WASHINGTON – Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Monday responded to growing concerns in Europe over reports of CIA prisons in Eastern Europe and the use of European airports to transport terrorism suspects, arguing that U.S. intelligence operations have “fully respected the sovereignty” of countries cooperating with the United States and conform with international law.
Rice made the lengthy statement – the most comprehensive yet on the subject by the administration – minutes before boarding her plane for a five-day trip to Europe, seeking to quell a storm that has erupted since the Washington Post reported Nov. 2 about the clandestine prison system. The statement will be presented to European leaders in the form of a letter.
She did not confirm the existence of the prisons, saying “we cannot discuss information that would compromise the success of intelligence, law enforcement and military operations.” She added that “some governments choose to cooperate with the U.S.” in intelligence and law enforcement matters and that that cooperation is a “two-way street.”
The United States, she said, has shared intelligence that has “stopped terrorist attacks and saved innocent lives, in Europe as well as in the U.S. and other countries.”
Rice broadly defended the practice known as rendition, in which terrorism suspects are whisked away from countries without formal extradition. She said rendition was recognized by international law and has been used by many countries even before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Rice asserted that the United States does not transport terrorism suspects “for the purpose of interrogation using torture” and “will not transport anyone to a country when we believe he will be tortured.”
“The U.S. does not permit, tolerate or condone torture under any circumstances,” she said, and does not transport and has not transported detainees from one country to another “for the purpose of interrogation using torture.”
She said that “where appropriate, the U.S. seeks assurances that transferred persons will not be tortured.”
Any violation of detention standards is investigated and punished, she said, citing the case of abuse at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison that “sickened us all” and the abuse of a detainee by an intelligence agency contractor in Afghanistan.
She said that international law allows a country to detain a suspect for the “duration of hostilities,” but that the U.S. “does not hold anyone longer than necessary to evaluate evidence against them.”