European Officials Probe Alleged CIA Activity

Renee Montagne talks with Sylvia Poggioli in Rome and Rachel Martin in Berlin about reaction from European officials to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's visit.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

We turn now to two NPR correspondents in Europe to hear reaction there to efforts by Secretary of State Rice to allay concerns over the way the United States deals with terrorist suspects. Sylvia Poggioli is in Rome and Rachel Martin is in Berlin.

And good morning.

RACHEL MARTIN reporting:

Good morning.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI reporting:

Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Rachel, let's begin with you to talk about, in fact, the political reaction in Romania which along with Poland is one of the countries suspected of hosting these secret CIA prisons. Secretary Rice was in Romania yesterday and Germany. What's been the response in those countries to her statements?

MARTIN: Well, response in Romania has been relatively quiet. After all, Secretary Rice was in Romania to sign a deal granting the US access to local military bases. One of the bases involved in this deal has been identified as one of these possible `black sites' or secret CIA prisons. Now Secretary Rice refused to comment on the allegations of secret detention centers, both in Germany and during her time in Romania. This deal, though, symbolizes a new and growing friendship between the US and Romania and other former Soviet bloc countries. During her trip, Secretary Rice called Romania one of America's best allies and both Poland and Romania have cast themselves as loyal allies to the US. Both countries have troops deployed in Iraq.

But yesterday, Romania's president again denied the existence of any secret prisons in his country. Now those denials will have to stand up to investigations being conducted by the European Union that has said any country found to have links with such facilities could have their voting rights revoked.

MONTAGNE: And, Sylvia, how about the governments of Spain and Italy? There has been a report of a radical cleric in Milan being abducted by the CIA and taken to Egypt where he was allegedly tortured.

POGGIOLI: Well, everyone here is very cautious because there are suggestions that governments could not have been uninformed about the CIA operations on their territory. In Spain, the government has told parliament it has no evidence that the CIA flights broke any Spanish laws. And in Italy, the government of Silvio Berlusconi is a staunch ally of the Bush administration is in a very embarrassing situation. In Milan, prosecutor has issued arrest warrants for 22 CIA agents charged with the abduction of Abu Omar, a Islamic radical in Milan in 2003. And the government has issued numerous denials that it had any advanced knowledge of the kidnapping. But the prosecutors say they have very strong evidence, including the trail of cell phone calls, hotel bills and surveillance photos of the abducted cleric and one of the CIA agents went so far as to file for immunity, but his request was rejected.

MONTAGNE: And back to you, Rachel. Germany, Secretary Rice has been in Germany. Yesterday, Chancellor Merkel said the US had admitted to mistakenly detaining a German national. So what's been the reaction there?

MARTIN: Yes. Yesterday, Khaled al-Masri, a German national, actually filed suit against the former director of the CIA claiming that he was kidnapped in Macedonia and flown to Afghanistan, tortured and detained there for five months. Also yesterday, Chancellor Merkel said the US had admitted to taking al-Masri and while Secretary Rice didn't go that far, she did say that mistakes happen and when they do the United States tries to fix them.

MONTAGNE: And just briefly, to both of you, what about public opinion? What are people saying?

POGGIOLI: Well, commentators point out that the way the US and Europe is fighting the terrorism war is very different. The US is fighting an external enemy, they say, while in Europe the enemy is within.

MARTIN: And I'd agree with Sylvia. As far as response here in Germany, much more vocal response coming out in the press. This morning, different op-ed articles saying that the US is trying to make Europe and European countries into accomplices in a war on terror that's being fought in a way that doesn't reflect European values. And overall, people here think that Secretary Rice didn't provide the answers that she was expected to give.

MONTAGNE: Thank you both very much.

POGGIOLI: You're welcome.

MARTIN: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Sylvia Poggioli in Rome and Rachel Martin in Berlin.

And you can read about how the laws governing war and torture have evolved at our Web site, npr.org.

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