Merkel to question Rice on secret CIA 'rendition' flights

5th December 2005, Comments 0 comments

5 December 2005, BERLIN/WASHINGTON - German Chancellor Angela Merkel will question U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice over allegations the CIA used airports in Germany for secret flights transporting terror suspects, officials said Monday.

5 December 2005

BERLIN/WASHINGTON - German Chancellor Angela Merkel will question U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice over allegations the CIA used airports in Germany for secret flights transporting terror suspects, officials said Monday.

German officials confirmed media reports they had received a list of 437 flights through Germany by CIA planes in recent years and vowed to press Rice for details at her meetings Tuesday in Berlin with Merkel and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

"The list was compiled and given to the German government," Jens Ploetner, a foreign ministry spokesman. Der Spiegel said the list was compiled by the national air traffic control service.

The magazine said there were no indications on whether prisoners were aboard any of the flights at all.

Two aircraft that are registered to private companies known to carry out CIA work either passed through German airspace or touched down on German soil 137 times alone in 2002 and 146 times in 2003, according to the list.

The stopover sites were mainly Berlin, Frankfurt and the U.S.-run Ramstein Air Force Base.

The U.S. State Department had earlier said it will respond in a "timely and forthright manner" to a European Union letter asking about reports that the CIA operated secret prisons for terrorism suspects on European soil.

In Europe, unconfirmed reports have recently appeared in the media that the suspects are taken to places where torture is unchecked. Romania and Poland have denied charges they host such jails. Reporters are likely to raise the issue at Rice's news conferences.

In Britain, the Mail on Sunday newspaper published what it said were pictures of such flights during stopovers at the Royal Air Force base at Northolt, west of London.

The paper listed a number of such flights, further claiming that planes were also being leased from a British company which, according to the New York Times newspaper, had close links with the CIA.

The Washington Post reported Saturday that Rice would go on the offensive on the issue, telling European governments to show restraint.

By telling them that Washington respected the sovereignty of its allies, she would be hinting to them that the practice, known as "extraordinary rendition", had been adopted with the full knowledge of major governments or their intelligence services.

The newspaper said this formulation would avoid Rice having to confirm the existence of secret CIA prisons abroad.

In another report published on Sunday, the Washington Post said the former U.S. ambassador to Germany, Daniel R. Coats, had told then-Interior Minister Otto Schily in May 2004 that the CIA had wrongfully imprisoned a German citizen, Khaled Masri, for five months as part of the rendition programme, but would release him.

Members of the German opposition have reacted angrily to the report, which has attracted widespread media interest in Germany, and accuse the government of tolerating the CIA's practices. The Greens' spokesman on domestic security, Wolfgang Wieland, told the Berlin daily Tagesspiegel that the report is "absolutely alarming." According to Wieland, the report raises the question, "Did Schily tell the Americans to carry on what they were doing? Or did he say, don't do that again?"

In an editorial on Monday, the Tagesspiegel said it was 'lucky for Schily that there has been a change in government'. If he was still in office and the report was true, he would have to resign, the newspaper argues.

A German prosecutor is still studying Masri's claims that he was kidnapped in the Balkans and taken to a secret torture prison in Afghanistan. Masri's attorneys say they intend to file a lawsuit in U.S. courts this week.

Meanwhile U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Monday strongly rejected allegations that the U.S. sanctioned torture as an interrogation method but declined to comment on reports of clandestine prisons run by the CIA.

Speaking at Andrews Air Force base before her departure for Germany, Rice said the U.S. could not comment on matters which could affect the gathering of intelligence information, the success of military operations or the course of court proceedings.

Rice also said she was confident that this standpoint would be shared by other nations.

Rice is to meet Tuesday with Germany's new chancellor, Angela Merkel. Beforehand she is to have a second meeting with the new foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who was in Washington last week.

The Germans are likely to place a high priority on getting all possible help from the United States to obtain the release of a German hostage in Iraq, Susanne Osthoff, a 43-year-old archaeologist and aid worker.

Rice will then continue to Romania, Ukraine and Belgium. On Thursday she will take part in a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Brussels.

Rice's trip to Berlin is aimed at setting the stage for talks between U.S. President George W. Bush and German Chancellor Merkel in Washington on January 11.

It will be Merkel's first trip to the U.S. since taking office last month.

Other main topics during the Rice visit are Afghanistan, the Balkans and the Middle East, German officials said.

Copyright DPA with Expatica

Subject: German news

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