GWEN IFILL: Everywhere Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has traveled this week she's been confronted with the same mettlesome questions: Does the United States respect its allies? Does it condone terror? Does prosecuting terror mean ignoring international law?
From Berlin to Bucharest, she has insisted the United States is on the right side of the law.
And today in Ukraine, she said all American personnel comply with the U.N.'s Convention Against Torture, or CAT.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: As a matter of U.S. policy, the United States' obligations under the CAT, which prohibits, of course, cruel and inhumane and degrading treatment, those obligations extend to U.S. personnel wherever they are.
GWEN IFILL: Secretary Rice's planned agenda for this trip has been overtaken by the angry and insistent European debate.
Citing unnamed sources, the Washington Post reported last month that the CIA has been running terrorist interrogation camps in Eastern Europe and elsewhere, a charge the administration has not denied.
Even before she left Washington on Monday, Rice appeared to anticipate the firestorm to come.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: The United States and those countries that share the commitment to defend their citizen will use every lawful weapon to defeat these terrorists.
Some governments choose to cooperate with the United States in intelligence law enforcement or military matters. That cooperation is a two-way street. We share intelligence that has helped protect European countries from attack, helping save European lives.
GWEN IFILL: But in Germany, new Chancellor Angela Merkel raised the issue of Khalid al-Masri, a German national of Arab descent. He claimed he was abducted by the CIA in Macedonia and taken to Afghanistan where he was later tortured. He now is suing the United States.
Merkel and Rice publicly disagreed over whether the U.S. acknowledged a mistake in the Masri case, and Rice has continued to maintain the U.S. has not broken any treaties.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: The United States does not condone torture. It is against U.S. law to be involved in torture or conspiracy to commit torture, and it is also against U.S. international obligations.
GWEN IFILL: Rice arrived in Brussels, Belgium today, where more questions await her from members of NATO and the European Union.
So now we'll take a look at the continuing debate over how the United States is handling its war on terrorism with Stephan Richter, publisher and editor in chief of the Globalist, an online daily that focuses on international economy, politics, and culture -- a German citizen, Richter has lived in the United States for 25 years; and Richard Falkenrath, a former deputy homeland security adviser and special assistant to President Bush. He's now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Welcome to you both.
Richard Falkenrath, why is Condoleezza Rice having such a tough time in Europe?
RICHARD FALKENRATH: Well, there's a lot of different reasons. I think one part of it is the allegations in the Washington Post that there is a secret detention facility, maybe two, in Eastern Europe. And this is news to the European policymakers, and it's of great concern to them.
Another aspect are the questions of how does the United States treat individuals who are in U.S. custody? Are they tortured, are they treated humanely, in accordance with international law, and in particular the convention on torture?
GWEN IFILL: Has she had good answers to those questions?
RICHARD FALKENRATH: Well, I think she actually has an accurate answer. Whether the European public and policymakers think it's good, I don't know; probably not; they're pretty skeptical.
Her answer is we don't torture, and her argument is the following: We signed -- the United States signed the 1994 U.N. Convention Against Torture. That has been ratified the Senate, and there's implementing legislation defining precisely what is prohibited for all U.S. Government agencies.
And so when the president and Dr. Rice and everyone else says we do not torture, what they mean is we're, biding by U.S. law, the implementing legislation for the convention against torture.
GWEN IFILL: Stephan Richter, is that an adequate response?
STEPHAN RICHTER: I wish it were so. I think the bigger context is very important to keep in mind. Condoleezza Rice is the star player of this administration, came over to Europe for what probably shapes up to be a pivotal week in transatlantic relations, and she really needed to score high. Her German counterpart was here the week before. She promised to have an open debate about it.
Just the fact that before she went on the trip in Europe to give a press conference at Andrews Air Force Base, where she tried to put all these issues to rest I think was very unfortunate symbolism because it felt a little bit like the viceroy of India was coming to visit from London, and before he was getting to his underlings, was making the statement.
And that's not the style that this administration wants to portray in terms of having global democracy, but for European citizens, European politicians who are all very concerned about this, to see their buddy, the very smart, very charming U.S. secretary of state basically trying to end this debate before she even got over there was the wrong foot start.
GWEN IFILL: But she did say in Ukraine that she thinks -- she insists that the United States would comply with the United Nations Convention Against Torture, which the interesting thing about that, is you have Democratic senators saying today that's a reversal of the administration's position. Is it?
STEPHAN RICHTER: It would be if that were true, but the point is they are so -- there are so many other positions all the time. We've seen Abu Ghraib, we've seen Guantanamo; the Europeans now have the renditions issue to which they would basically agree as a matter of policy.
But then there were renditions not even done with the consent of governments, supposedly the Polish government and the Rumanian government -- which are the two countries in question -- had consented.
Even if that's the case, it puts the countries, in the European context, in very hot waters. They can even lose their voting rights in the European Council of Ministers. That leads to emasculation, and it's a very hard thing to say these countries are sovereign and we talked with them.
These countries operate in the European compound of promoting human rights at all costs, and I think that's the basic division -- that the United States pushes this agenda without looking at human rights. When we look at the current attorney general, he played loose with the torture definitions, and some of the Europeans are drawing a line in far more than the sand because European history has been tragic, and they, for good reason, stand up for human rights.
GWEN IFILL: Well, let me ask Mr. Falkenrath about that. Is the tension we're seeing in Europe, responding to just a broader, everything thrown into the pot concerns that these countries and citizens in these countries have about human rights complaints against the United States in general, or is it about something specific?
