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Rice Aides Slam Comment that US Made "Mistake"

After Angela Merkel said Tuesday that the US admitted it erred in detaining a German national, Rice's aides challenged her comments, saying they weren't sure "what was in (Merkel's) head" when she said what she did.


There's some disagreement about who was admitting exactly to what

Speaking to the press after a meeting with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Berlin Tuesday, Merkel said she had discussed the case of Khaled el-Masri, a Lebanese-born German national who was reportedly abducted by CIA operatives and held in Afghanistan for several months.

"The American administration has admitted that this man was erroneously taken," Merkel told reporters.


Khaled el-Masri says he was kept in Afghanistan for five months

But senior US officials, who are travelling with Rice on her European tour, disagreed with Merkel's interpretation. After the news conference, they met with the chancellor's aides and asked for a explanation, saying Rice had not actually admitted to a US mistake over Masri.

"We are not quite sure what was in her head," a senior US administration official told Reuters.

He said while the Bush administration had informed Germany about Masri's detention and release, he did not say it was an error on the US government's part.

The official went on to say that the German chancellor might have been drawing on media reports rather than any dialog with the US administration when she concluded that Washington had admitted to a mistake.

Masri was released last year after five months in an Afghan jail after the United States realized it "no longer had evidence or intelligence to justify his continued detention," the official said, but declined to respond when asked if the US had ever had evidence to hold him.

He did acknowledge that Masri was originally detained because of a suspicion that he had a false passport and had the same name as a militant leader. The passport turned out to be genuine, the official added.

The case caused an uproar in Germany after recent news reports that former Interior Minister Otto Schily had been informed about the wrongful abduction by the then US ambassador in Germany.

Reports about secret CIA flights to transport terror suspects across German air space and to US air bases in Germany have also strained relations in the last weeks. The US is also facing criticism for allegedly operating secret CIA prisons in eastern Europe.

Rice: A case for the courts

Saying that Masri's case was a matter for litigation, Rice declined to comment on it, but did say that the US was ready to correct its mistakes, which could have led Merkel to make the comments she did.

"Any policy will result in errors," she said. "When mistakes are made, we work very hard to rectify them. I believe that this will be handled in the proper courts, here in Germany and if necessary in American courts as well."

Rice also reiterated her view that her government could not reveal details about US intelligence agencies.

"We have to have intelligence that can be effective," she said. "Without good intelligence, you can simply not protect innocent civilians from the kind of attacks that we've witnessed around the globe."

Merkel sees intensified relationship

Rice added that Washington was adhering to national and international laws.


Merkel said Rice's statement is a good basis for intelligence cooperation

"The US does not condone torture," she said. "It is against US law to commit torture and it's also against the US' international obligations. The president has made it very clear that US personnel will operate within US law and international obligations."

Merkel said that she was glad Rice had reiterated the US administration's commitment to international laws.

"It was important for me that the secretary of state repeated this, that the United States sticks to its international obligations," she said, adding that she was looking forward to continuing to build an "intensified relationship between our two countries" during her upcoming visit to Washington in January.

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