant in the 21st Century.

As Gibbs pointed out, NATO has faced an identity crisis since the end of the Cold War, and has been in desperate need of a facelift.

“During the Cold War it was created to repel or contain a prospective Soviet invasion of Western Europe. And that was its sole function. After the Cold War nobody really knew what the function of NATO was,” Gibbs said.

Gibbs told teleSUR many people expected NATO to disappear along with the Cold War.
“The problem with it is that it is an extension of American power. It is a source of prestige and power for the (United States). It is beneficial to a whole block of vested interests that benefit from it,” he said.

Along with U.S. government interests, Gibbs pointed out NATO is also backed by a chorus of corporate voices. Data from the military spending monitor SIPRI indicates the combined military expenditure of NATO member states makes the alliance by far the largest buyer of armaments on the planet. Yet despite this, the United States has continued to push other NATO members to spend more on defense.

During NATO’s summit in Wales in September, Rasmussen likewise spoke out in favor of more spending on arms.

“When it comes to security, you get what you pay for, and it doesn’t come on the cheap,” he told a press conference during the summit.

“We agree to reverse the trend of declining defense budgets. And raise them over the coming decade,” Rasmussen explained.

To Gibbs, it came as no surprise that Rasmussen was pushing for further militarization of NATO members amid a political standoff in Ukraine.

“There is going to be some kind of organizational re-orientation of NATO along the lines of preparing for some kind of combat with Russia as opposed to the former Soviet Union, and so NATO trying to revert to its old function to some degree,” Gibbs said.
“This is not as simple or cynical a view as some might think. I don’t think that people woke up one morning and decided that they wanted to make Russia an enemy. But in effect, that is what they did. That is, if you treat Russia as an enemy, low and behold they will become an enemy … and now we have a new pretext to justify NATO’s existence, which I think was the real issue all along,” he explained.

Rasmussen was critical to NATO’s self-justification. As a White House spokesperson put it, “Rasmussen’s strategic vision for the alliance has helped guarantee our readiness to meet any threat, and our alliance is stronger because of his leadership.”
The comments were made during a glowing statement bidding Rasmussen farewell as he prepared to formally step down from his post in late September.

“In the final year of his tenure, his leadership has been critical in guiding NATO’s response to unexpected and serious challenges posed to our common security by Russia’s aggressive actions in Ukraine and the growing threat of ISIL in the Middle East,” the White House said.

An Ugly Story

So at the end of the story with everything, everyone got what they wanted. Rasmussen received a coveted term at the wheel of NATO, the Obama administration secured a NATO leader firmly aligned with U.S. political interests, NATO was spared from obsolescence, and Turkey was able to eradicate one of the Kurd’s few avenues of free speech.

The only party left in the cold were the Turkish Kurds, who still today continue to suffer repression under Ankara’s rule. As Chomsky summed it up, it’s “an ugly story, all around.”

By Ryan Mallett-Outtrim and Chris Spannos

This article was originally published on teleSUR English. It has been slightly edited. The original version can be viewed here.

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