WASHINGTON (AFP) -US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice defended the unlimited detention of suspected terrorists saying, in an interview that it benefitted the United States and the entire world.
"You can”t allow somebody to commit the crime before you detain them, because if they commit the crime, thousands of innocent people die," she told the USA Today daily.
"We have never fought a war like this before," she said referring to the global war on terrorism.
Rice, however, neither confirmed or denied the existence of secret CIA prisons abroad, the newspaper said referring to a report by the Washington Post last month that touched off investigations in several countries.
European Union Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini on Monday threatened sanctions for any EU nation found to have allowed secret CIA prison camps to operate on its soil.
Frattini said the operation of such camps on EU soil would violate the bloc”s rules governing freedom and human rights.
The EU had made contact several days ago with the White House about possible secret CIA activities in Europe, but Washington had "unfortunately not yet given any formal assurance" that the reports were untrue, he said.
The US State Department said Monday it was ready to answer queries "in as complete and forthright a manner as we possibly can" as Rice announced a trip to Europe next week.
"We have received inquiries from Europe concerning these press reports," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.
McCormack said that Rice, due to visit Germany, Romania and Ukraine before heading to Belgium for a NATO meeting, was prepared to discuss the reported secret prisons if asked by her country”s allies.
But he gave no indication whether she would go beyond the US administration”s line, neither confirming nor denying the existence of the interrogation centers.
The Council of Europe”s parliamentary assembly had already announced a probe into reports of the CIA operating clandestine prisons in some European countries.
Germany and other EU countries are demanding the US government provide "clarifications" after reports that the CIA flew suspected Islamist extremists to secret prisons in Europe.
On Iraq, Rice reiterated the US government”s position that any withdrawal of US troops would depend on the wishes of the Iraqi government elected next month and on how prepared Iraqi forces were to take on insurgents.
"The (Iraqi) president will take from his commanders their assessment of what conditions permit," the secretary of state said.
Rice acknowledged that US policy in Iraq was not free of mistakes, but rejected the idea that ousting Saddam Hussein had made the Middle East less stable.
"I will be the first to say I am sure there were many things that could have been done better," Rice said about the US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq.
History, she added, will show "things that look like mistakes that will turn out to be great successes and things that look like great successes that will turn out to be mistakes."
Rice denied having any political ambitions and said she was looking forward to returning to Stanford University when her stint in President George W. Bush”s cabinet is over in January 2009.