State Department Briefing, December 7
07 December 2005
China, North Korea, Secretary's Statement on Torture Reflects Existing Policy, Looking for Mutually Agreeable Solution with Congress Regarding Torture, U.S. Attempting to Adapt Past Norms With Current Unprecedented Challenges, U.S. Policy on Torture Consistent with International Laws, Europe, Germany, Russia, Syria, Iraq
State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli briefed the press December 7.
Following is the transcript of the State Department briefing:
U.S. Department of State
Daily Press Briefing Index
Wednesday, December 7, 2005
1:29 p.m. EST
Briefer: Adam Ereli, Deputy Spokesman
-- Senior Dialogue Meeting Between Deputy Secretary Zoellick and Dai Bingguo/Bilateral Relations, Regional Security, Economic Relations Discussed
-- Coordinating Approaches to Common Issues
-- Meeting in Hyde Park
-- Communications Through the New York Channel
-- South Korean Proposal for Informal Six-Party Gatherings/Under Discussion by Parties
-- Secretary's Statement on Torture Reflects Existing Policy
-- Looking for Mutually Agreeable Solution with Congress Regarding Torture
-- U.S. Attempting to Adapt Past Norms With Current Unprecedented Challenges
-- U.S. Policy on Torture Consistent with International Laws
-- U.S. Working with European Partners in Global War Against Terror
-- Secretary Rice's Meeting with Chancellor Merkel Productive/Bilateral Relations Strong
-- Denial of Entry of Al-Masri/Must Apply for Visa to Enter U.S.
-- U.S. Concerned About Restrictions on Civil Society
-- UN Security Council Resolution 1636 Remains Operative Document on Hariri Assassination Probe
-- Investigation Continuing/Expect Report December 15
-- UN Security Council Expects Those Responsible to be Held Accountable
-- US Working with Iraqis, Family to Locate Missing American
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING
WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 7, 2005
(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)
1:29 p.m. EST
MR. ERELI: Well, afternoon, everybody. Let's go straight to your questions since I don't have any statements to kick off with.
QUESTION: Well, no, we're not all here but I thought I'd try you out on --
MR. ERELI: We're here, Barry.
QUESTION: That's true. And people can read. So they'll read the reports.
Mr. Zoellick met with the Chinese. Can you give us some sort of a substantive readout? And I guess they continue tomorrow. What's going on? What's being said to each other?
MR. ERELI: Deputy Secretary Zoellick and Foreign Minister Dai Bingguo have begun their meetings today and they'll continue tomorrow and on into -- activities on into Friday as part of the Senior Dialogue between the United States and China. As you know, this is the second meeting of the Senior Dialogue. The first one took place in Beijing this July. And frankly, this is a mechanism to have broad discussions between the United States and China at a senior level about -- with respect to (inaudible) the international system and the roles that each of us can play in support of that system and in order to strengthen that system.
They'll be looking at a number of issues: bilateral, security related, economic related in a strategic context with the aim of exploring the responsibility that both countries share to make the international system more secure and more prosperous over the long term. They will also look to the long term, over the horizon, to the future of U.S. and Chinese relations and what we hope the relationship will look like.
I think the -- and from our part, one of the points that we will be making is that when talking about the international system, that we all have, as stakeholders, we all have a responsibility to work together, to uphold and improve the norms that defines the system, whether that be, again, in the economics sphere, in the security sphere, in the political sphere. And we will be making the point that the Chinese -- it's important to think about those responsibilities for the peaceful international system that enables the success for all of us. This, you know, in the context of Sudan, in the context of North Korea and in the context of Iraq, counterterrorism, Iran, a broad range of issues.
So I think that gives you a sort of overview of the dialogue. I would also sort of, you know, in terms of other ways to think about it, they'll be going to Hyde Park, President Roosevelt's home, on Friday, to have a sort of direct experience regarding the kind of principles that I was discussing earlier to see in a concrete, tangible way the important role that allied -- that played by allied leaders during and after World War II in creating the global, political and economic security systems that formed the basis of the international system that we're working in and that we are seeking to work with China to strengthen and to cooperate on in ways that are mutually beneficial.
QUESTION: You may need a little more to do a three-part series on this thing. (Laughter.)
Where do you find, if you do find, that (inaudible) some sense that China is lacking in some areas. Could you tell us where you'd like to see them be more cooperative or adhere more to an international system? Did Mr. Zoellick ask China to join the United States in imposing sanctions on Iran if it turns out to be necessary? Could you flesh it out with some examples of -- I know it's only the first three days but could you put a little meat on them there bones?
