During the darkest days of the Cold War, a “hot line” was installed connecting the White House and the Kremlin as a safeguard against the inadvertent launch of nuclear missiles that would trigger the Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) of both countries. Picking up this red telephone, at a time when all other phones were black, would ring the companion phone at the other end. A similar arrangement appears to exist between the editorial offices at the Denver Post and Governor Hickenlooper’s policy staff. More than one legislator has discovered that an editorial page flogging for impertinence promptly follows even the slightest complaint about or objection to Executive branch initiatives. Conversely, editorial page positions uncannily predict Gubernatorial preferences.
This cozy, mutual back scratching may be about to wrap both the Post and the administration around the axle in an unseemly attempt to cover up the administrative mistreatment of Homaidan al-Turki. Mr. al-Turki is hardly a sympathetic figure. For years he kept his Indonesian housekeeper in virtual peonage, and, in all likelihood, sexually exploited her as well. The press reports of slavery were not far off the mark. For this, al-Turki has served nearly eight years in Colorado prisons. He has been eligible for parole since 2011. Under terms of the Treaty Convention on Serving Criminal Sentences Abroad, Tom Clements, the director of the Colorado Department of Corrections, approved al-Turki’s request for a transfer to Saudi Arabia on January 14 of this year.
This decision set off a chain reaction of second guessing about Clements’ decision on the part of the FBI, the newly elected Arapahoe County District Attorney, George Brauchler, U. S. Attorney John Walsh and Attorney General John Suthers. The Post weighed in with a column on Sunday, March 10, by editorial writer Vince Carroll titled, “Don’t Let Mr. Al-Turki Go Free, Colorado.” The following day, Clements reversed his decision and denied the promised transfer, refusing to forward the paperwork to the Department of Justice. Eight days later, 211 gang member and white supremacist Evan Ebel assassinated Clements. Before Ebel was identified as the killer, unnamed ‘sources’ floated the possibility that al-Turki might have orchestrated Clements’ murder. Al-Turki was placed in solitary confinement, where he remained for three weeks.
On April 8, heavyweight Colorado attorneys, Hal Haddon, whose firm defended both Kobe Bryant and the Ramseys, together with former U. S. Attorney Henry Solano, who supervised the Oklahoma City bombing prosecution, filed a complaint in Denver District court on behalf of al-Turki. (Only after this filing was he returned to the general population at the Limon Correctional facility.) Haddon and Solano petitioned the court to require the Governor’s office to produce all correspondence, e-mails, contacts with the media and memos regarding the reversal of the transfer request. Initially, the Executive branch has attempted to hide behind the claim they cannot release these materials because of the ongoing investigation of al-Turki. This was reinforced by a front page headline in the April 30 issue of the Denver Post, “Saudi’s link to gang under investigation.”
This has to be one of the most misleading headlines ever published in Colorado. Upon a close reading of the article, it turns out there is no proven link between al-Turki and the 211 gang. To the contrary, the investigation allegedly underway is intended to determine whether such a link may actually exist. Whatever else may be true about al-Turki, it seems highly unlikely that a man who thought he was returning home eight days before Clements’ killing could have successfully engineered his assassination in less than a week using a former inmate he has never met, who was released months earlier and who purchased his weapon well prior to March 11. Recent FBI assertions that al-Turki may represent a terrorist threat are equally suspect. Despite routine sharing of terrorist threats with the Saudis, in eight years the Bureau never mentioned any concerns regarding al-Turki with Saudi intelligence agencies. Even if these suspicions were true, the Saudis operate specialized terrorist re-education camps where Guantanamo prisoners have been transferred and where al-Turki could be confined.
The problem for Colorado’s Governor is the fact that someone, as yet unidentified, must have directed Tom Clements to reverse his decision that al-Turki satisfied the conditions required by the federal Treaty governing prisoner transfers — an agreement to which Colorado is a party. The legal complaint filed with the Denver court cites repeated assurances from the Governor’s attorney, Jack Finlaw, that this transfer would be approved. In the meantime, and in order to maintain the charade that al-Turki constitutes a lethal danger, he has been treated as though he were a violent troublemaker rather than the model prisoner he has proven throughout his sentence. This has occurred each time that government sources have provided anonymous charges to the press.
The Saudi government is ready to accept custody of al-Turki, place him in a sex offender treatment program and eventually supervise his parole at the Kingdom’s expense. His victim has returned to Indonesia with a substantial financial settlement, where she has married and started a family of her own. What purpose is served by separating al-Turki from his wife and five children at Colorado taxpayer expense — not to mention the additional legal bills that will be incurred during a prolonged battle to keep him here? Al-Turki, who was seeking his Doctorate in Linguistics at the University of Colorado, may well feel trapped in an unpublished Kafka novel authored by the Denver Post.
Miller Hudson. a former state representative from Denver, is a public affairs and policy advisor.