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Rice Defends Detainee Treatment

Defending U.S. policy on the detention of terrorism suspects, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice says other governments have to decide if they want to cooperate with the United States in anti-terrorist efforts. Ms. Rice spoke before departing for Europe.

In a lengthy statement just before starting her trip, Ms. Rice delivered a strong defense of the unconventional and sometimes controversial methods used to capture and hold suspected terrorists.

Ms. Rice did not make any explicit reference to the story that has Europeans in an uproar - the reported existence of secret CIA detention facilities in Europe. She said, however, that intelligence gleaned from detainees has prevented terrorist attacks in Europe.

"Some governments choose whether to cooperate with the United States in intelligence, law enforcement, or military matters. That cooperation is a two-way street. We share intelligence that has helped protect European countries from attack, saving European lives. It is up to those governments and their citizens to decide if they wish to work with us to prevent terrorist attacks against their own country or other countries, and decide how much sensitive information they can make public," said Ms. Rice.

The European Union sent a letter to the U.S. government last month asking for clarification on the so-called secret prisons.

While making no mention of the issue, Ms. Rice offered a vigorous defense of the practice of rendition, whereby a terrorist suspect is captured and whisked away to another country for interrogation.

Ms. Rice said the practice is legal under international law. She said renditions do not involve torture.

"The United States does not transport and has not transported detainees from one country to another for the purpose of interrogation using torture," she said. "The United States does not use the airspace or the airports of any country for the purpose of transporting a detainee to country where he or she will be tortured. The United States has not transported anyone and will not transport anyone to a country when we believe he will be tortured. Where appropriate, the United States seeks assurances that transferred persons will not be tortured."

Interviewed right after Ms. Rice's statement, former CIA officer Michael Scheuer, who ran the rendition programs at one time, said Ms. Rice is right.

"Under the Bush Administration that is exactly correct," said Mr. Scheuer. "Under the Clinton Administration it is exactly wrong. The Clinton Administration preferred to take people to places like Egypt and other countries where human-rights abuses are well-documented."

Mr. Scheuer added that as controversial as renditions have been, they have proved extremely useful.

"I think Ms. Rice is perfectly accurate," he added. "And what she does not say is because most U.S. leaders do not take the terrorist problem seriously, the rendition program remains the single most important tool in the kitbox of the American government. It has been tremendously successful."

The secretary of state will spend five days in Europe, and her itinerary includes stops in Germany, Romania, Ukraine, and Belgium.