US admits botched detention - German Chancellor
Updated: 2005-12-08 09:14
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Tuesday that the United States has
admitted making a mistake in the case of a German national who claimed he was
wrongfully imprisoned by the CIA.
Merkel spoke during a press conference with US Secretary of State Condoleezza
Rice, who refused to discuss specifics with reporters.
The two women leaders' first meeting was dominated by questions about U.S.
terrorism policies, including the five-month detention of Lebanese-born Khaled
al-Masri and reports of secret CIA prisons and potentially illegal use of
European airports and airspace to transport terror suspects.
"The American administration is not denying" it erred in the case of
al-Masri, Merkel said through a translator.
Merkel welcomed that admission and added that she is grateful for Rice's
assurances that the United States conducts anti-terror operations legally and
without the use of torture.
"I'm happy to say we have discussed the one case, which the government of the
United States has of course accepted as a mistake," Merkel said. "I'm very happy
that the foreign minister has repeated here that when such mistakes happen, they
must be corrected immediately. Everything else must happen in accordance with
"We haven't discussed other cases," Merkel added, "so I cannot recognize any
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice,
left, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel brief the media in the
Chancellery in Berlin, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2005 following their talks.
U.S. officials said the two leaders did not discuss the al-Masri case in
detail on Tuesday. But the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity
because they considered Rice's meeting with Merkel private, acknowledged that
the United States has previously told the Germans that his was a case of
Al-Masri filed a lawsuit in Washington on Tuesday, claiming he was held
captive and tortured by U.S. government agents after being mistakenly identified
as an associate of the Sept. 11 hijackers.
Al-Masri, who is being represented by the American Civil Liberties Union,
said he was arrested while attempting to enter Macedonia for a holiday trip and
flown to Afghanistan. During five months in captivity he was subjected to
"torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment," says a lawsuit he
filed in U.S. District Court in suburban Alexandria, Va. The suit names as the
main defendant former CIA Director George Tenet.
In addition to torture, he claims his due process rights were violated and
that he was subjected to "prolonged, arbitrary detention." He is seeking damages
of at least $75,000.
The German parliament will soon take up the matter, Merkel said, adding,
"That is appropriate."
"We recognize the chancellor will be reviewing this" in parliament, Rice
said. "We also recognize that any policy will sometimes result in error and when
it happens we do everything we can to correct it."
The American diplomat also offered a broad defense of intelligence gathering
in the pursuit of terrorists.
"This is essentially a war in which intelligence is absolutely key to
success," Rice said. "If you are going to uncover plots, if you are going to get
to people before they commit their crimes, that is largely an intelligence
Ticking off a list of recent terror attacks, Rice said the consequence of
failing to find out about terror plots ahead of time can be seen not only in New
York and Washington, sites of the Sept. 11 jetliner attacks, but also in Amman,
Jordan; Beslan, Russia; London; Madrid and elsewhere.
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.
ABC News reported Monday night that two secret CIA prisons in Eastern Europe
were closed last month and 11 al Qaida suspects were transferred to a facility
in North Africa. The report, which ABC attributed to current and former CIA
officers who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the prisons were shut down
after Human Rights Watch said that such facilities existed in Romania and
In Berlin, Rice met with Merkel, the country's first leader from the formerly
communist East, for about an hour. Merkel pledged last week to put aside past
differences between Germany and the United States even as she pressed for the
Bush administration to take the CIA prison concerns seriously.
"Let the battles of the past lie ¡ª those battles have been fought," Merkel
said in her first speech to parliament as chancellor.
The United States is eager to get off on the right foot with Merkel after
turbulent relations with the government of blunt Bush opponent Gerhard
Rice met in Washington last week with new German Foreign Minister
Frank-Walter Steinmeier and promised him an answer on the prison issue. Merkel
comes to Washington to see President Bush in January.
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-Qaida prisoners through
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
"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. Before leaving Washington, Rice told reporters that
fighting terrorism is "a two-way street" and that Europeans are safer for tough
but legal U.S. tactics.