WASHINGTON – The Bush administration acknowledged Tuesday that reports of secret U.S.-run prisons for terror suspects have raised an outcry among European allies and said the U.S. will account for its actions.
Without confirming that any CIA detention sites exist in Europe, a State Department spokesman said the U.S. has not violated either its own laws or international treaties.
"The United States in its actions does not break U.S. law," spokesman Sean McCormack said. "All its actions comply with the Constitution and we abide by our international obligations.
"And all we can do is do our best to try to explain that to publics around the world — to our own public and to European publics or wherever the question may arise."
The United States has not answered queries about the issue from allies including Britain and Spain in recent weeks, McCormack said. He said those answers are forthcoming, along with a response to a letter expected soon on behalf of the European Union.
Allegations the CIA hid and interrogated key Al Qaeda suspects at Soviet-era compounds in eastern Europe were first reported Nov. 2 in The Washington Post.
A day later, the advocacy group Human Rights Watch said it had evidence indicating the CIA flew suspected terrorists captured in Afghanistan to Poland and Romania.
Concerns about alleged CIA activities in Europe have led to investigations in a half dozen countries. The CIA has declined to comment on the investigations, and the White House and State Department have not confirmed any of the allegations.
The Council of Europe, the continent's main human rights watchdog, also is looking into the reports, and EU justice official Jonathan Faul formally raised the issue last week with the White House and State Department.
The issue is expected to dominate Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's trip to Romania and other European countries next week, and it was a topic for a meeting Tuesday in Washington with the new German foreign minister.
"We acknowledged that this is generating interest among publics and governments and parliaments as well," McCormack said. "We understand that these issues need to be responded to, and the secretary pledged to the foreign minister that we will respond to the EU presidency inquiry."
On Monday, the European Union's top justice official warned that EU nations could lose voting rights in the 25-nation bloc if they hosted a clandestine detention center.
A secret jail would violate the European Convention on Human Rights, EU Justice and Home Affairs Commissioner Franco Frattini said.
Prisoner transport flights without the knowledge of local authorities would violate international aviation agreements, he said.
McCormack urged a broad view of the prison allegations that takes into account the unusual, multi-front war on terror.
"Any government needs to act to protect its own people," McCormack said. "Ask yourself the question, if you were able to detain a terrorist responsible for the deaths of thousands of people before that act took place, absolutely a government would make every effort in order to do that."