The dramatic release of Pastor Andrew Brunson saw the American going from detention in Turkey to sitting in the Oval Office in less than in 24 hours.
Brunson, an American citizen who was a pastor in Turkey for 23 years, was arrested in October 2016 in a sweep of Turkish judges, police officers, soldiers, university professors, civil servants and more in Turkey’s Islamist President Erdogan’s post-coup crackdown against perceived dissidents.
President Donald Trump, who said he and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke about Brunson’s case at “at least once a day,” said of the release:
“We don’t pay ranson – at least not any longer – otherwise bad things will happen, lots of bad things will happen,” ostensibly referring to the $400 million cash payment the Obama Administration released to Iran when the Islamic Republic released four Americans they were holding prisoner.
The payment to Iran was part of a larger $1.7 billion payment, which a number of sources noted was same amount as the increase in the Iranian defense budget for the 2017 fiscal year.
Ergodan indicated on a number of occasions he was holding Brunson for in exchange for his arch rival Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish Islamic cleric living in the U.S. whom Erdogan maintains was behind the July 2016 attempted coup.
A year ago September, Erdogan said, “They want a pastor from us, you have a pastor, too. Extradite him so that we can prosecute him.”
While we will never know the entire story behind the release, Trump’s sanctions against Turkey, which were contributing to the free fall of the Turkish lira, surely played a big part in the release.
Trump was careful to thank Erdogan (twice) in his remarks at a meeting with Brunson, his family, Pompeo, National Security Advisor John Bolton and a numerous members of Congress and his staff who had supported Brunson throughout his ordeal.
“It wasn’t easy to him, if you know what I mean,” Trump commented.
On Twitter, Trump said, “There was NO DEAL made with Turkey for the release and return of Pastor Andrew Brunson. I don’t make deals for hostages. There was, however, great appreciation on behalf of the United States, which will lead to good, perhaps great, relations between the United States & Turkey!”
Turkish officials originally asked for a prison term of 35 years for Brunson. Yet (as presumably directed by Erdogan), a Turkish court sentenced Brunson to no more than three years in prison and released him with time served.
It was a far cry from the previous proceedings, which Sandra Jolley, vice chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, described as follows: “Today’s eleven hours of proceedings were dominated by wild conspiracies, tortured logic, and secret witnesses, but no real evidence to speak of. Upon these rests a man’s life. Worse still, the judge’s decision at the conclusion of today’s hearing to dismiss all of the witnesses called by Pastor Brunson’s defense without listening to a single minute of their testimony is simply unconscionable.”
Clearly, pressure from above had been applied to the Turkish court.
Trump also noted that since he took office, he has been successful in getting 19 American released from overseas prisons, including some held in North Korea and Egypt.
It is a figure worth mentioning. America’s power makes it’s mark most clearly when it comes from a position of strength and moral clarity. The actions of Trump in securing the release of Pastor Brunson as well as many of his other accomplishments in fighting radical Islam – including pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal and sanctioning the Islamic Republic, halting financial aid to the Palestinian Authority over their payments to terrorists and trouncing ISIS in Iraq and Syria, to name a few – have made significant and positive differences in the world.