MR. ERELI: I would discourage you from looking at this dialogue as proscriptive. The purpose here is not to proscribe the courses of action or specific moves by one side or the other. It is rather to explore how approaches to international issues, whether it be specific like Iran or Iraq; or general, such as energy security. But how approaches to the issues, within the context of the international system, can be coordinated and dealt with in ways that both reinforce the integrity of the system, strengthen the integrity of the system, and meet the needs and ambitions of both countries in mutually-enforcing ways. So with respect to the question that you -- the specific example that you raised -- remind me what the example was.
QUESTION: Oh, I used Iran as a nuclear example.
MR. ERELI: Iran nuclear. So with respect to the Iran nuclear issue, we would be speaking of that as an example of the dangers of proliferation, how actions by -- what our actions are designed to accomplish in ways -- in confronting that challenge, in confronting that threat through existing organizations and through our diplomacy. And how China can -- how we see China playing a positive role in that area. And how China might want to consider or might be aware of how the rest of the world sees it. But it is an example of, it would be used an example of, as opposed to being proscriptive -- we want you to do this, we don't want you to do that -- it would be an example of why we had a shared interest in discussing and coordinating and working together on common issues.
Now, there may be differences. Obviously, there's going to be differences because China, on a whole host of issues, whether it be Iran or, you know, you can think of them for yourself, is going to have a different perspective. So there's not going to be a unanimity of views here, but the purpose of the dialogue is to flesh out how we see each other acting within an international system that encompasses not only our interests, but the interests of others and how those interests impact on one other.
QUESTION: Is this dialogue an interagency effort or mostly a State Department deal?
MR. ERELI: There are participants from other agencies. I know there were in July. I'll have to check on this one from the National Security Council and elsewhere. But, actually, let me check and see who else is participating, if there are people from other agencies.
QUESTION: And is the --
QUESTION: Do they anticipate some sort of a news conference in New York, in Hyde Park? I mean, do you --
MR. ERELI: No, I don't. I would not expect a news conference. I would expect us to make officials available to you to brief on the dialogue.
QUESTION: Up there?
MR. ERELI: Probably here.
QUESTION: Would that be tomorrow or Friday?
QUESTION: Friday, I was told.
MR. ERELI: I'll have to check on the exact schedule.
QUESTION: Sir, if you could just explain to me again why they (inaudible) to Roosevelt's former house?
MR. ERELI: Well, it is an example of a living symbol, if you will, of the kind of thinking and history that lies behind the international institutions and the international system that form the basis of the enhanced dialogue. So if you're talking about working together to meet common challenges and manage differences through existing structures and in the context of international system, it is, I think, illustrative to go to a place like Hyde Park, the home of Franklin Roosevelt, to see what is behind those systems and to understand better the history and the one of the creative forces that helped define the system that we're working in today.
QUESTION: So it's not a séance or anything like that?
MR. ERELI: A séance?
QUESTION: Sorry. I take that back. Sorry. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Do you know he was a Democrat?
QUESTION: You know the CIA is right down the road from Hyde Park. Will they be visiting there?
MR. ERELI: They're going to Hyde Park.
QUESTION: Not the Culinary Institute of America, which is right down there?
MR. ERELI: No.
QUESTION: You know, Clinton went to Hyde Park with the Iraqi Prime Minister. Would that actually cause a change in plans, do you think?
MR. ERELI: Don't think so.
QUESTION: Will there be a walk in the woods?
QUESTION: I have something.
MR. ERELI: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: Okay. Excuse me, if you might have mentioned this before I came in, but is North Korea the nuclear issue going to be a topic in these talks? And secondly, is -- while they're in New York, is there a possibility that they might try to use something with the New York channel or have there been any meetings with the New York channel? Is there any --
MR. ERELI: Wow. You guys are weaving a --
QUESTION: Well, that's because you've (inaudible) --
MR. ERELI: -- pretty wide tapestry.
QUESTION: We're working on the assumption there's something to these meetings.
MR. ERELI: There's a lot to these meetings. There is a lot to these meetings. They are very substantive, very broad and very far-reaching. And as you can tell by my earlier comments, they are designed to really take an over-the-horizon look at issues and the purpose is not to delve into detail on or pursue proscriptive policies on any one specific issue, whether it be Iran's nuclear program or the six-party talks.
Now, those issues are certainly likely to come up and certainly likely to be discussed, but within the broader context and even the strategic framework that I described earlier, i.e., when talking about how we can work together within the international system to meet common challenges, to manage differences and to help China develop its newfound power in constructive and positive and mutually reinforcing ways, then obviously, we'll be using different examples, which you've mentioned and which there are others.
We've talked about human rights -- the issue of human rights was raised yesterday. That, too, I expect will be part of -- will figure in the discussions as they do in almost every discussion we have with China. But again, as part of a broader, more comprehensive look at how countries, like the United States and China, play an important and productive role in a system that is based on institutions and equities that concern us all and how the actions of one have consequences for all.
QUESTION: Will you support -- sort of new topic on this, okay?
QUESTION: Go ahead, Libby.
