By Apostolos Doxiadis*
It’s a story as old as totalitarianism, a story sadly still replayed whenever new opportunities arise, every time with new actors: young intellectuals or idealists—nowadays often generally bundled under the term ‘activists’—many of them, no doubt, driven by the noblest intentions, end up as the apologists and inadvertent propagandists of the most cruel and inhuman regimes. A usual term for such people is ‘useful idiots’, though a kinder disposition might term them simply naive and gullible, people whose innocence is often aggravated by youth and a sheltered upbringing. These lead them to develop an ideologically-driven myopia that blinds them to the obvious: that they are being used as tyrants’ advocates. The tragic irony here is that this advocacy is provided by people who, by their worldview and affiliations, should be the first to oppose inhuman regimes and denounce their crimes.
Some generally available historical examples are handy illustrations of this abomination: in the 1920s, some Western intellectuals were raging about the wonders of Soviet Russia, praising it as a paragon of freedom and democracy, while others, driven by a different sort of idealism, were extolling the utopia of Fascist Italy. In the 1930s those fashions matured, with huge numbers in the West becoming worshipful admirers of Stalin or Hitler. Not just the young—always particularly prone to the ideological virus—but mature men and women, European and American intellectuals and artists, applauded the Moscow Trials as a welcome cleansing of the USSR of its reactionaries, traitors, fascists, Trotskyites and imperialists spies; at the same time, others were admiring the manly, new society being built by that great visionary of human and social fulfilment, Adolf Hitler, giving flesh and blood to a society of Nietzschean Übermenschen.
World War II destroyed the last vestiges of arguments for the latter side, but significantly augmented the arguments for the former. The tyrannical despot of the USSR, but now also of the newly established so-called ‘People’s Republics’, i.e. the totalitarian dictatorships imposed by Soviet influence on Eastern Europe, was hailed as a lover of peace, freedom and true democracy—standing firm against the degenerate, capitalist West. And so, in the late 1940s and 1950s, and even later, it was fashionable for intellectuals living in Western democracies, to consider McCarthyism as the worst abomination of the Cold War. In other words, a despicable, yet very short-lived affair that resulted in a few hundred prison sentences and temporary unemployment for some thousands, mostly artists, was considered a capital crime against humanity. McCarthyism was certainly no joke. But it became one, and a very macabre one at that, when it compared with the tragedy it erased from Western view, under the expert guidance of Soviet propaganda-masters. This was the deadly purges of dissidents in Eastern Europe, and the Gulag concentration camps in the USSR, being carried out at exactly the same period. For many Western intellectuals, the over two and half million innocents murdered by Stalin’s terror machine—some historians raise the figure to ten million—did not count. The one-year prison sentence of the Hollywood Ten (ten people, not ten million) did.
One new instance of this old tragedy, which I would call farcical if it did not involve the deaths of human beings, was played out at the recent meeting of the European Parliament’s Committee of Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE), prompted by a letter of one hundred (no less) Members of the Parliament, asking the body to probe alleged human rights violations by the Greek state along its Turkish border. At the center of these was that the Greek police assassinated Pakistani migrant Muhammad Gulzar, and wounded six of his fellows—on Turkish ground. The Committee’s meeting, significantly, was prompted by reports by two organizations, Bellingcat and Lighthouse Reports, and a group calling itself Forensic Architecture. The three together created a video where they sum up their purportedly scientific investigations, which, in Bellingcat’s phrasing, “demonstrate that Greek security forces likely used live rounds on 4 March 2020 against refugees and migrants trying to break through the Greek-Turkish border,” live rounds, they further surmise, caused the death of Mr. Gulzar and the wounding of the six unfortunate young migrants.
