Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice yesterday pledged to respond to European inquiries about reported secret CIA prisons and overflights of the Continent that the State Department said are raising concerns in many allied countries.
But in a meeting with visiting German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Miss Rice gave no sign that, if the reported sites indeed exist, the Bush administration considers them a mistake and intends to apologize for its actions.
Instead, she asked Mr. Steinmeier and his EU colleagues to recognize the “broader context of fighting the war on terrorism,” which is “a shared responsibility of all countries,” because the terrorists “know no boundaries,” said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack.
“Any government needs to act to protect its own people,” he said. “Ask yourself the question: If you were able to detain a terrorist responsible for the deaths of thousands of people before that act took place, absolutely a government would make every effort in order to do that.”
Miss Rice did not confirm or deny the existence of secret prisons for terror suspects in Eastern Europe, but she assured Mr. Steinmeier “that United States’ activities complied with all U.S. laws and the Constitution, and that we complied with our international obligations,” her spokesman said.
“She pledged to the foreign minister that the United States would be responding to what we understand is a forthcoming letter from the European Union presidency,” Mr. McCormack told reporters.
“The United States realizes that these are topics that are generating interest among European publics, as well as parliaments, and that these questions need to be responded to,” he said.
The report about the prisons, which appeared in The Washington Post on Nov. 2, and accusations that the CIA secretly transported prisoners on flights over the territory of several European countries without notifying their governments, have caused an uproar across the Continent.
They also have given foreign and domestic critics of the war in Iraq a new reason to challenge President Bush’s policies.
EU Justice and Home Affairs Commissioner Franco Frattini on Monday threatened any member states that host such facilities with suspension of their voting rights in the 25-nation organization.
He said a secret jail would violate the European Convention on Human Rights, and prisoner-transport flights without the knowledge of local authorities would violate international aviation agreements.
Miss Rice and Mr. Steinmeier did not speak to reporters after their meeting yesterday, though the German minister made a brief comment as he left the State Department, saying there will be a “timely response” from Washington to the EU letter.
“We will have to evaluate this response then,” said Mr. Steinmeier, who has been in his post less than a week.
Miss Rice is expected to discuss the issue with German Chancellor Angela Merkel when she visits Berlin next week.
Meanwhile, a former senior aide to ex-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell continued his attacks on Vice President Dick Cheney for his role in the Iraq war and the treatment of imprisoned terrorist suspects.
Asked in a BBC radio interview if Mr. Cheney could be accused of war crimes, Lawrence Wilkerson, Mr. Powell’s former chief of staff, said:
“It’s an interesting question. Certainly, it’s a domestic crime to advocate terror. And I would suspect, for whatever it’s worth, it’s an international crime as well.”
Mr. Wilkerson, who left the administration with Mr. Powell in January, said in an interview with the Associated Press on Monday that he is now somewhat estranged from his former boss.