QUESTION: Have both sides decided that there should be a set number of meetings each year, for example, one every quarter?
MR. ERELI: I don't think -- the approach here really is to, you know, go from one to the other. It was agreed at the last one that they knew they would be doing this one. I presume that at this meeting, we will look ahead and see what works, based on what's happened to date.
QUESTION: A new topic on North Korea to sort of untangle the question from before. Have there been any or are there plans for any contacts at all, either New York channel or any other contacts with the North Koreans ahead of the next round, which seems to be looking a bit bumpy now, given recent (inaudible) --
MR. ERELI: Are there plans?
QUESTION: Or have there been?
MR. ERELI: I don't think there are any plans. I think we -- the New York channel, as you know, since we don't have diplomatic relations with North Korea, is a way for them -- for each to pass messages. So if and when there's a utility or a need for the New York channel, I expect it to be used. I'm not aware that there are any preset plans to use it for that purpose, but it's entirely possibly that should there be a need for it, it would be used.
QUESTION: But you would tell us when -- if there's meetings (inaudible). Would you tell us whether talks in South Korea -- preliminary talks?
MR. ERELI: On the New York channel, if, you know, we're not going to sort of give a running commentary every time the New York channel is used because, frankly, that's not, I think, consistent with the nature of the diplomatic communications or the channel. If there are times that you ask specific questions about specific communications and we're in a position to talk about them, we will.
QUESTION: Oh, well, that's all well and good -- okay.
QUESTION: It's a quick question.
QUESTION: One other question I was asking was has there been any contacts since the last round?
MR. ERELI: Yeah. Sure, there have been contacts.
QUESTION: Okay, contacts --
MR. ERELI: The last contact that I'm aware of was when we were informed by the North Koreans, through the New York channel, that they would not be responding to our invitation to get a briefing on the actions taken pursuant to the Patriot Act against the bank in Macao.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) last week.
MR. ERELI: Yeah, I think it was last week.
QUESTION: I'm sorry if you went over this last week and I don't remember, but it seems that the North Koreans didn't want -- didn't like the person, at a kind of working level mechanism that you choose to give them the briefing. And they thought that they deserved to be briefed by Hill or DeTrani or someone like that. Did you make that decision because you didn't want it to be that kind of high level, bilateral contact or this is just the type of people that would be more knowledgeable about the counterfeit issue that --
MR. ERELI: Yeah, given -- we thought that the briefing and the offer and the personnel that were going to give the briefing were appropriate to the purpose of the meeting. It wasn't a negotiation. It was, frankly, presentation of technical details and information about existing laws and procedures in the United States. And that was in response to concerns or issues that the North Koreans have raised. So we think that was the appropriate occasion and the appropriate personnel and it was up to them to decide whether they want it or not.
QUESTION: New topic?
MR. ERELI: New topic?
MR. ERELI: Same topic?
QUESTION: North Korea.
MR. ERELI: North Korea? Stay on North Korea? Sure. Go ahead, Nan?
QUESTION: Thank you. We know that North Korea is not unhappy with the financial sanctions from the U.S. and when you mentioned that the New York channel contact last week, was that the same thing that U.S. offered to give a briefing to the North Korean officials about --
MR. ERELI: Yeah.
QUESTION: The same thing? Okay. Thank you.
MR. ERELI: Sir?
QUESTION: Japanese opposition leader, Mr. Maehara, after meeting with Jim Foster, Director of Korean Affairs, gave us a briefing yesterday that the U.S. is now proposing a meeting of these head of delegation in South Korea. And I was wondering, this is something different from South Korean proposal?
MR. ERELI: No.
QUESTION: Is it the U.S. -- there is a new U.S. proposal now?
MR. ERELI: Well, my understanding is that the South Korean proposal for an informal six-party gathering in South Korea is still a matter of discussion among the parties and that idea is still out there. Obviously, without prejudice to that, we will continue to have other meetings and conduct diplomacy in support of the six-party process and so I would look at it that way.
QUESTION: Now, can we go to interrogation, the topic of the day? I don't want to dominate the briefing, but I think everybody wants to know if the -- how would you describe the Secretary's remarks today, as an elaboration of existing policy and extension of what you she said at the airport, as a refinement? Pick your word. She covered ground she hadn't covered before and some people think she's signaling some sensitivity and some shift. But, of course, policy never changes.
MR. ERELI: Well, I think the Secretary is stating as directly and forthrightly as we can our policy.
QUESTION: But when did the policy change?
MR. ERELI: I think it's existing -- it's existing policy. Her statement is a statement of policy and it's been the U.S. policy.
QUESTION: How long has it been U.S. policy?
MR. ERELI: I believe since the Secretary said it.
