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Rice Defends U.S. Policy During Stop in Germany

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is in Europe today defending US conduct in the war on terror. The US is under pressure for two practices. One allegation is that the US maintains secret prisons on European soil. The other concerns rendition. That's the name for snatching suspects on foreign soil and taking them to secret locations for questioning. In Berlin today, Secretary Rice responded to criticism of those policies.

Secretary CONDOLEEZZA RICE (State Department): Any policy will sometimes have mistakes, and it is our promise to our partners that, should that be the case, that we will do everything that we can to rectify those mistakes.

INSKEEP: According to Germany's new chancellor, US officials have said more in private, specifically accepting responsibility for seizing a German national. NPR's Rachel Martin is in Berlin and is covering this story.

And, Rachel, remind us what the story is of this German national who was grabbed by the Americans.

RACHEL MARTIN reporting:

Good morning, Steve. The case surrounds claims by a German citizen, Khaled al-Masri, who claims to have been abducted in Macedonia in late 2003, then flown to Afghanistan where he was detained for five months. He says he was questioned, interrogated and tortured by the CIA. German officials have conducted an investigation into al-Masri's claims, but today Chancellor Merkel said that the US has admitted that there was a mistake and they apprehended the wrong man. And Secretary Rice today wouldn't go so far, but she did repeat that the United States holds to its international obligations and functions in accordance with international law.

INSKEEP: How important is this particular case in this broader debate over the way the United States has conducted itself in Europe?

MARTIN: Well, this case could illustrate the balance that European countries are facing. On the one hand, being vocally opposed to human rights violations and being very critical of allegations that the CIA may use torture at alleged secret prisons. On the other hand, they're faced with dealing with their own security issues and wanting to cooperate with the CIA and understanding that that cooperation is an integral part to the global fight on terrorism. So I think this case illustrates that dichotomy. The German government has come under pressure as of late. According to a Washington Post report, a former German minister was informed by the former US ambassador that the US had made this mistake in kidnapping, and according to the report the ambassador had asked the former German minister to keep it quiet in order to prevent public knowledge of the CIA rendition program. So the German government is facing some pressure and is being called to account for just how much they knew and when they knew it.

INSKEEP: Which gets to another thing that Secretary Rice said during this trip. She said that, `The US has respected the sovereignty of governments that cooperate with us.' The implication there, of course, is that governments are cooperating, and I suppose the question is whether all parts of the governments in question in Europe knew what they were doing.

MARTIN: Yes, and a lot of these claims have been focused around the number of CIA flights or alleged flights. These flights are said to be transporting secret detainees, using European airports, and there are concerns in Europe that European leaders know what's going on but haven't been forthcoming to the public just about how much they know.

INSKEEP: OK. That's NPR's Rachel Martin in Berlin where Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice today conferred with Germany's chancellor.

Rachel, thanks very much.

MARTIN: Thanks, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rachel Martin
Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.