Bush Administration Unyielding on Secret Terror Camp Reports

WASHINGTON, Dec. 3 – With Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice setting off for Europe amid a storm of concern over reports of secret C.I.A. interrogation centers there, the Bush administration appeared to stake out an unyielding position on the matter today.

Europeans have expressed anger and consternation over a series of reports on the existence of the camps, the movement of terror suspects, and other covert American counterterrorism missions in Europe, and have demanded a full accounting from American officials.

But with Ms. Rice set to meet with Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin on Tuesday, a German magazine reported that the number of C.I.A. overflights or landings in Germany – some of them possibly involving terror suspects being taken to secret camps in Eastern Europe for interrogation – had been far higher than previously estimated.

A spokesman for the secretary promised last week that she would be “forthcoming” on the matter during her five-day European tour. But there were also signs that she might respond to the European complaints with a tough, no-nonsense stance.

The national security adviser, Stephen J. Hadley, and other United States officials, while not acknowledging the existence of secret camps, have argued that Europeans benefit as much as Americans do from an aggressive American-led fight against terrorists, and that this necessarily requires some secrecy.

“If there were such operations,” Mr. Hadley said today on CNN, “these are the kinds of things we can’t talk about publicly.”

He also defended the practice known as rendition — the transportation and interrogation of terrorist suspects abroad — even while acknowledging that some mistakes had been made.

Mr. Hadley noted that the practice had been in use for years by the United States and other countries, citing one such case in which the Venezuelan terrorist Carlos Illich Ramirez, known as the Jackal, was taken to a French prison.

Mr. Hadley conceded that “the folks who are fighting the war on terrorism have a difficult job” and that “sometimes mistakes get made and people go over the line.” But when that happens, he said, errors are investigated, charges filed when appropriate, and procedures changed if need be.

Alluding to the benefits Europeans may have derived from American counterterrorism efforts, a leading Republican on security matters, Senator John McCain of Arizona, suggested today that some Europeans were being “a little hypocritical” in their complaints. And it remains unclear whether so many C.I.A. flights across Europe could have gone on for years without scrutiny – let alone collaboration – from local officials.

When Mr. Hadley was asked on CNN whether secret detention camps existed, he listed the many European countries that had been hit by terror attacks.

“We need to cooperate together to deal with this terrorist threat,” he said. “We are cooperating with a number of countries.”

But asked whether this was an indirect confirmation that such camps existed, he denied it.

There has been no official confirmation of reports about covert counterterrorism activities in Europe; American spokesmen have been steadfastly circumspect. But they are now the object of several European investigations and of intense public attention, particularly after the earlier controversies over American treatment of detainees.

Still, it remains unclear just how hard any of Ms. Rice’s hosts might press her on the subject.

Romania, which has denied reports that it might have allowed the Central Intelligence Agency to establish a secret camp there, made it plain today that it planned a warm welcome for Ms. Rice, who was Mr. Hadley’s immediate predecessor as national security adviser.

Foreign Minister Mihai Razvan Ungureanu said that he had no plans to ask Secretary Rice about any secret camps. The two countries, in fact, plan to sign an agreement on Tuesday on establishing American military installations in the former Communist country, The Associated Press reported.

A History of Abuse

The record shows that the US government can not be trusted to observe international laws and conventions. While America takes pride in chiding other countries for what it perceives to be human rights violations, US leaders refuse any and all accountability for America’s poor human rights record.

The U.S. government not only lies about the ICC, but also bullies and blackmails other countries into joining its attempts to undermine the Court.

But Mrs. Merkel, Germany’s new chancellor, will be in the difficult position of seeking to improve her country’s strained relations with Washington while being publicly pressed to demand an accounting from Ms. Rice on this highly sensitive matter.

Adding to the pressure, the weekly Der Spiegel, citing numbers provided to the government by German air traffic controllers, said that there had been at least 437 instances of overflights or landings in Germany by chartered C.I.A. airplanes, including 137 by one plane and 146 by another.

A recent analysis done for The New York Times of 26 planes known to be operated by C.I.A.-linked companies showed a total of 307 flights in Europe since September 2001, when counterterrorism efforts were massively intensified after the terror attacks on New York and Washington.

That analysis – based on United States government data, industry information and reports from human-rights groups – pointed to 94 flights in Germany, the most in Europe, followed by 76 in Britain and 33 in Ireland.

It was unclear why the two sets of numbers varied so greatly.

But the Spiegel article suggested that the debate over secret antiterror operations could weigh on the American-German rapprochement and possibly even lead to a reopening of a fundamental debate over the stationing of United States troops in Germany and the American use of German airspace for the war in Iraq.

Secretary Rice meets with officials in Berlin and Bucharest on Tuesday, and in Kiev and Brussels on Wednesday and Thursday.

Mr. Hadley said today that Ms. Rice would address the terrorism-related issues “in a comprehensive way.”

“One of the things she will be saying is: ‘Look, we are all threatened by terror. We need to cooperate in its solution.’

“As part of that cooperation for our part, we comply with U.S. law,” he added on Fox-TV. “We respect the sovereignty of the countries with which we deal. And we do not move people around the world so that they can be tortured.”

The Washington Post, which on Nov. 2 first reported that such secret camps existed in Europe, quoted as administration official as saying that Ms. Rice would be taking the offensive when the subject of the camps came up.

“The key point will be, ‘We’re all in this together and you need to look at yourselves as much as us,’ ” the official said, who was not identified, said of the position Ms. Rice is expected to adopt. “People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.”

Mr. Hadley, meantime, confirmed that he had met with Mr. McCain over the senator’s legislation aimed at barring “cruel or inhumane” treatment of terror suspects, including by the C.I.A.

Asked why the White House opposes such language even as it insists that “the United States does not torture,” Mr. Hadley quoted President Bush as saying that “in the war on terror we will be aggressive against the terrorists” – while complying with federal law, the Constitution and relevant treaties.

Mr. Hadley said the talks with Senator McCain and other lawmakers sought “formulations that strike the right balance.”

Mr. McCain was asked on NBC how he could compromise on torture.

The senator, a former naval aviator who was tortured during his captivity in a North Vietnam more than three decades ago, replied simply, “I won’t.”

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International Herald Tribune, via the New York Times, France
Dec. 4, 2005
Brian Knowlton, International Herald Tribune

Religion News Blog posted this on Tuesday December 6, 2005.
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