QUESTION: Perfect. Can I follow up? (Laughter.) If this isn't -- if this isn't a new -- if what she said today is not new and that you follow international law, you follow the UN Convention against torture, whether it's in the United States or out of the United States, why is the Administration objecting to the language posed by Senator McCain prohibiting cruel and unusual and degrading punishment against any detainees by U.S. personnel, whether it's in the United States or not?
MR. ERELI: You know, I think we've also made clear and the Secretary made clear in her statement on Monday that -- and others have as well -- that we are looking -- the Administration is looking to reach a mutually agreeable solution with the members of Congress on this issue and I would have that to say in response to your question.
QUESTION: Is it because it's actually U.S. legislation? I mean, when the U.S. signed the -- or ratified the Convention on Torture, I think it said something to the effect that the United States doesn't feel that the Convention on Torture -- that it's bound by any -- that it's bound it if U.S. legislation, in the United States, is against anything in the Convention; or that U.S. interpretation of anything in the Convention is against the U.S. Constitution. Does the United States feel more bound by its own legislation than it does by any UN conventions or international obligations that it signs and that's why it's hesitant to pass any new legislation on this?
MR. ERELI: Well, when you ratify a convention it becomes part of your domestic law. Or maybe I shouldn't say that because there might be some legal sophistications that I'm missing. But I think the best way to understand that -- the best way to answer your question is to, again, look at the statement of record, which is the United States will be bound by -- or will follow U.S. law and international law and its international treaty obligations, which are legal obligations. And that those are the principles that will guide us in our actions on this issue and on other issues.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) was so important for the Secretary to clarify this position?
MR. ERELI: I think she was responding to questions.
QUESTION: But it became obvious that details of the German detainee and other issues, such as Murtha coming out speaking about the war and these situations, it seems to have moved the Secretary several times on this trip to have to deal with this question.
MR. ERELI: Mm-hmm. Well, as we've made clear, this is an issue about which there's debate in the United States and around the world. And it's an issue about which there is debate because we're really on unfamiliar ground here for everybody. Unfamiliar ground in the sense that we are engaged in a struggle, engaged in a conflict with a new kind of enemy that doesn't -- that is outside many of the norms and practices, which the world has hither to had to deal with. And in confronting that threat and in dealing with these actors, we have, again, we have found ourselves on uncharted territory. So obviously there's a discussion about what is necessary, what is appropriate and how does that -- how you reconcile that with past practice and existing norms.
And the Secretary's responses to your questions, legitimate, important questions are, I think, a sincere attempt to try participate in that debate and participate in that discussion and to present to you and help you work through how the U.S. Government sees the problem, how we are working through the difficult choices that they present and how we're trying to adapt, again, existing norms for past conflicts to new and unprecedented challenges.
QUESTION: A follow-up. Do you believe that Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld has placed Secretary Rice in a very, sort of embarrassing light, where she has to explain the possibility of the military not behaving properly?
MR. ERELI: Absolutely not. I think Secretary Rice, President Bush, all -- Secretary Rumsfeld, all the members of this Administration have made it clear that we are engaged in a war. That there are those out there who are trying to kill Americans -- who have killed and who remain bent on killing Americans. And that it is the first duty of any government to act to protect its citizens and that's what all of us in the Administration, I think, keep at the front of our minds every single day.
And the point Secretary Rice is making and the point I think that the others are doing -- making is that we are going to do that in ways that are consistent with our laws, our values, our principles and our international obligations.
QUESTION: So why should people believe that because we've seen Abu Ghraib, we've seen continuous positions of torture, more pictures, more are forthcoming, more and more the Administration being plummeted and particularly --
MR. ERELI: Pummeled?
QUESTION: Pummeled with questions and -- well, even worse, in the press regarding this situation that doesn't seem to change. It only seems to be revealed and the American people may feel that they're being lied to.
MR. ERELI: Well, actually, I think they're the same -- the same incidents being recycled and repeated as opposed to new incidents. But I'd have this to say in response, and again, it was -- the Secretary spoke to it, I think, very forcefully on Monday. We have our laws. We have our -- those entrusted by the government to act on behalf of the people, whether they be diplomats or judicial officials or our brave men and women in uniform, have instructions to act consistent with those laws. And the vast, vast majority of them every day do that with honor and dignity. As in any system, there's not a system in the world where they're not going to be failures, of individuals to conform to the laws and instructions and norms that they are entrusted and sworn to uphold.
QUESTION: But if they're not norms --
MR. ERELI: And when that happens, as it did in Abu Ghraib, the system is designed to act, to investigate, to find and to punish so that it -- and to take actions so that it doesn't happen again, which was done in Abu Ghraib. So what Abu Ghraib or other instances show is that although we have laws, although we have instructions, although there are clear things that people are supposed to do and not supposed to do, if they're -- when there are abuses and that things do go wrong, there is a way to deal with it. And I think that is an important lesson for anybody observing our system to know that we have laws, we follow them, but when there are problems, we also have transparency and accountability.
