BERLIN (AP) – U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Tuesday that Washington would work to rectify any mistakes it has made in its war on terror, and insisted that the Bush administration does not condone torture.
"When and if mistakes are made, we work very hard to try to correct them," Rice told a news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Merkel said she and Rice talked about the 2004 case of Khaled al-Masri, a Lebanese-born German national, who maintains he was seized in Macedonia and taken to a U.S. prison in Afghanistan where he was tortured and interrogated about suspected ties to al-Qaeda.
Publicly acknowledging it for the first time, Merkel said "the government of the U.S. has, of course, accepted as a mistake" the al-Masri case and added that it had been referred to a special German parliamentary commission for investigation.
Rice declined to comment directly on the case, but when asked if she could "guarantee" that a German citizen had not, and will not be subject to the practice of rendition, she indicated a mistake had been made.
"We also recognize that any policy will sometimes result in errors and when it happens we will do everything we can to rectify it," she said.
Yet Rice defended the rendition program, which has faced bitter criticism in Europe, saying the U.S. has "saved American lives and we”ve saved European lives" with international intelligence efforts and pledged to continue with the work, with the assistance of its allies.
"We will do everything we can to cooperate with like-minded intelligence services," Rice said.
The meeting with Germany”s new chancellor came as Rice opened a four-nation European trip amid swirling questions of whether the U.S. keeps terrorist suspects in secret prisons that violate European legal and human rights guarantees.
Merkel said Rice”s assurances were "important" for her to hear and said the meeting, the highest-ranking official contact between Berlin and Washington since Merkel became chancellor last month, signaled a "good start" for future German-U.S. relations.
Merkel made no criticism of the United States and neither of them shed any light on whether the CIA had operated secret prisons in Europe or whether prisoners had been transported through Germany, as has recently been reported in U.S. and international media.
Rice”s trip to Germany, Romania, Ukraine and Belgium is meant to build on generally improved relations between Europe and the United States after strains over Iraq. The war remains widely unpopular in Europe, as does U.S. President George W. Bush.
Later Tuesday, Rice was flying to Romania, a country identified as a likely site of a secret detention facility run by the CIA. Romania denies it. She will sign a defense cooperation pact related to an air base the advocacy group Human Rights Watch has identified as a probable site for a clandestine prison.
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 reports of CIA flights carrying al-Qaeda prisoners through European airports.
Several countries have denied they hosted such sites. If the United States did operate such prisons, or is still doing so, the information would be classified. The Bush administration has refused to answer questions about it in public.
"Were I to confirm or deny, say yes or say no, then I would be compromising intelligence information, and I”m not going to do that," Rice told reporters on her plane to Germany.