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Rice: US May Stop Torturing POW's in Europe
Bloomberg
Europeans Say Rice Cleared Concerns Over U.S. Detainee Policy
December 8, 2005

Dec. 8 (Bloomberg) -- European officials said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice answered their concerns on U.S. detainee policy, which have dominated her trip to Europe this week.

Rice "cleared the air" on the issue, NATO Secretary General Jaap De Hoop Scheffer told a news conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels today.

French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said NATO allies "received assurances" from Rice that the U.S. fully conforms to its international agreements and has "full respect for sovereignty" of other nations. He welcomed the "U.S. adherence to international rules," particularly the UN Convention Against Torture.

"The U.S., they are our friends," Douste-Blazy said at a news conference focused on the detainee issue. "I repeat, they are our friends."

Dutch Foreign Minister Ben Bot, who earlier this week, called Rice's comments about reported secret CIA flights and detention facilities in Europe "unsatisfactory," told reporters today he was convinced, after hearing Rice's explanation, that if the prisons existed, the U.S. did not violate international law there.

Rice wraps up a five-day European trip tomorrow. She has been hounded from the start by questions on U.S. treatment of terrorism detainees following news reports of CIA flights through Europe carrying suspected terrorists to secret prisons in Europe or to countries where they might be tortured.

The prisons were documented by the Washington Post Nov 2. Some are located in Eastern Europe and are part of a program started almost four years ago and known by only a handful of U.S. officials, the paper reported.

Violators Will be `Punished'

The U.S. has acknowledged the flights, though not the existence of the prisons, and Rice has insisted the U.S. won't permit or condone torture at home or abroad.

Rice said she could not guarantee abuses would not occur in the future. If they do, people would be punished, she told reporters. "That is the only promise we can make," she said.

NATO foreign ministers were gathered in Brussels to discuss a range of issues, including the expansion of NATO's forces in Afghanistan. They met over dinner last night, then agreed formally today that the International Security Assistance Force would expand early next year into Afghanistan's south in the volatile area around Kandahar where reconstruction teams are working.

`An Opportunity'

It was the controversy over U.S. detainee policy that dominated their dinner last night, U.S. and NATO officials said.

Rice said she raised the matter at the start of the two-hour meal since she knew it was on peoples' minds.

"What this gave me an opportunity to do was to address this in a transparent way, from the point of view of what American policy really is, how we intend to live up to our international obligations and U.S. law," Rice said.

In Kiev yesterday, Rice, commenting on the United Nations Convention Against Torture, said the treaty "prohibits of course cruel and inhumane and degrading treatment" and that ban extends "to U.S. personnel wherever they are, whether they are in the United States or outside of the United States."

She appeared to be changing the administration's view of its obligations under the treaty. Officials have argued that the prohibition only applies to detainees held in the U.S., not those held abroad.

Rice, who was thrashed in press commentaries after her initial statement on the matter before leaving Washington Dec. 5, seemed yesterday to be trying to put an end to criticism and clarify the U.S. stance.

Wiggle Room?

Legal experts and human rights groups said they're still not sure Rice's statement didn't leave room for cruel treatment of detainees by U.S. personnel.

"Secretary Rice did not respond to specific allegations that detainees have been held illegally in CIA detention facilities in Europe," Human Rights Watch said in a statement yesterday. "She also failed to address rising concerns about specific U.S. interrogation techniques and torture practices such as waterboarding, which clearly violate the policy announced today."

David Luban, a professor at Georgetown University Law School, and a visiting professor at Stanford University, said he at first viewed Rice's statement as a policy shift and now believes she may be playing a semantic game.

"There is something absurd about the secretary of state making a statement so cryptic that journalists, lawyers, and, I suppose, diplomats are spending the day picking through the linguistic entrails to find the hidden message," he said via e- mail last night.

"There is always wiggle room in defining vague terms like 'cruel' and 'degrading,"' Luban said.

When asked today if any loopholes exist in the U.S. ban, Rice repeated her previous statements.

To contact the reporter on this story:
Janine Zacharia in Brussels with Rice at jzacharia@bloomberg.net.

Last Updated: December 8, 2005 11:11 EST

Commentary:
The Geneva Contentions don't allow for wiggle room for torture or cruel treatment of POW's, however, it seems clear the US is admitting it violated US and International law when it moved POW's to foreign countries to be tortured. It's a small first step for this morally reprehensible administration.