QUESTION: Why do you think your European allies were so surprised then that you had hidden prisons or there was discussions of these prisons and that Europeans seem to be quite taken back and that she has to explain this?
MR. ERELI: Well, again, there are questions about how -- there are questions about and examinations of the threat and how you respond to the threat. That is healthy, that is necessary in a democracy and in open societies and we're speaking about it openly.
QUESTION: But I'm talking about your European leaders and allies. They were taken off guard that she had to explain to them. We're not talking about here domestically. We're talking about her as the Secretary of State who is out there doing diplomatic liaison.
MR. ERELI: Again, referring back to the Secretary's statement on Monday, I think she addressed this very well in saying that we're engaged in the global war on terror and we have partners that are working with us and that we are engaged in a common endeavor. That includes Europeans who have been victims of the same kind of wanton terrorism that we have: the Spaniards, the British, the Italians. And that we have, I think, had a good and productive partnership in confronting the war on terror in all spheres: economic, political, military, law enforcement and intelligence. But as in the United States, there is a debate in Europe. There are questions asked in Europe, that is as it should be, and we, as friends and partners and allies of the Europeans and others with whom we work in the war on terror, it's important to address those questions.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) specifically (inaudible) --
QUESTION: Chancellor Merkel said on Monday that Secretary Rice did apologize for or did say there were mistakes being made in the abduction -- CIA abduction of the German citizen Al-Masri. Later on, it was reported that U.S. officials said that Secretary Rice did never say that.
MR. ERELI: Yeah.
QUESTION: Did Chancellor Merkel get that wrong? Did the Secretary of State say there were mistakes being made in the case of Al-Masri or not?
MR. ERELI: I think what's clear, if you look at the transcript from the press conference yesterday, was that the Secretary made the point, as I said yesterday, that if and when mistakes are made, corrective actions will be taken and that we obviously respect the sovereignty of our friends and work with our friends.
The Secretary also, I think, and it's important to underscore this, the Secretary and Chancellor Merkel had an excellent meeting that is very positive, very cordial and very productive and that they agreed on a broad agenda for both Germany and the United States in the bilateral relationship and in the transatlantic relationship. And that with respect to all the issues, including this one, there was a real meeting of the minds and I think I'll just leave it at that, because frankly, I think more has been made of the specific issue that you raise than is necessary -- than is warranted. And it detracts, frankly, from the very positive tone and substance of their meeting.
QUESTION: Are we talking about an inference here? If mistakes -- perhaps she said, if mistakes were made, we'll correct them. And could it be that the Germans inferred from that that she is acknowledging a mistake and that you and she and the State Department are saying she was speaking in general terms, if mistakes were made they would be corrected?
MR. ERELI: I would simply say that, you know, we and the Germans are very (inaudible) up on this and that it's not an issue of discord or disagreement.
QUESTION: Well, I don't think that's true, Adam.
MR. ERELI: It is -- I'm telling you.
QUESTION: Well, the Germans today are coming out and saying that she did say Al-Masri was a mistake, regardless of what you say up here. In Germany, they're saying --
MR. ERELI: And I'm telling you that we -- they had a good meeting.
QUESTION: I believe that.
MR. ERELI: We are moving --
QUESTION: What I'm talking about is whether she said it was a mistake.
MR. ERELI: I don't have anything more to add to what the Secretary said on this issue publicly yesterday.
QUESTION: Not necessarily what the Secretary said, but didn't yesterday, the U.S. Government say Mr. Al-Masri is entitled to come to the United States if he wishes?
MR. ERELI: I did not see that statement. I would tell you that Mr. Masri tried to come to the United States. He was denied entry by the Department of Homeland Security. He returned from where he came. He is required, if he wants to come back to the United States, to apply for a U.S. visa, after having been denied entry and that if he applies, that visa would be adjudicated by a U.S. Consular official.
QUESTION: Well, apparently, yesterday, the U.S. Government said that if he wanted to come to the United States, he's free to come, which means that there was a mistake in the first place. Don't you think so?
MR. ERELI: I --
QUESTION: (Inaudible) officials on the road apparently told our people on the road that he was welcome to come. Can you not confirm that?
MR. ERELI: I would say that if he applies -- my understanding is that if he applies for a visa, we would expect -- we expect to be able to resolve this satisfactorily.
QUESTION: Can I just ask you -- just as a point of information just -- it was my understanding, as printed in The Washington Post and all the other commentaries that I've read, that U.S. policy had been that torture restrictions apply to U.S. personnel only on U.S. soil. Is that an accurate characterization?
MR. ERELI: I think the accurate characterization is what the Secretary said in Kiev today.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) before, maybe in jest, beginning today?
MR. ERELI: No. Look, what the Secretary said is existing U.S. policy. I'm not going to do a forensics for you on all the discussions that have taken place on this issue. I think it's clear what the policy is. The Secretary said it and you can take it to the bank.
