BRUSSELS — A row between Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and German Chancellor Angela Merkel deepened yesterday when Berlin stood by Mrs. Merkel’s comments that the United States had detained a German citizen by mistake.
The chancellor made her initial remarks about Lebanese-born Khaled el-Masri’s five-month-long imprisonment in Afghanistan at a press conference Tuesday after her first meeting with Miss Rice since taking office two weeks ago.
“We actually talked about that one particular case and that the American government has admitted that this man had been erroneously taken, and that, as such, the American administration is not denying that it has taken place,” Mrs. Merkel said.
But U.S. officials traveling with Miss Rice in Europe this week took issue with the chancellor’s interpretation, denying that Miss Rice or anyone else in the Bush administration had admitted a mistake or apologized for Mr. el-Masri’s detention.
“We are not quite sure what was in her head,” one senior official told reporters on Miss Rice’s plane, referring to Mrs. Merkel.
Washington informed Berlin of Mr. el-Masri’s capture and then his release only when “we no longer had evidence or intelligence to justify his continued detention,” the official said.
German government spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm yesterday rejected the U.S. official’s account, telling reporters, “The comments, as they were made yesterday, are valid.”
Mr. el-Masri sued the CIA Tuesday, saying he was abducted from Macedonia on Dec. 31, 2003, and held incommunicado in Afghanistan, where he says he was tortured before his release five months later.