Let us overlook in this pronouncement the fact that the adverb “likely” is an unsuitable companion for the verb “demonstrate,” the first being an indicator of a probabilistic argument whereas the latter of an absolute one. (After all, you couldn’t expect to be taken seriously as a witness in a trial by starting your deposition: “I am absolutely certain that maybe…”—right?). And we must also overlook other instances of probabilistic quantifiers (“possibly”, “probably”, etc.), if we are to take the organizations’ report seriously. One might reasonably argue, the use of such quantifiers displays a healthy scepticism and should count as a plus, not a minus, indicating the reports’ seriousness. And this would be correct, if the report concluded in doubt. Sadly, it does not. They are definitely aimed against Greece “demonstrating” (their word) that it is “highly probable” that the people who killed Muhammad Gulzar and wounded the others were indeed Greeks. No other suspects are mentioned: thus, the “high probability” of Greek guilt and the zero probability (none is given) of anybody else’s, leads to the organization’s video implicit conclusion—the same which 100 MEPs swallowed, bait and hook, accusing Greece in the committee meeting, their anger untempered by “maybes.” If nothing else, the MEPs should be more careful in their reading and viewing, and know that a congregation of “maybes” does not make a “certainly.”
A lengthier article could be written to analyze moment by moment the video constructed by the organizations, which make an agonized effort to present their observations as scientific truth. Of course, such a venture would be like shooting fish in a barrel. For, if one disregards their fancy digital diagrams and their scientific-sounding jargon, “geolocate” and suchlike, the methodology of their research shows complete ignorance as to what makes a bundle of independent facts, actual or “probable,” become a logical argument that can reasonably substantiate the most grievous accusation of murder.
It appears that the driver of the scientific pretense behind the video is the group called Forensic Architecture. I see no obvious connection of their work to architecture, apart from the fact that I read that some of its members have degrees in that discipline. But to the degree that it is forensic, it wildly overshoots the declared aims of that science. Unless, that is, the group’s members have acquired their view of forensics from the TV-series CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. For it is only there that forensics experts—who, incidentally, have more to show for their expertise than a degree in architecture—actually lead a criminal investigation, questioning subjects, and delivering the final verdict as to who is the culprit of the crime.
Real forensic scientists are lab rats, who know full well that theirs is an auxiliary discipline, their scientific work aimed to assist a process run by people who know how to conduct an actual investigation, as a rule a police force. Of course, one of Forensic Architecture’s creators said in an interview that what they are doing is, in his own words, “counter-forensics,” i.e. taking the work of the police and putting it “to the judgment of a social and political forum.” (They do no such thing in the case of the Evros shooting, incidentally: on the contrary, they adopt and promote the version put forth by Turkish state.) That is of course their prerogative. But however much freedom they grant themselves, they cannot make forensics a stand-alone discipline. When done properly, forensics provides facts that are fed into a wider, encompassing logical process with more complex standards of truth. And so forensic scientists have assisted not only police investigations, but, among others, archaeological, historical or epidemiological research. Yet even in those case, it was the archaeologists and historians and epidemiologists who make the final synthesis—not the lab rats.
When, as in the case of the incident at the Greek-Turkish border, the event investigated is murder, the only legitimate sounding board for the validity of a forensic investigation is—at least in a democratic state—a court of law, which applies its own, time-tried methods of validation of evidence, cross-examination of experts and witnesses and rigorous standards of proof. There, a forensic proposition does not stand merely by the fact that its authors claim it as scientific. It is subjected to scrutiny and can be found inexact, incomplete, insufficient, misleading or plainly false. But no such ulterior testing ground seems to concern the self-styled sleuths who put together the video accusing Greece of murder—unless that ground is the Turkish state.
