Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Thursday once more strongly denied Germany had in any way supported secret CIA flights over German soil to transport terrorist suspects across Europe.
The CIA is accused of transporting terrorism suspects to secret prisons on European soil
Steinmeier told a parliamentary committee investigating the German intelligence services' role in so-called "extraordinary renditions" or secret flights organized by the CIA to transfer terrorist suspects that the government could not be held responsible for the conduct of the US secret services.
Steinmeier's role has come under particular scrutiny as he was former chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's chief of staff and was therefore responsible for coordinating the work of intelligence agencies when two cases of "extraordinary rendition" allegedly took place on German soil -- in December 2001 and February 2003.
Steinmeier has denied Germany had known of the secret flights
Steinmeier described allegations that Germany had known of the rendition flights as "utter nonsense."
Thursday was the fourth time Steinmeier was questioned over his role in the affair which has rocked the government after it was accused by the Council of Europe of turning a blind eye to the controversial practice.
Differences with Condoleezza Rice
Steinmeier said that on taking office in 2005 he had immediately informed his US counterpart, Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, the flights were illegal under German law.
Speaking before the committee, Steinmeier alluded to differences of opinion with Rice, referring to a letter he had written Rice on taking office on the so-called "extraordinary rendition" of terrorist suspects and to another on March 4 this year in which he urged the US to respect the sovereignty of other countries.
The latter had still not be answered, he said. "I do not deny that there continue to be different standpoints on important questions," Steinmeier said. "We expect from our friends that they respect our legal rulings and that they abide by the law in their activities in Germany."
Steinmeier said he had first heard of secret US detention centers in Europe in a US newspaper report on November 2, 2005.
"One cannot support abduction or torture," he said.
The cases being investigated by the parliamentary committee include that of an Egyptian-born German, Abdel Halim Khafagy, who was allegedly abducted in 2001 and tortured at a secret prison at a US military base in Bosnia.
On Thursday, the parliamentary committee was presented with evidence that German intelligence agency BND had some information on the two rendition flights on German soil.
On December 18, 2001 the CIA had transported two Egyptian suspects from Sweden to Cairo, crossing German airspace, and on February 17, 2003, the Egyptian Abu Omar had been flown to Cairo with a stop-off at the US Ramstein military base near Frankfurt, the commission said.
Rights group slam US
Human rights groups accuse the United States of having used extraordinary rendition in order to interrogate suspected terrorists under methods not allowed in the US itself, including torture.
The CIA operated a secret detention program outside the US
The US administration has acknowledged that the Central Intelligence Agency operated a secret detention program outside the United States but denied sending suspects to be tortured.
Germany was named in a report by the Council of Europe in 2006 as one of 14 European nations which had turned a "blind eye" to the controversial practice by allowing CIA flights to use their airspace or airfields. The government has rejected the charge.
Human rights organization Amnesty International organized a demonstration outside the venue on Thursday where the commission was meeting.
The head of the German chapter of Amnesty International, Barbara Lochbihler, said, on the sidelines of Thursday's parliamentary hearing that measures must be taken to prevent "similar human rights violations happening in the future."