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Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Monday gave the United States' most detailed defense yet of its treatment of suspected terrorists, saying it was lawful and carried out with the cooperation of other nations.
In remarks delivered shortly before departing on a trip to Europe, where US policies have been under fire, she did not answer the underlying question of whether the United States had CIA-operated secret prisons there.
But, apparently seeking to turn the table on European critics, she suggested that governments that cooperate with the United States could disclose the information themselves.
"It is up to those governments and their citizens to decide if they wish to work with us to prevent terrorist attacks against their own country or other countries, and decide how much sensitive information they can make public. They have a sovereign right to make that choice," she said in remarks delivered at an Air Force Base before her departure.
She described intelligence, law enforcement and military cooperation as "a two-way street."
"We share intelligence that has helped protect European countries from attack, helping save European lives," she said.
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said Monday that Rice's comment "makes clear" that the United States does not torture its detainees and said, "All of us must work together within the rule of law to use every tool at our disposal" to counter terrorism.
Reports of the existence of the secret prisons has caused a trans-Atlantic uproar. Britain, which holds the revolving presidency of the EU, sent a two-paragraph letter to Washington late last month demanding more information about reports that the CIA detained and interrogated terrorism prisoners in Soviet-era compounds in Eastern Europe.
In Germany, Rice's first stop, a government spokesman, Ulrich Wilhelm, said his government had a list of more than 400 overflights and landings by planes suspected of being used by the CIA. He told reporters "we are hoping that all of the facts will be discussed" by Rice with Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Rice said the United States "cannot discuss information that would compromise the success of intelligence, law enforcement, and military operations. We expect that other nations share this view."
But she also offered assurances that the United States respects the sovereignty of other countries, that it does not condone torture under any circumstances and that it does not allow detainees to be transported to countries where they will be tortured.
Rice did say the United States and other countries have long participated in the movement of terror suspects between countries.
"Such renditions are permissible under international law and are consistent with the responsibilities of those governments to protect their citizens," she said, adding that "its use is not unique to the United States, or to the current administration."
Human rights organizations and legal groups, both in the US and abroad, have accused the United States of allowing a practice known as "rendition to torture," in which suspects are taken to countries such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia where harsh interrogation methods are used.
European governments have expressed outrage over reports of a network of secret Soviet-era prisons in Eastern Europe where detainees may have been harshly treated and that flights carrying al-Qaida prisoners went through European airports.
Several countries have denied they provided prison sites. If the United States did operate them, or is still doing so, the information would be classified.
Rice's five-day itinerary includes a stop in Romania, a country Human Rights Watch identified as a likely site of a secret US-run detention site. Romania denies it.
The general issue of US treatment of detainees in the war on terror has been an irritant in relations with Europe and other parts of the world since shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
It gained new immediacy last month with a Washington Post report about a network of CIA prisons overseas, including some in Europe, and claims by the Human Rights Watch that it had tracked CIA flights into Eastern Europe.
The European Union's justice commissioner said such prisons and detainee mistreatment would violate European human rights law, and he warned last week than any host countries could lose voting rights in the powerful 25-nation bloc.
Secret prisons and many harsh methods of interrogation would be illegal on US soil. It has been long assumed that the United States holds some of its more valuable and potentially dangerous captives - such as alleged terror mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed - outside the country and beyond the jurisdiction of US courts.
Rice's trip to Germany, Romania, Ukraine and Belgium is meant to build on generally improved relations between Europe and the United States after a period of strain over the US-led invasion of Iraq. The war remains widely unpopular in Europe, as does Bush.
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