For, amazingly, the organizations seem to think it a worthwhile point to their favor that their ‘findings’ are taken seriously by Erdogan’s regime, i.e. a regime notorious for its continuous infringement of civil liberties and violation of human rights. Apart from the fact that they include as part of their evidence videos from TRT World, the state-funded Turkish news channel that has been repeatedly accused for fake news promotion, they include as “further confirmation” (sic) of their claims, the opinions of Hakan Cavusoglu. They present him, as he is indeed, as “the chairman of the Turkish Parliamentary Human Rights Investigation Committee (!), a member of the AKP.” (The AKP is Erdogan’s party.) Incredibly, the organizations cite the “Human Rights Investigation Committee” of the Turkish Parliament,, without any sense of the irony of its appellation. Indeed, who better to advise us on the infringement of human rights in Turkey, than their “Human Rights Investigation Committee,” run by a member of Erdogan’s bloody regime, with its concentration camps, its tens of thousands of innocent prisoners, its torture chambers and the dozens of political prisoners pronounced simply as ‘found dead in their cells’. Makes perfect sense! Want the truth on what really happened at the German-Polish border on September 1, 1939, when according to German news the Poles attacked the poor Germans who struck back in defense? Why, who better to ask than Dr. Goebbels, German Minister or Propaganda! Want to find out what killed those tens of thousands of Polish officers in the Katyn forest, in 1940? Who better to address than the Soviet Politburo’s commissar on Human Rights!
Sadly, the three organizations’ de facto alliance with Erdogan’s regime, as well as their credibility of their claims, carries an echo of Western Stalin lovers of the 1930s.
Apart from that, there is nothing that stands up to scrutiny in the three organizations’ video claiming to substantiate the crime of the Greek state—nothing in the sense of inferential validity that is. It’s just an assemblage of impressionistic images, random facts and wannabe facts on some things that went on at certain date in a certain place. Plus a lot of fancy diagrams and graphics giving scientific aura to what is already apparent in the images. But the attempted logical construction is laughable. This potpourri would not stand a minute’s scrutiny in a court of law, if presented as an attempt to prove something.
Looking closer at the organizations’ report, we can class their logical mistakes under three types. In increasing order of flimsiness, the first type comprises the work that they are most proud of, i.e. what is presented as forensics.
The organizations’ flagship is a 16-minute video constructed for maximum rhetorical effectiveness—not logical demonstration. It is composed of hand-held shots of migrants on the ground giving authenticity, technical diagrams and analyses providing the purported scientific rigor, and statements by officials, as well as the narrator’s cool voice telling us of the hard work the organizations have done.
We learn near the end of the video that it supposed to have convinced us that it is “highly probable” (and thus, the implication goes, other suspects lacking, pretty much certain) that Greek soldiers or policemen killed Mr. Gulzar and wounded the other migrants. But no direct connection is established in the film of any event shown or stated to those violent acts. The film’s purported scientific work is never convincingly connected to the act of murder. At one point there is auditory evidence of gunshots with some nice diagrams and an expert’s opinion that they were fired 40 meters from the camera (what camera? who was operating it?). There is another shot in which an off-camera voice of unidentified ownership shouts “gunfire from the Greece (sic) army;” a new shot of a man shouting on camera, his face artificially blurred, that someone has been shot. And then many pictures of wounded men being carried to Turkish ambulances, rather too conveniently waiting on a nearby road. Then follow pictures of out-of-focus soldiers or policemen or something standing immobile on the Greek side, carrying guns. They are “geolocated,” we learn, at 40 meters from a place where, the acoustics experts tell us, some shots were fired. This happened, we learn, twenty-five minutes after the shootings of Mr. Gulzar and the others. Who fired those shots? In which direction were they fired? By whom? All that we know is that apparently they did not harm anyone. So, why are they so thoroughly analyzed for us? Well, apparently because they were the only ones handy for expert analysis.
The things the video proves, according to the narrator’s direct statement, is that a) live rounds were fired on the fourth of March near the Greek-Turkish border, b) at least seven migrants were wounded on the Turkish side, one of them lethally, c) the wounded retreated away from the Greek border. Granted. But how do these three facts show it was the Greeks who shot those poor people? Frankly, they don’t. Why should we believe it then? Well, according to the video’s because they think that that is “highly probable.” And why is that? Because they found no other evidence, they tell us. But that could be just their own sloppiness and inefficiency. And why not? How do we know with what investigative resources they were working? Where were they operating? In Greece? In Turkey? On the dates these events happened? Later? Who were their witnesses? Did they conduct a crime scene investigation? Did they do ballistics—a branch of forensics, too—to determine the direction of the bullets? No, of course not. Rather, it seems to appear that they worked with whatever information was made available to them—almost exclusively from and by the Turkish side.
