EU Calls for Lawful Treatment of Terror Suspects by U.S.

EU foreign ministers on Friday called on the United States to respect international law in its handling of terror suspects after U.S. President George W. Bush acknowledged his country had run secret prisons abroad.

"We reiterate that in combatting terrorism, human rights and human standards have to be maintained," said Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja, speaking on behalf of the 25 EU ministers.

"We acknowledge the intention of the U.S. administration to treat all detainees in accordance with the provisions of the Geneva Convention."

Tuomioja's statement was the first formal joint reaction by the 25-nation bloc to Bush's statement last week on the controversial CIA-run detention centers, some of which are believed by human rights groups to have been situated in eastern Europe.

The U.S. president acknowledged for the first time that terrorism suspects have been held in CIA-run prisons overseas after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

The EU foreign ministers discussed the issue during their Friday talks.

The EU's statement also serves as a new appeal to Washington not to ignore international treaties meant to offer protection to prisoners of war.

Bush is pushing the U.S. Congress to back new rules which he says are key to interrogating and prosecuting terrorism suspects.

The U.S. president's measure would allowing classified evidence to be withheld from defendants in terror trials and using coerced testimony.

The Bush plan also revises an existing U.S. law that interprets American obligations under the Geneva Conventions -- the international treaty that sets the standard for treatment of war prisoners -- so that harsh interrogations of detainees would not be questioned in court.

EU governments are also under increased pressure to come clean on whether they were cooperating with the U.S. or knew that the CIA were using airports in Europe to transfer detainees.

"The existence of secret detention facilities where detained persons are kept in a legal vacuum is not in conformity with international humanitarian law and international criminal law," Tuomioja said. "We will continue our dialogue with the United States focusing on safeguarding human rights in the fight against terrorism."

Tuomioja did not clarify whether any of the 25 EU member states were involved in running CIA secret prisons. He said only that the EU was committed to combatting terrorism "using all legal means and instruments available."

On Thursday, Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos told a European Parliament committee investigating the alleged CIA secret flights and prisons in Europe that Madrid had not participated.

He said that Spanish authorities had not found any evidence or indications of crimes related to stopovers of CIA flights, notably that detainees were tortured or illegally interrogated at secret locations in Spain.

Romania and Poland were singled out as possible locations of clandestine CIA jails by Human Rights Watch, but both countries have repeatedly denied involvement.