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US Readies Public Statement on Alleged Secret Prisons

03 December 2005

The Bush administration is preparing a public statement on news reports the C.I.A. has operated secret detention sites in Europe for suspected terrorists. The statement, in response to a formal query from the European Union, is expected to be made by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice before she begins a European trip Monday.

U.S. officials have up to now refused to either confirm or deny the existence of the alleged detention sites, reports of which have sparked a political controversy in Europe and demands for a U.S. clarification.

The U.S. statement, to be made by Secretary Rice, will be in response to a formal inquiry by British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, whose government currently holds the rotating European Union presidency.

In a brief letter to the Secretary, made public by the State Department officials, Mr. Straw said media reports suggest violations of international law in the alleged U.S. detention or transit of terrorists suspects in or through E.U. member countries.

Mr. Straw said the reports have drawn significant attention in Europe and that the E.U. would be grateful for clarification that will allay parliamentary and public concern.

At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said Ms. Rice's reply would be as forthright as possible and would come before the Secretary begins her European trip, possibly just before her departure for Berlin Monday.

He said there are limits to what can be said on the issue given it involves intelligence activity, and suggested Ms. Rice would address it within the broader context of the global struggle against terrorism. "We have talked at length in this room and in other fora about the constraints on our ability to respond directly to these allegations and these news reports. So all we can do is with, as I have said, with European publics, with European parliaments, the American public is to try to engage in a discussion about the context in which these allegations and these news reports arise," he said.

Mr. McCormack has said any actions with regard to detainees have been in accordance with American law and the U.S. Constitution, and in conformance with U.S. international obligations.

He also said the war against terrorism is one in which the United States, its European allies, and other countries have had to employ all aspects of national power to combat what he termed a shadowy enemy.

The issue erupted last month when the Washington Post reported that the C.I.A. has been interrogating some of its most important al-Qaeda captives at a compound in Eastern Europe, part of a covert prison system that has at various times included sites in eight countries in Europe and Asia.

The New York Times later reported that the C.I.A. had conducted hundreds of secret flights in the last four years through European airports that may have involved the transport of detainees.

Officials here say the Rice statement, which may be accompanied by a more detailed written response to Mr. Straw, could help to de-fuse the issue before her arrival in Europe, though they still expect it to be a major topic of discussion on the trip spanning five days.

She will visit Berlin, Bucharest, Kiev and finally Brussels, where she will attend a meeting of NATO foreign ministers.

Her agenda will also include talks on Iraq and Afghanistan, European nuclear contacts with Iran, the consolidation of reform in Ukraine, and extending democratic governance to problem countries in the region including Belarus.

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