WASHINGTON -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice promised Germany's foreign minister yesterday that the United States would respond to a European Union inquiry into secret CIA prisons allegedly operating in Eastern Europe.
Rice's spokesman, Sean McCormack, acknowledged that press reports about covert CIA detention sites for terrorism suspects had outraged the public in Europe and sparked investigations across the continent.
He said the State Department is prepared to respond to a letter from the European Union -- expected to arrive in the next few days -- seeking details about the alleged clandestine sites. The letter will come from Britain, the body's current president.
The Council of Europe, the region's main human rights monitor, has also launched an investigation. Separate inquiries into possible CIA actions on European soil or in European airspace have been opened in Germany, Austria, Denmark, Ireland, Italy, Norway, Spain, and Sweden.
The issue is expected to hound Rice next week as she travels to Germany, Romania, Ukraine, and Belgium.
McCormack refused to confirm the existence of the secret sites and said Rice did not do so during her 45-minute meeting yesterday with Germany's new foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier. Nevertheless, McCormack offered what appeared to be a justification for such unorthodox tactics, calling the current war on terror ''a different kind of war than we or anybody else has fought in history."
''This is a different kind of enemy," he said. ''This is a different kind of war. And in that war, we use all manner of national power to fight that enemy."
On Monday, Franco Frattini, the EU's justice and home affairs commissioner, warned that members of the 25-nation block could have their voting rights suspended if they were found to have cooperated with the CIA to run covert facilities. The alleged sites do not give suspects access to lawyers, family members, or the Red Cross, which monitors prison conditions worldwide.
Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, human rights groups and press reports have highlighted more than two dozen cases of suspected terrorists who have been arrested and disappeared into US-run secret detention facilities. The Defense Department and the CIA have refused to disclose their whereabouts, or in some cases, even confirm that they are being held.
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Poland and Romania vigorously deny that they house the alleged sites.
German prosecutors have been especially active on the issue of investigating CIA activities. In December 2003, a German car salesman, Khaled al-Masri, was arrested in Macedonia and was transferred to a secret US-run detention facility believed to be in Afghanistan. Masri's lawyers say he was beaten, injected with drugs, and photographed nude before being let go five months later in Albania without an apology.
Rice, who was national security adviser at the time, intervened to secure Masri's release after learning that he was a victim of mistaken identity, according to NBC News. But a German prosecutor looking into the case said in an interview this summer that he was still waiting for an explanation from the State Department.
In a separate investigation, German prosecutors are trying to determine whether the CIA used German territory when it secretly captured Osama Moustafa Nasr, a radical Muslim cleric, in Italy. The plane that transported Nasr passed through Ramstein Air Base in Germany, which is considered US territory, according to Italian officials who investigated Nasr's disappearance as a kidnapping and eventually issued arrest warrants for 22 CIA agents.
Yesterday, Rice promised Steinmeier that US antiterrorism tactics do not violate US laws or ''international obligations," McCormack said.
McCormack said that the allegations of secret prisons did not dominate the foreign minister's first visit to Washington and that a number of other topics, including close cooperation on Iran and Afghanistan, were discussed.
But Steinmeier told reporters that he and Rice ''addressed this issue at length."