WASHINGTON – The U.S.-led war in Iraq accelerated the spread of terrorism around the globe and reports of U.S. mistreatment of terror prisoners are troubling its allies, the new Saudi ambassador to Washington said Thursday.
In a wide-ranging interview with American reporters, Prince Turki bin al-Faisal also said he thinks Usama bin Laden may no longer be in charge of Al Qaeda, called Israel's decision to pull out of the Gaza Strip a "remarkable achievement" and said his country has concerns that Iran is meddling in the establishment of an Iraqi government.
Asked whether the war in Iraq made the world less safe, Turki said even if the United States had not invaded, global terrorism would have continued. "Going into Iraq may have accentuated or accelerated that process, but I don't think it is the reason why we are having bombs in London or in Saudi Arabia or wherever," he said.
Turki's comments come as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice concludes a European tour where she has faced daily questions about U.S. detention and interrogation policies aimed at stopping terrorism. That has included criticism of secret CIA prisons and "renditions" in which intelligence operatives grab terror suspects and deliver them to their home countries or another where they are wanted for a crime.
Turki, a former director of the Saudi intelligence service, said his country has never accepted any renditions or served as an interrogation or holding point at the United States' request.
In its annual report on human rights worldwide, the State Department called Saudi Arabia's human rights' record "poor overall," despite some progress. It said Saudi security forces "continue to abuse detainees and prisoners, arbitrarily arrest and hold persons in incommunicado detention."
Turki said five or six Saudis have been released from the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and more than 100 still remain there. Discussions about their release are continuing, he added.
The ambassador said he does not have any specific information about whether any Saudis held by the United States have been mistreated, beyond what he reads in news reports.
"The U.S. for much of mankind has always stood as an example of ... due process, human rights, innocent before proven guilty," Turki said. "If any of these precepts and principles are flouted by the promoter ... then that affects all of us."
The White House had no immediate comment on the issues raised by Turki.
In July, Prince Bandar bin Sultan announced his resignation after 22 years as Saudi ambassador to Washington. Turki, who was serving as the ambassador to Britain, recently arrived in Washington to fill the position.
On Iraq, Turki said he, too, was surprised that weapons of mass destruction were not found there, given Saddam Hussein's ambitions. "We were all assuming that he was working toward acquiring the means for weapons of mass destruction, but there was no specifics," he said.
While Turki described Saudi Arabia's relations with Iran positively, he said the Iraqis report "increased interference" from Iran as they establish their government, including the takeover of village councils and intimidation in the election process.
"We express to our Iranian neighbors that that is not going to be helpful," Turki said.
On other issues, Turki said:
— He believes that Usama bin Laden is alive but that there is some question about whether he is still the leader of Al Qaeda. Bin Laden has not been heard from since an audio last December, and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, has been making the public pronouncements for the past year. Yet Turki didn't know precisely what the shift meant, suggesting that bin Laden even may be in retirement.
— The Israeli pullout of the Gaza Strip has been a "remarkable achievement" on the part of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, "who throughout his life has been of the opposite opinion" and has wanted to take more land from the Palestinians.
— Saudi Arabia has been undergoing a number of democratic reforms. Turki said he can see a day when the country's national assembly would be elected and would include women.