QUESTION: Of course what she said today -- when she speaks, it is policy. We're not asking you for a history of interrogation. It's a very simple question. Until today, were the rules applicable only to interrogation in the United States? And as of today, they may have been expanded abroad or were they -- did they always apply in the U.S. and abroad? That's all.
MR. ERELI: Yeah. And frankly, I'm not going to -- I can't describe for you and give you a timeline for all the discussions and consultations leading up -- you know, if you want to look at the public record, look at the public record. But the policy that's stated by the Secretary of State is existing U.S. policy.
QUESTION: Are you not aware -- we're not asking for all those discussions. We're asking what was the policy up till today and --
MR. ERELI: The policy of the United States --
QUESTION: -- we understand what the policy is from this day forward.
MR. ERELI: -- the policy of the United States was, as was said, repeatedly by the President, that we do not condone torture and we do not tolerate torture.
QUESTION: But do we commit torture on --
QUESTION: -- the United Nations Convention --
MR. ERELI: Whoa, whoa, whoa. One at a time.
QUESTION: No. On -- but is that distinguishable by territory? That's the question.
MR. ERELI: That is a pretty comprehensive statement and I think that what the Secretary said is consistent with what U.S. officials have said previously.
QUESTION: But can't you just answer the question: Has this policy changed? That's what we're trying to find out. Has this policy, from the Secretary's comments --
MR. ERELI: From what?
QUESTION: From -- on torture, on --
MR. ERELI: Has it changed from what?
QUESTION: Has it changed from before? In other words --
MR. ERELI: I think the U.S. policy has always been that we don't conduct torture. Now -- and we don't condone torture. And as I said before, there has been discussion and debate about how you adapt norms to the situation at hand. That debate has, obviously, covered some of the issues that you're raising. But not having been in all those debates, not having been in all those discussions, I can't tell you at this date, there was this decided at that date; there was that decided, et cetera, et cetera, because it's an ongoing thing.
But I can tell you that the policy has always been: (a) that we abide by U.S. law and our international obligations; (b) that includes torture and the convention against torture; and (c) that the formulation as expressed by the Secretary of State today is existing policy. And, finally, that's as much as I can do for you.
QUESTION: Sir, I think you answered my question. So in another words, the Convention applied to those suspects who are being held abroad, not in America.
MR. ERELI: It applies to --
MR. ERELI: The Secretary said what the policy is. I'll leave it at that.
QUESTION: So other than that --
MR. ERELI: May we have this gentleman.
QUESTION: If I just may ask that, under the Convention, practices being used in Guantanamo, for example, such as water boarding, that we all have heard about, is banned. So if you say the U.S. has adopted in the past, even last week, this Convention Against Torture, it would imply that all those practices would have been illegal.
MR. ERELI: I'm not going to speak to allegations of specific treatment. I would say that the United States and officials of the United States and employees of the United States are subject to and act according with U.S. law and our agreements under -- our international agreements, including the Convention Against Torture.
QUESTION: Adam, just one more. But the UN Convention on Torture doesn't specifically -- without you speaking to any one specific act, the Convention itself doesn't lay out any specific acts. So is there a list that you follow that's kind of an addendum to the Convention on Torture or a list that you have of specific acts that you're prohibited against?
MR. ERELI: I don't know.
QUESTION: A quick question on this. I know you don't want to get into timelines, but was the Secretary's comments today necessitated to clarify, to restate potential misunderstandings or misstatements that are being made about her comments -- about her statement on Monday, that some people thought a loophole may have applied, may have opened because they were reading into her fully vetted statement on Monday? Is this what necessitated potentially her comments today?
MR. ERELI: There's requests for -- this was in response to questions we felt that, you know, that there was a need to answer those questions and that's why the Secretary said what she said.
QUESTION: So it is a causal effect then because, I mean, I know it was a question asked --
MR. ERELI: And the answer is --
QUESTION: Is an answer to a direct question on the road. But, obviously, there had been some consideration given to the fact that we needed to get out to clarify something that potentially had been omitted or something that other, let's say, newspapers, were misinterpreting.
MR. ERELI: Again, you know, we want to -- as I said before, there is a good and honest and well-intentioned debate, and we want to contribute to that debate and we want to help the American people and those everywhere with an interest in this issue to understand why we do what we do and what principles we're guided by. And I think there's a lot of misunderstanding based on an incomplete -- a lot of misunderstanding based on incomplete consideration of what's out there. So that's what we're -- that's what's behind our attempt to lay it out.
QUESTION: You said that there's an incomplete consideration of what's out there, but don't you think there's been an incomplete -- at least until this point, I mean -- do you think that because -- that it's an incomplete consideration because it's been an incomplete explanation?