The organizations’ video certainly does not demonstrate, or even substantiate, that the bullet that killed Mr. Gulzar was fired from the Greek side. , ‘Evidence’ for Greek culpability consists of such things as, for example, the claim by the narrator that ‘no soldiers are seen on the Turkish side’. What that really means, of course, is that none are seen in the images the video’s editor managed to acquire and chose to present. But that makes total sense: since their material came from Turkey, they would not be given access to any videos showing Turkish soldiers. Still, to be slightly more credible, the narrator should have said that ‘no uniformed soldiers are seen on the Turkish side.’ For it is an established fact that the Turkish soldiers and policemen taking refugees to the Greek border and, often under threat of death, forcing them to attempt to cross it illegally, are in civilian clothes. This is amply apparent in this video, taken on the same days as that of the incident the three organizations mention.
All that the video’s ‘proof’ boils down to is the pathetic argument that it must have been the Greek soldiers who shot the migrants because the video shows us some Greek soldiers standing near the border. Elementary, my dear viewers. But by the same argument, John Kennedy was killed by the Dallas policemen who lined the streets as the presidential motorcade went by—after all they carried weapons and they certainly were close enough. And as they show us no Turkish soldiers, they couldn’t have killed Mr. Gulzar. Sure. And Lee Harvey Oswald does not appear on the Magruder film of the Kennedy assassination, and no film shows him on the scene.
A piece of evidence that the organizations’ video makes a lot of noise about, as pointing to the guilt of the Greeks for the killing of Mr. Gulzar, is that the lethal bullet was 5.56 mm caliber. This emerges from the Turkish autopsy, carried on by four (!) medical examiners. (One wonders: is that the usual number of doctors the Turkish state assigns to the autopsy of a dead migrant? ) The video’s makers somehow seem to think this fact clinches their case as, they claim, ‘Greek special forces use weapons of that caliber.’ And so they do indeed. But so do also the men of the Turkish Army, as well as the Turkish Gendarmerie and Police, the two corps mostly employed in border patrols. Numerous weapons with a 5.56 mm caliber are used by the Turkish forces, such as the M16, the M4, the HK33 and most of all the MKE MPT and the Kale KCR-556. In fact, the latter two are the most frequently used weapons by Turkish security forces, as they are manufactured in Turkey.
The faulty arguments based on purported forensic evidence in the video are also burdened by numerous sins of omission. We mention only two: a) Only an entry wound is mentioned for the bullet that killed Muhammad Guzar. Yet a weapon of the type the video mentions, had it been fired at a range of around 50 meters (as the video suggests, with no proof), would almost certainly perforate the body and thus also create an exit wound; b) Weapons with 5.56 mm caliber can kill a person at a distance of at least one kilometer. And so there is absolutely no reason why the shooter who fired the shots against the migrants on that day would be visible in any of the videos available to the three organizations, all taken from a distance of a few meters from the victims.
To conclude with the forensic shortcomings: the purportedly forensic material the organizations present as ‘evidence’ violates the prime rule of any such use in a proper criminal investigation, for which the legal term is ‘chain-of-custody.’ By this, any piece of forensic material, in order to be considered at all as evidence, must be validated by added proof as to who, how, when and under what conditions obtained it, and also on how it ended up to be presented in a court of law—the only instrument a democratic state has for determining the truth in such serious matters. Lacking chain-of-custody, all the material provided by the organizations is inadmissible, not just in a court of law but as the basis of proof to rational people.
