They perform acts of witness. It is always the case that what you write after having seen for yourself is always different from what you write (as sometimes you must) from second-hand accounts or the words and images on a computer screen.
And yet sometimes reporters are caught in a twilight zone.
I remember with relative clarity trying to write a story in July 1998 about a terrible explosion that killed seven people and wounded well over 100 others in the front of İstanbul’s historic Spice Bazaar. Anyone who lives in İstanbul would have occasion to be near the fatal spot, and inevitably my first reaction was mild relief that I was not a first-hand witness to a blast that could have blown my eyebrows away. The problem was how to report the incident. Any explosion in a major tourist location is a story, and what my editors wanted to know was whether the bloodshed was the result of a freakish accident (and worth only a paragraph or two) or a much bigger story about a deliberate act of terror designed to scare foreign visitors away from the city.
I was in no position to give the answer. All I could do, responsibly, was repeat without much conviction the authorities’ immediate explanation for what had just occurred. The culprit, they said, was almost certainly a faulty bottled gas canister at a döner stand in front of the market. My own first suspicion was that this was a tale being spun to protect a jittery tourism industry but had not a jot of evidence to support my wild conspiracy. Somehow, the story rested uneasily on my conscience that I had never really discovered the truth.
The consolation is that all these years later, the truth remains elusive. To a generation reared on CSI television dramas where forensic scientists are able to reconstruct the post-war history of Poland from a bent blade of grass -- it might seem incredible to learn that no one can say with conviction what really happened on July 9, 1998. Yet this is not the most unbelievable aspect of the story. Far from trying to persuade the world that a terrorist assault was really an accident, it appears that Turkish prosecutors have spent the last 12 years trying to convince the courts that the very opposite was the case. They have tried to convict without permissible evidence an intelligent and socially concerned young woman of plotting a malicious attack.
Pınar Selek is a sociologist and feminist with a flair for investigating the marginal communities in Turkish society. The case against her is based (it would seem) in part on prejudice against her academic interest in transvestites and Kurdish radicalism. The rest is based on testimony extracted under torture. Not surprisingly, she was acquitted once, twice on appeal and for a third time after the case was reheard last Wednesday. And if anyone thought it was only Ergenekon suspects who spent many years in jail without their cases coming to trial, Ms. Selek spent two-and-a-half years of her life inside on remand. While it looks as though her ordeal is at an end, the higher courts must still approve the lower court’s verdict. Not to do so would be an obvious travesty. No one can now believe a conviction would be safe.
There is no longe