Rice visit overshadowed by CIA prison allegations

With alleged CIA prisons in Europe in the focus of European interest, US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice is failing, on her tour of European capitals in December 2005, to raise attention for transatlantic co-operation.

In Germany, new Chancellor Angela Merkel is risking her first transatlantic argument as she insists on her representation of talks with Ms. Rice, in spite of US protests. According to Ms. Merkel, the secretary of state had told her in their 6 December 2005 talk that the abduction of a German citizen to a prison in Afghanistan, where he allegedly was tortured by US agents, was “an error”. 

One day later, papers quoted a member of Ms. Rice’s delegation as saying of Ms. Merkel: “We are not quite sure what was in her head.” Addressing journalists in Berlin, government spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm replied: “The comments, as they were made yesterday, are valid.” Opposition parties in Germany have called for an inquiry committee in the Bundestag to be established to look into reports that members of the Schröder government had been informed of the abduction in May 2004 but did not act.

In a move that some officials called a “clarification”, others a “shift”, Ms. Rice said, on 7 December 2005 in the Ukraine, that all US personnel is forbidden to use torture and had to respect the UN Convention Against Torture, “wherever they are, whether they are in the US or outside the US”. Previously, the Bush administration had held that US personnel abroad was not bound to the UN convention. Human rights groups claim, however, that some interrogation techniques explicitly allowed for the CIA under specific circumstances – such as ‘water
boarding‘ – are in contradiction of the UN convention, which the US have signed.

Ms. Rice is expected to come under more pressure when arriving in Brussels on 8 December 2005 to discuss issues like Afghanistan and Kosovo with NATO foreign ministers. Members of the Parliament have called for an inquiry committee there to look into possible human rights breaches in alleged CIA prisons in EU countries.

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