MR. ERELI: It's obviously, as I said before, an ongoing process -- an ongoing process of discussion and adaptation. So, you know, it's something that evolves. It's not an issue that's going to be fully answered today, I mean, because there are going to be, again, new developments, new threats, new actions that people will want to understand, people will evaluate in the light of what's been done in the past. And so -- and that's the spirit in which we're coming -- that's the spirit in which we're engaging on this.
QUESTION: You said that you're engaged in the struggle with a new kind of enemy outside the norms and practices. But that enemy is not following the regular norms and practices. And you've never been faced with dealing with an enemy of this nature before in -- within the context of your own norms, practices, and obligations. Is there a move in this Administration to reinterpret your obligations to these treaties and international law when faced with an enemy that's not necessarily acting within the bounds of the obligations that you adhere to?
MR. ERELI: I think what we're trying to do and what we've been trying to do from the beginning is to both confront and defeat an enemy and to do it consistent with our laws and our -- both domestic and international. And because in the struggle, we're never forgetting that we are a nation of law, that we are governed by the rule of law, and that we are answerable to the law. And I think that is a fundamental principle that guides us in our discussions and assessments of what is necessary and appropriate, bearing -- all the while bearing in mind that it's important to do everything we can to protect the American citizens.
QUESTION: But the difference with -- sorry, one more on this -- but the difference with Europe is that they feel that no matter who the enemy is, you need to follow the parameters of international norms and obligations that you've all signed on to.
MR. ERELI: I know. We're saying the same thing.
QUESTION: No matter who the enemy is.
MR. ERELI: We're saying that we've got a new enemy. It poses unprecedented challenges and that we are going to meet those challenges consistent with our laws and international obligations.
QUESTION: You said more than that. And you said and we'll have to adapt our norms to meet these --
MR. ERELI: Well, that is --
QUESTION: -- unforeseen -- adapt means to fiddle with. It means to refine.
MR. ERELI: Adapt, interpret --
QUESTION: No, I mean, there are people who think the First Amendment ought to be sort of refined every now and then, then there were a few lonely people, like William Douglas and Hugo Black, who thought that the First Amendment meant what it said, okay. Now, if the Convention on Torture means explicitly what it says or if it's something that can be adapted to changing an unforeseen and, you know, awful, terrible enemies, then you -- that's your rationale for changing --
MR. ERELI: I think that any lawyer or legal scholar would tell you that the law is organic and dynamic.
QUESTION: No. The First Amendment isn't organic and dynamic.
QUESTION: Adam, the question about Masri. There's a report circulating in Germany that the U.S. officials are negotiating with German officials about a packet of compensation for Masri. Can you --
MR. ERELI: Don't know anything about that and I would also note that, you know, this is a matter that is obviously a subject of legal action so --
QUESTION: Okay. Well, okay, then --
MR. ERELI: That constrains what can be said.
QUESTION: Okay, as a follow-up question. The Secretary has said that if mistakes were made that the she would -- that the United States would rectify --
MR. ERELI: Take actions to rectify.
QUESTION: Okay. Does rectification include people who were wrongly abducted and imprisoned and abused that they should be compensated?
MR. ERELI: I don't want to engage in hypotheticals. I think that the point the Secretary made is fairly clear that we believe it's important to correct our mistakes.
QUESTION: So you're saying a mistake was made.
MR. ERELI: Pardon?
QUESTION: You said it is important for us to --
MR. ERELI: Correct our mistakes.
QUESTION: -- correct our mistakes. So you're saying that it was a mistake.
MR. ERELI: I'm not speaking about any case in specific or specific circumstances. I'm saying, as a --
QUESTION: But (inaudible) --
MR. ERELI: -- general matter. Yeah, and I'm not speaking to specifics. I'm saying is --
QUESTION: You're not answering his question then?
MR. ERELI: To the degree that he's asking about a specific case and I'm not talking about specifics, I guess you could say I'm not answering his question, yes.
QUESTION: Can I move on?
QUESTION: On Merkel? A new one?
QUESTION: Yeah. Exactly.
QUESTION: One more question on torture?
QUESTION: Okay, Jonathan, go ahead. One more. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: You said that the Department of Defense has issued a statement about access to prisoners saying that the International Red Cross has access to all prisoners being held on the Department of Defense properties, prisons, whatever. Clearly, Europe wants reassurances about the treatment of all prisoners, not just those being abducted by the Department of Defense but also by the CIA. Can you now give reassurances because the speculation about secret prisons continues, that the International Red Cross has access to all prisoners, not just those being held by the Department of Defense?
MR. ERELI: Yeah. Yeah. You know, I'm not prepared to speak to that. I'll leave it at that.
QUESTION: But then you know it's just going to, you know, I mean -- why not? It's just -- it's -- that's the reassurance.
