Not long ago, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish preacher in Pennsylvania, were the best of allies. Mr. Erdogan heads an Islamist government, and Mr. Gulen promotes a moderate, pro-Western brand of Sunni Islam that appeals to many well-educated and professional Turks. The two men had a common purpose in confronting and weakening the country’s once-dominant secular military and political leadership.
But the collaboration has since devolved into a bitter power struggle, and now Mr. Erdogan is trying to drag the United States into the argument by threatening to demand Mr. Gulen’s extradition to Turkey. The American government is obliged to examine the request if Mr. Erdogan follows through and formally files one. But right now the threat seems to be nothing more than a crass and cynical attempt to exploit the law, and Turkey’s alliance with the United States, for political payback.
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The power struggle, which erupted last year, has been fueled by a corruption scandal that has ensnared Mr. Erdogan, many of his cronies and his son. Recordings of telephone conversations that surfaced in recent months appear to show widespread corruption in the government. Mr. Erdogan, a once-promising leader who has grown increasingly authoritarian, has charged that Mr. Gulen’s network of followers is behind the scandal.
In an interview on Charlie Rose’s PBS talk show this week, Mr. Erdogan said that the telephone wiretaps were clearly illegal and that he expected the United States to respond positively to the request. That is not a given.
Some experts say there is no legal basis for an extradition request because there are no charges or legal cases against Mr. Gulen, who has permanent-resident status and has lived in rural Pennsylvania since 1997. He left Turkey in the 1990s after being accused of urging the overthrow of the secularist government; he denied the charges, which were dropped when Mr. Erdogan came to power. Mr. Gulen has broad influence in Turkey through followers who hold jobs in the judiciary, the police and the media. But he has denied encouraging them to pursue graft investigations against Mr. Erdogan and his allies.
For the United States to approve an extradition request, the person must be accused of a crime recognized in both jurisdictions, and there must be a reasonable belief that the person committed the crime. It seems unlikely those conditions exist. Washington has not considered Mr. Gulen a threat, or he would not have been able to remain in the country.
So far, the Obama administration has declined to comment publicly on the issue, which has the potential to cause serious and unnecessary new tensions with Turkey. It would be an abuse of extradition law to use it for political reasons. Mr. Erdogan should fight his political battles on his own.