The CIA last month emptied two secret prisons in Eastern Europe of
terrorist suspects in a frantic effort to defuse the "rendition"
controversy ahead of Condoleezza Rice's visit to Europe, sources
in the agency have claimed.
Eleven leading al-Qa'eda suspects were transferred to a new CIA facility in
North Africa, current and former officers told ABC television.
Condoleezza Rice and Angela Merkel after a tense meeting at the Chancellery
The allegation emerged as Miss Rice, the US secretary of state, had an awkward
meeting with Angela Merkel, the new German chancellor.
It had been billed as the start of a new era of relations but instead it was
dominated by the transatlantic row over the CIA's activities in Europe, and
one case in which the CIA allegedly mistook a German citizen for a terrorist
suspect and abducted him.
The Bush administration has refused to confirm or deny that the CIA runs "black
sites" in Eastern Europe to hold terrorist suspects outside the reach of
US law. The allegations were made in the Washington Post last month.
The controversy intensified with the release of more detailed allegations on
ABC News yesterday. It claimed that 11 top terrorist suspects were held on a
former Soviet air base in Eastern Europe until some time last month.
Several of them were later held at a second base, CIA officials told the network.
They were all moved to North Africa after the Post's report.
Ten of the detainees were subjected to the harshest interrogation techniques
allowed, the network alleged.
Miss Rice sought to mollify critics in Germany, the first stop of her four-day
tour, yesterday when she admitted America had made "mistakes" in its
fight against terrorism. The Bush administration would, she said, do everything
it could to rectify them.
A large part of her talks with Mrs Merkel concentrated on the case of the German
national, Khaled el Masri. He was allegedly flown by the CIA from the Balkans
to Afghanistan, held for five months and released because he was the wrong man.
"I am happy to say that we spoke about the individual case, which the
US administration has accepted as a mistake," Mrs Merkel said.
US officials later however bridled at Mrs Merkel's comments. They said Miss
Rice had informed Germany about Mr Masri's detention and release. "We are
not quite sure what was in her head," one senior US official said, referring
to the German chancellor.
The official added that Mrs Merkel might have drawn her conclusion from media
reports rather than from communication with the US government.
The row was the worst possible conclusion to a meeting that both countries
had hoped would usher in a friendlier period of relations following the appalling
relationship between Gerhard Schröder, Mrs Merkel's predecessor, and President
George W Bush.
Mrs Merkel stressed that while agreeing on the need to fight terrorism she
did not support any illegal methods.