MR. ERELI: Yeah. Because I think, again, as the Secretary made clear, again, on her statement on Monday, there are certain activities because of their nature, because of the intelligence that we're just not going to talk about and beyond saying that we will act in accordance with the law -- with our international obligations and respecting the sovereignty of our partners.
QUESTION: But their reports are confidential. Why wouldn't you let them view what you're doing if it's completely legal?
MR. ERELI: I think I've said what I can say on the subject.
QUESTION: Can we move on to something else?
QUESTION: Yes. I was going to do that.
QUESTION: I wanted to ask about --
QUESTION: I want to ask about Russia.
QUESTION: I want to ask about Syria.
MR. ERELI: How about Syria and Russia?
QUESTION: But this is --
QUESTION: All right. Syria and Russia working --
QUESTION: -- this is continuing on the Rice theme. How's that? Her comments on Russia, what drew the Secretary to become the highest-ranking official to speak publicly about concerns about this NGO law -- not the NGO law -- the restrictions on some civil society actions?
MR. ERELI: This is something we've -- the Secretary has spoken to before, the President has spoken to before. It is an issue that we -- the democratic development of Russia -- in Russia is an issue that we followed closely, that we think is -- as a friend of Russia is important for Russia's future strengths and prominence in the international stage. And so it's entirely, I think, appropriate and to be expected that it's an issue that we speak out on, especially given that it's a subject of debate, of vigorous debate, in Russia itself and among Russians.
QUESTION: But isn't it that there hasn't been any sign that Russia is going to scale back this law? You've spoken to it before, but she was definitely more critical than she has or any other U.S. official has been in the past?
MR. ERELI: Well, the United States, I think, at various levels and now including at the level of the Secretary, has said that restrictions on civil society in Russia is not a positive thing. It is something that is -- we believe does not serve the people of Russia well and wanting to see democratic development, wanting to see public participation and citizens holding their elected officials accountable, that civil society has an important role in this.
QUESTION: Have you seen any sign whatsoever that the Russian Government is hearing these calls from you and from their own people? It's continuing to move through parliament -- through Duma.
MR. ERELI: Yeah. And it's a process that has a ways to go. And I think we will continue to take the actions that we think are appropriate to encourage positive direction on the subject.
QUESTION: To encourage positive direction.
MR. ERELI: Positive direction in terms of respecting the liberties and empowering the citizens of Russia to act for the public good.
QUESTION: Is the U.S. confidence in the view of the case the UN was building against Syria on the Hariri assassination shaken at all by recent developments, which you know as well as I do what they are in, no sense taking a lot of time to go through them.
MR. ERELI: I really can't speak to the status of the Independent Commission's work. That's something I think that the Independent Commission can speak to and the prosecutor can speak to. What, as a member of the Security Council, I can speak to is that 1636 remains the operative document on this case, that the provisions of 1636 are pretty clear in terms of what it empowers the prosecutor to do and what it obliges Syria to do, that the investigation is proceeding on the basis of that resolution, that we are looking forward to a report on the 15th of December, and that, frankly, pursuant to 1636, the United States and the other members of the Security Council, I think, are committed to finding out the facts.
And I think, again, depending on what Mehlis reports on the 15th, we will decide what the appropriate steps are, based on the facts that are produced to date and what we think is necessary to arrive at a full understanding of what happened to Prime Minister Hariri and a full accounting of holding those responsible for those events to account.
So, again, without speaking to the specifics of what Mehlis is doing or how Mehlis is doing, the fact of the matter is he is empowered; Syria is obliged. The force of those powers and obligations remains as strong today as they were when 1636 was passed and a commitment to finding out what happened and holding those to account is also as firm and strong as it was in the past.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Do you have an update on looking into the American -- potential American hostage yesterday that appeared on that videotape? Have you been able to confirm anything?
QUESTION: His family has now come out and said they do believe it's Ronald Shultz -- confirm it.
MR. ERELI: Okay. Well, since you said that, we have talked to the family of the individual in the video. On the basis of that discussion, you know, we believe that there is an American missing. I'm not in a position to discuss with you the identity of the individual. I would say that we are working with the Iraqis and the family and our Embassy to locate him and to bring this situation to a satisfactory conclusion.
QUESTION: So you know who the individual is, but you don't want to --
MR. ERELI: As I said, we have spoken to the family and believe that this individual is an American. We don't know his present circumstances, but we're working with the family to -- and the Iraqis to help locate him.
QUESTION: Remember yesterday, you were -- the State Department hadn't been able to identify. You were looking at a picture (inaudible) video, whatever it is, and couldn't identify him. So what happened? Did the family approach State and said, we think it's who we think it is. And you guys said --
MR. ERELI: Well, based on information in the video, I think we were able to locate - and other work done -- were able to locate the family.
QUESTION: Oh, okay. Okay.
MR. ERELI: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:25 p.m.)
(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
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