The second type of deductive faux-pas made by the organizations in the material which spurred the 100 MEPs into action, has already been hinted at. But the proper emphasis is required: almost all the material used, except a video, in long shot, of a group of Greek policemen doing absolutely nothing, is from the Turkish side.
The opinions of Turkish authorities on the incident are represented by the quartet of doctors who drafted the autopsy report, Mr. Hakan Cavusoglu’s tweet, but also in audiovisual material provided by the Turkish side. Even if we assume that the organizations have reasons to consider the Greek authorities blatant liars and the Turkish authorities devoted truth-lovers, one is left wondering why their investigators didn’t address Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, created by the EU with the express purpose of guarding European countries’ borders. This would have been particularly useful to determining the truth since, at the time of the incident, Frontex had increased its surveillance capacity at the Greek borders. A serious journalist—let alone a serious criminal investigator—would certainly get their view on what happened on the day of the incident, a view that, one might reasonably think, would count at least as much as the positions of the Turkish state. After all, the European Union is a democratic institution, in which lying by state or federal employees is punishable by law. Erdogan’s Turkey isn’t. Especially since Erdogan has turned autocrat, lying by state employees, when it is in the benefit of the state’s propaganda, is not only not punished but rewarded.
The third type of mistake in the case presented by the organizations against Greece is the most grievous of all—in fact it is so grievous that it could end the whole discussion of the so-called evidence before it started, and make any discussion of it superfluous. It consists of a common sense argument that anyone possessing a modicum of intelligence would immediately jump at, in order to counter the claim that it was the Greek state that shot Mr. Gulzar and wounded his fellows. Yet, one hundred Members of the European Parliament, who should by the responsibility they carry be much more prudent in their actions and careful in their words, completely disregarded it, displaying unpardonable ingenuity.
OK, many of the members of the three organizations are young and possibly too ideological for the good of truth. But one wonders: were the 100 MEPs who unquestioningly adopted their views born yesterday? Are the poor fellows completely ignorant of the workings of the real world? For the theory that the three organizations put forth, beyond all their forensics and geolocations and sonograms and whatnot, is simply the following: that uniformed organs of the Greek state killed and wounded individuals on Turkish ground, firing shots from across their border. And you don’t need to be an experienced political analyst—an occasional glance at the international section of any newspaper would suffice—to realize that had such as a thing indeed happened, Turkey’s reaction would definitely not be an investigation by its Human Rights Committee (!) but an immediate, direct response, most probably a retaliation in action, not words. But no. It appears that one hundred politicians elected to represent European countries thought it likely that Greek soldiers can stand near their border, shoot people on Turkish ground, without annoying anyone except activists and the nice humanitarians of the AKP party.
In recent years, Erdogan has embarked on a policy of increasingly hostile acts against Greece, employing a constantly escalating rhetoric of threats, a rhetoric which often rises to dangerous heights, provoking the concern of Western governments. Were an incident such as the one the three organizations claim to have ‘proven’ to actually happen, in which Greek state forces shot people inside Turkey—for it’s not the nationality of the victims but their location that is important here—it would provide a golden opportunity for Turkey’s autocratic and illiberal despot to take aggressive action. It is a textbook case of casus belli, especially for a belligerent regime such as Erdogan’s.
To anyone aware of even the basics of the geopolitical situation it should immediately seem impossible that any Greek government would allow its army or security forces to behave in a way that could trigger such an action. And it would seem even more impossible, that were such an incident against all odds to occur, with Greeks soldiers killing people in Turkey, the Turkish state’s reaction would be to shed humanitarian tears for the poor migrants, i.e. the same migrants they are ruthlessly exploiting, the same that their policemen are beating into subservience, forcing them across the Greek border, in order to cause problems to Greece and the European Union. The Turkish government’s reaction would be to strike, certainly by words and most probably by acts.
