WASHINGTON (AP) – U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will try to turn the tables on critics of U.S. terrorism policy in Europe this week, arguing that the United States acts legally and does not ship suspected terrorists around the globe to be tortured.
Despite a forceful tone in defense of Bush administration policy as she leaves Monday for a tour of European capitals, Rice does not plan to directly answer the question of whether the U.S. operated secret prisons in Europe that may be illegal under European law.
That question arose last month and has reignited strong opposition in Europe to President George W. Bush”s tactics in the war on terrorism.
Bush”s national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, previewed Rice”s agenda Sunday.
"One of the things she will be saying is, `Look, we are all threatened by terror. We need to cooperate in its solution,"” Hadley said on "Fox News Sunday."
"As part of that cooperation for our part, we comply with U.S. law. 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," Hadley added.
The reference to sovereignty implies that any European democracies that may have provided secret prisons did so willingly.
European governments have expressed outrage over reports of a network of secret Soviet-era prisons in Eastern Europe where detainees may have been harshly treated and that flights carrying al-Qaeda prisoners went through European airports.
Several countries have denied they provided prison sites. If the United States did operate them, or is still doing so, the information would be classified.
Administration officials have refused to discuss the matter in public. Rice has pledged a formal response to the European Union, but it is not clear whether that will fully answer the questions raised.
"There is a lot of cooperation at a variety of levels on the war on terror," Hadley said when asked about secret prisons on CNN”s "Late Edition."
"There are things that are obviously going to be said and cannot be said publicly. There are things that are going to be said and can be said privately in communications with governments."
Rice”s five-day itinerary includes a stop in Romania, a country identified as a likely site of a secret U.S.-run detention site. Romania denies it.
The general issue of U.S. treatment of detainees in the war on terror has been an irritant in relations with Europe and other parts of the world since shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
It gained new immediacy last month with a Washington Post report about a network of CIA prisons overseas, including some in Europe, and claims by the advocacy group Human Rights Watch that it had tracked CIA flights into Eastern Europe.
The European Union”s justice commissioner said such prisons and detainee mistreatment would violate European human rights law, and he warned last week than any host countries could lose voting rights in the powerful 25-nation bloc.
Secret prisons and many harsh methods of interrogation would be illegal on U.S. soil. It has been long assumed that the United States holds some of its more valuable and potentially dangerous captives, such as alleged terror mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, outside the country and beyond the jurisdiction of U.S. courts.
Rice”s trip to Germany, Romania, Ukraine and Belgium is meant to build on generally improved relations between Europe and the United States after a period of strain over the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. The war remains widely unpopular in Europe, as does Bush.
The strongly critical press coverage of the prison question and complaints from European legislators suggest suspicions about U.S. motives remain close to the surface.
Britain and other European countries have protested conditions and indefinite detention at the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and Europeans were strongly critical of the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal in Iraq.
In Berlin, Rice will see new German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the country”s first leader from the former communist East. Merkel pledged last week to put aside past differences between Germany and the United States even as she pressed the administration to take the prison concerns seriously.
In Romania, Rice will sign a military cooperation agreement related to the very Soviet-era base identified by Human Rights Watch as a probable prison site or transit point for CIA planes.
The Mihail Kogalniceanu air base was heavily used by American forces in 2001-2003 to transport troops and equipment to Afghanistan and Iraq, and is scheduled to be handed over to the U.S. military early next year.
An overnight stop in Kiev, Ukraine, is an opportunity by Rice to congratulate President Viktor Yushchenko, who took power in a democratic popular revolt last year and remains a U.S. favorite despite falling approval ratings and internal political upheaval.