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Rice Defends U.S. Interrogations, Criticizes Russia

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sought Wednesday to clarify U.S. policy on harsh interrogation methods, saying no U.S. personnel may use cruel or degrading practices at home or abroad.

Rice's remarks followed confusion in the United States over whether CIA employees could use means otherwise off limits for U.S. personnel.

It also follows strong and sustained criticism in Europe over techniques such as waterboarding, in which prisoners are strapped to a plank and dumped in water.

"As a matter of U.S. policy," Rice said the United Nations Convention against Torture "extends to U.S. personnel wherever they are, whether they are in the U.S. or outside the U.S."

The U.N. treaty also prohibits treatment that doesn't meet the legal definition of torture, including many practices that human rights organizations say were used routinely at the U.S. military prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The Bush administration has previously said the ban on cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment did not apply to Americans working overseas. In practice, that meant CIA employees could use methods in overseas prisons that would not be allowed in the United States.

Human rights organizations and critics in Europe have called that a loophole for treatment almost indistinguishable from torture. Prisoners suspected of links to terrorism have been chained to the floors of their cells, denied sleep and led to believe they could be killed.

Separately, Rice delivered a rebuke to Russian President Vladimir Putin over a new law she said infringes on democracy. Drawing a comparison with Ukraine's new democratic government, Rice criticized a Russian law restricting the activities of human rights groups, democracy promoters and other independent organizations.

"Democracy is built, of course, on elections, it's built on principle, it's built on rule of law and freedom of speech," she said.

Rice said U.S. diplomats have told Putin they are concerned about the restrictions.

The secretary of state spoke during a press conference Wednesday with Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko in his nation's capital, Kiev. Rice's visit was intended, in part, to bolster Yushchenko a year after he came to power in a popular revolution.

She also took questions from university students before a meeting later Wednesday with Ukraine's foreign minister.

Rice's five-day European trip, which has also included stops in Germany and Romania, is continuing to Brussels, Belgium, for a visit to NATO headquarters.

Her motorcade entered the Ukrainian capital Tuesday along the route where demonstrators set up a tent city last year and eventually helped force aside a Russian-allied presidential candidate.

The United States played an important role in condemning a fraud-marred presidential vote and calling for a revote, which Ukraine's Supreme Court ordered and Yushchenko won.

Yushchenko was elected after surviving dioxin poisoning that disfigured his face. He blames the poisoning on the regime of his predecessor, strongman Leonid Kuchma, who had supported Yushchenko's opponent in the election.

Yushchenko campaigned partly on a promise to pull Ukraine's troops out of the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq, but the Bush administration quickly adopted him as a democratic darling. The Ukrainian leader visited the White House in April.

Many Ukrainians now express disappointment at their nation's failure to improve living standards and battle corruption since the dramatic days of the street protests.

On the bright side, the European Union agreed last week to declare Ukraine a free market economy, handing Yushchenko a major victory as he seeks eventual membership in the 25-nation bloc.

"The European Union has been very involved in the development of a plan for action with Ukraine, as has the United States, and this is an area that really does bear our attention," Rice said in Berlin.