Still, poor Mr. Gulzar died and the other six migrants were wounded by 5.56 bullets. Who fired them? If the Greeks did not, as there is not a single shred of evidence that they did, the only other explanation is that their death was an act of provocation, perpetrated on Turkish ground. It is no secret that the Turkish government is using migrants as fodder for its political aims, this past spring having cruelly forced them in what was practically an attempt at an invasion of Greece. The present Turkish regime, meanwhile, has zero regard for civil liberties or human rights, and has repeatedly unleashed extreme, often murderous violence against anyone who disapproves of it. Would the lives and well-being of a few migrants matter to them, if they could be used in a ploy to discredit Greece—a ploy which the ruling party’s ‘Human Rights Investigation Committee’ rushed to embrace? I don’t think so.
Forensic Architecture, as drivers of the recent attack against Greece in the European Parliament, claim on their site that they provide their purported expertise ‘for legal and political processes.’ One can have no quarrel with the legal part—because anything they may claim in a legal context is ultimately testable by the strict judicial standards of proof. But what do they mean when they say they use their purported expertise for ‘political processes’? Unfortunately, I have personal experience confirming what that means: during the years 2016-19, concerned Greek citizens, activist NGOs and individuals, I among them, fought the then Greek government, denouncing their complicity in the illegal and inhuman pushbacks of Turkish dissidents crossing our border and asking for asylum. To no avail. Despite the high publicity given to such cases, the outrage continued, with hooded Greek state operatives transferring by the hundreds Turkish asylum-seekers back to the country they were escaping from, to imprisonment, concentration camps, torture and, for some, death.
The pushbacks of Turkish dissidents were conducted by illegal movements of Greek state operatives near the border, inside Greek territory. There appeared, on news sites, audiovisual material which was used as evidence when the victims relatives took such cases to court. In other words, the inhuman pushbacks offered perfect ground for Forensic Architecture’s Greek members, prominent in the investigation in the death of Mr. Gulzar, to apply their skills in order to aid their fellow human beings suffering a terrible fate in the hands of their own government,. But they did not. They did not offer their services then, nor did they care for the outrage of the pushbacks. Despite the efforts of those of us who fought the pushbacks, hundreds of Turkish citizens perished, by direct complicity of the Greek state—until the new government put an end to the pushbacks. Forensic Architecture was not part of the solution then and thus, in activist talk, they were part of the problem. Yet, they tell us, they act politically. Obviously, the case of the pushbacks didn’t fit their politics. And they put it above the defense of human rights.
The other two organizations, which embraced and promoted the material produced by Forensic Architecture, in their recent unfounded accusations against the Greek State, obviously share the starry-eyed naiveté of the Western intellectuals of the 1930s, who sided with political monsters just because they realized that their own democratic states are not utopias. Well, real-world polities never are—but they are infinitely better than the dystopias ruled by tyrants, such as Erdogan’s despot.
Finally, the 100 MEPs who adopted the incomplete, irresponsible and politically-driven reports of the three organizations, culminating in blatantly false accusations Greece, have only themselves to blame. Was their action a result of sheer irresponsibility, sloppy preparation, feeblemindedness, ideological prejudice, or combinations of the above? Each one of the hundred has to answer that for his or her own self. Collectively, however, their action shames them, as it shames European democracy and respect of human rights and the rule of law. Ultimately, Greece and Turkey are fighting a battle of narratives. The members of the European Parliament who put Greece on the stand on the basis of flimsy accusations, might have hoped that the EU will be praised for its impartiality. Instead, the Union showed to the entire world, including Turkey, that in the name of an unsubstantiated claim to objectivity, it is prepared to easily sacrifice the presumption of innocence of its member states, bypass the truth-finding mechanisms of its own institutions and undermine the bonds of the large, constantly accumulating body of legal and political agreements binding its states together.
* Apostolos Doxiadis is a writer of, among other books, the international bestsellers “Uncle Petros and Goldbach’s Conjecture” and “Logicomix.” He thanks Ms. Vasiliki Poula for her valuable help in research and editorial work for this article.