Rice Heads to Germany Amid Criticism of CIA Tactics

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice kicks off a visit to Europe this week with a stop in Berlin. Rice held an early morning press conference to address concerns over reports that the United States used secret CIA flights and detention centers in Europe to improperly interrogate terrorism suspects.

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Some American tactics in the war on terror have drawn sharp questions in Europe, and as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visits Europe this week, she is expected to face criticism. The European outrage centers on secret prisons and secret CIA flights. Here's NPR's Rachel Martin.

RACHEL MARTIN reporting:

Before her plane took off from Andrews Air Force Base bound for Berlin, Secretary Rice read a statement responding to allegations surrounding the CIA's operations in Europe. Her answers were unequivocal.

Secretary of State CONDOLEEZZA RICE (State Department): The United States does not permit, tolerate or condone torture under any circumstances. The United States does not transport and has not transported detainees from one country to another for the purpose of interrogation using torture. The United States does not use the airspace or the airports of any country for the purpose of transporting a detainee to a country where he or she will be tortured.

MARTIN: Rice's statement comes in response to a flurry of investigations by countries including Spain, Germany, Italy and Sweden, looking into hundreds of CIA flights in European airspace and the possible existence of secret CIA prisons where it's alleged that torture is being used against terror suspects.

Last week, the UK's foreign minister, Jack Straw, acting on behalf of the EU, sent a letter to the Bush administration asking for answers. It's not yet clear whether Rice's initial response will be enough to ease mounting tensions between Europe and the US. In particular, the allegations have put the new German government in a tight spot. Chancellor Angela Merkel, who was inaugurated two weeks ago, has promised to warm up trans-Atlantic relations, but the allegations of torture by the CIA on European soil have forced the new German leader to defend her new American friends before they even arrive in Berlin.

Chancellor ANGELA MERKEL (Germany): (Through Translator) I believe we can trust that the American government is taking European concerns seriously and will soon clear up the recent reports about alleged CIA prisons and illegal flights.

MARTIN: But European leaders themselves are being criticized for either not knowing about the CIA's activities or turning a blind eye to them. On Sunday, The Washington Post reported that the US government told the Germans that the CIA mistakenly detained a German citizen in late 2003. Khlaed al-Mari says he was taken to Afghanistan, tortured and held for five months. According to The Post report, the US ambassador personally asked the German interior minister to keep the issue quiet in order to avoid scrutiny of the CIA's extraordinary rendition program. And German officials apparently agreed, but cooperation between Germany and the US on counterterrorism has been one-sided, says Rolf Tophoven, the head of the Institute for Terrorism and Security in Essen, Germany.

Mr. ROLF TOPHOVEN (Institute for Terrorism and Security): We have the impression that it's one way, that we gave the Americans a lot of information, a lot of evidences dealing with terrorism in Germany, in Europe as well, and from the other side, there is less evidences coming back to Europe.

MARTIN: Earlier this year, a German court convicted Munier Elmotisadic(ph) of belonging to a terrorist organization, but the court was unable to convict him of accessory to murder because the US refused to release a key witness in the case from its custody so he could testify. In her statement this morning, Secretary Rice underscored the need for cooperation between the US and Europe in the fight against terrorism.

But there are many people in Europe, including senior politicians, who think it's the United States that's putting that partnership in jeopardy. Hans-Ulrich Klose, deputy chairman of the German parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, says America's unilateralism risks undermining its critical partnership with Europe.

Mr. HANS-ULRICH KLOSE (Deputy Chairman, Foreign Affairs Committee): After events in Abu Ghraib, looking at the pictures of Guantanamo, most people are talking about the CIA activities believe that probably what is in the papers is the truth. So to say the image of the United States in the meantime is such that they would believe that they are something like an international suspect, which is very bad; bad from the point of view of the United States, bad for the European partners because we need a basis on confidence.

MARTIN: Secretary Rice is expected to meet with Chancellor Merkel tomorrow before flying onto Romania, Ukraine and then Brussels where she'll meet with European Union leaders.

Rachel Martin, NPR News, Berlin.

INSKEEP: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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