U.S. House may vote to block F-35 sale to Turkey

Political fallout from the May 16th attacks by Turkish President Recep Erdogan’s security detail against peaceful protesters in Washington, DC continued into Congressional appropriations season, with the introduction of four amendments – by Reps. Dave Trott (R-MI), David Cicilline (D-RI), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), and Don Beyer (D-VA) – to impose sanctions on Turkey, reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).
“We welcome the leadership of Armenian Caucus Co-Chairman David Trott, House Foreign Affairs Committee members Dana Rohrabacher and David Cicilline, and Representative Don Beyer for offering amendments sanctioning Turkey over the May 16th attack by President Erdogan’s bodyguards against peaceful protesters in Washington, DC,” said ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian.  “We join with our Hellenic, Kurdish and Assyrian American friends and the full range of our coalition partners in looking forward to the House Rules Committee clearing these – and any other constructive amendments that may be offered – for timely consideration on the floor of the House, where we expect they will receive broad, bipartisan backing.”
Rep. Cicilline’s proposal would block a pending sale of F-35 jets to Turkey “until the President of the United States certifies that the Government of Turkey is cooperating with the criminal investigation and prosecution of Turkish Government employees involved in the assault on civilians in Washington, DC.”  Rep. Cicilline has been outspoken in condemning the attacks, noting that “this was a particularly brazen act, on the heels of a highly publicized meeting with our President, and one has to wonder why President Erdogan felt so emboldened, that in the bright D.C. sunshine, in front of cameras and hundreds of people, he sent his attack dogs out.  As Secretary Tillerson said, this is simply unacceptable.”
Rep. Trott’s amendment would block the proposed sale of semi-automatic guns to Turkey, targeted for use by Erdogan’s security detail.  Rep. Trott and Rep. Pallone were recently joined by over 30 House members, including House Intelligence Committee Chairman and Ranking Democrat Devin Nunes (R-CA) and Adam Schiff (D-CA), respectively, in calling on Secretary of State Tillerson to block the sale.  House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Democrat Ben Cardin (D-MD) were among the first to express concerns about the pending sale.
Rep. Rohrabacher’s amendment would prohibit the transfer of U.S. defense articles to Turkey and, instead, make them available to Kurdish Peshmerga forces, who have played an instrumental role in the battle against the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL).  Rep. Rohrabacher, who serves as Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe, presided over the hearings spotlighting the Erdogan-ordered attacks in May.
Rep. Beyer’s amendment would ban Erdogan’s security forces who took part in the May 16th attack from securing U.S. visas for future travel to the United States.  Rep. Beyer has been outspoken in condemning the brutal beatings, calling for the expulsion of the Turkish Ambassador to the U.S. and signing multiple Congressional letters condemning the attacks.
These proposed measures – part of over 300 amendments to the National Defense Authorization Bill – are scheduled to be first considered by the House Rules Committee on Wednesday, July 12th.  Amendments approved by the Committee will then be taken up on the House floor as early as Thursday of next week.
The ANCA’s Hamparian captured live videotape at the scene of the May 16th attack, which took place in front of the Turkish Ambassador’s residence, where President Erdogan was scheduled to have a closed-door meeting with representatives of The Atlantic Council, a think-tank in Washington, DC which receives Turkish funding. Hamparian’s video served as source footage for CNN, AP and other news outlets, transforming a violent incident into a global spotlight on Turkey’s violence, intolerance, and aggression.
Hamparian testified before a May 25th Foreign Affairs Subcommittee hearing on this matter. Joining him at the hearing were Ms. Lusik Usoyan, Founder and President of the Ezidi Relief Fund; Mr. Murat Yusa, a local businessman and protest organizer; and Ms. Ruth Wedgwood, Edward B. Burling Professor of International Law and Diplomacy, at Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. Usoyan and Yusa were victims of the brutal assault on May 16th by President Erdogan’s bodyguards.
On June 6th, with a vote of 397 to 0, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously condemned Turkey’s attack, taking a powerful stand against Ankara’s attempts to export its violence and intolerance to America’s shores. H.Res.354, spearheaded by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA), Ranking Democrat Eliot Engel (D-NY), House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD), has received the public backing of House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI). A companion measure has been introduced in the Senate by Senator Ed Markey (D-MA).
The House vote followed broad-based Congressional outrage expressed by over 100 Senate and House members through public statements, social media, and a series of Congressional letters.
On June 16th, US law enforcement issued 18 arrest warrants – including a dozen against Turkish President Recep Erdogan’s bodyguards – in connection to the May 16th attacks.  Two Turkish-Americans have already been arrested for assault, and two Turkish Canadians have also been charged.  During a June 15th press conference, Washington DC Mayor Muriel Bowser and Police Chief Peter Newsham detailed the exhaustive investigation carried out by the Metropolitan Police Department and other law enforcement agencies leading to the arrest warrants.
Mayor Bowser condemned the attacks, calling them an “affront to our values as Washingtonians and as Americans and it was a clear assault on the first amendment.”
Chief Newsham explained, “We have dignitaries that are in and out of this city on a daily basis. Rarely have I seen, in my almost 28 years of policing, the type of thing that I saw on Sheridan Circle on that particular day.  You had peaceful demonstrators that were physically assaulted and the message to folks who are going to come to our city either from another state or from another country is that’s not going to be tolerated in Washington, DC.”
In response to a question from The Armenian Weekly, Chief Newsham acknowledged that investigators are looking into the role of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the May 16th attack, but indicated that, despite the available video and other evidence, there is not yet sufficient probable cause to seek his arrest.
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