RICHARD FALKENRATH: That's probably some of it. There clearly is a very broad and sort of amorphous concern around the world and in Europe in particular.
But I think what Dr. Rice is trying to do there is to talk from government to government about the responsibilities governments have to protect the people; it's a responsibility the U.S. Government has and the European governments have.
And she, I think, is having a pretty serious and frank conversation about the sort of means that governments routinely use to do that, and the rules that govern that conduct.
And this is very important. I mean, she's said in her departure statement that, yes, we do collect information, and we follow the law when we do it, but we collect intelligence from operatives, people we suspect or know are terrorists. So do you, the European governments and we share that, and we both benefit from it because by sharing it we're able to prevent attacks before they occur. It's a very important point, and one which I think she's raising at every one of her meetings.
GWEN IFILL: If she does not concede, as she has not, that these secret prisons exist, that torture exists, any of these complaints against the United States are true, is there a sort of wink-wink thing going on with European allies: Come on, you know you do it, too?
RICHARD FALKENRATH: Not on torture. On the how you treat people in your custody, I think there's no wink-wink.
GWEN IFILL: But rendition, for instance.
RICHARD FALKENRATH: Rendition is another matter -- and secret facilities -- if they exist -- is another matter. In that case, the rendition activities and the detention activity that happened on the territory of the European states happened with the consent of the European government.
And so she will be saying, look, we went to you beforehand and we asked you may you do this, and you said yes. And if you now have problems with your own domestic politics or with the European Union, or anything else, you know, deal with it because you said we would do this.
And that's why she said we respect their sovereignty. She keeps saying that, and what that means is we talked to them beforehand, through channels, they agreed, they are responsible governments, we did our job.
GWEN IFILL: If that's so, Mr. Richter, then why the complaints now?
STEPHAN RICHTER: Why the complaints? Because we're talking about promoting democracy globally and the citizens of Europe have very open questions about these practices. They have questions about what the United States has done.
Human rights is an American invention as a matter of international public law in the modern world. They are very concerned if what they have learned with their mother milk in the post-war era, thanks to the United States, is now played with by the administration that has to defend itself, go through Washington appearances every single day, another administration official, vice president, president, secretary of state, defense secretary, and so on, is talking it up.
There are very big questions that have not been answered, and I think that's a very big concern, and you just look at Angela Merkel, the German chancellor that you showed; she has been yearning for years, not only to become chancellor of Germany but also to improve the relationship with the United States. That entire agenda that she's been hoping for is in shambles.
GWEN IFILL: Well, I mean, is it in shambles, or are we just talking about a renewal of old tensions? Or is it really -- is this really a huge setback for the whole Euro-U.S.--
STEPHAN RICHTER: This was meant to be a new beginning, and the two famous women had a disagreement over the word whether there was a mistake in these rendition cases or not.
And that's something that with all the preparations that go into visits like that, ought to have been avoided, but there's a spat about this, and it lets European citizens feel not right about this, and even the sovereignty issue, you know, with regard to the Polish government and others, leads to a big problem in the end because, yes, wink-wink, we agreed with it, but if then afterwards you get into such hot waters with the European human rights conventions and so on, it sends a very clear and chilling signal to anybody who has cooperated in the past not to do that again.
GWEN IFILL: How much of this is a fundamental break in our relations with these countries, and how much of it is something that's going to pass?
RICHARD FALKENRATH: I think it will pass. And I don't think this is a fundamental break with these countries. We are, in many cases, operating together against terrorism threats worldwide, and we will continue to do so, as we must, on many other issues.
This is a point of tension. It's an embarrassment. It's a very awkward situation, and it's a very tough situation with the European politics and opinion leaders.
I think the bigger problem is actually an internal European problem. And if it is true, as reported, that there are detention facilities in countries that have recently been admitted into the European Union, those countries face serious sanctions when that information comes out; and if it is true that such facilities exist on countries that hope to get into the European Union, I think they will probably not be getting in on the schedule expected.
GWEN IFILL: So given all of that, if you were -- not that you would be advising Secretary Rice, but what could she have been prepared to say on a trip like this to heed off the criticism which has been awaiting her at every turn?
STEPHAN RICHTER: She should have said: Mistakes happen; this is a very difficult time. We're all facing a new front. Let's look at what we've done. We've all, actually in terms of intelligence cooperation and so on, have done a good job. We have shared that intelligence. Let's focus on prosecutions.
If you look at the Florida case we had yesterday where the U.S. authorities have spent 20,000 hours monitoring a guy, this Florida professor, and then not winning a conviction in Florida -- this was not California or some liberal state of the union -- that leads to fundamental questions, and the Europeans don't mind and need the American push which often comes, but it needs to be done smart and it needs to be done right, and we need to focus on results, on convictions.
And the Spaniards, for example, have gotten many more convictions out of 9/11 than the United States has so far.
GWEN IFILL: Well, let's ask the same question of Mr. Falkenrath. Maybe she's saying the right thing. Maybe she's just saying to them, listen, get used to it.
RICHARD FALKENRATH: Well, she's clearly saying different things privately to them than she is in public. That's always the case. And there are things she can say in private that she can't say in public.
I mean, if we actually have sensitive intelligence cooperation with some other country, we cannot reveal that; we cannot just fess up to it and say, yes, mistakes were made; we work for Country X and this went wrong.
And the reason we can't is not only is it impossible for that country, but every other country we go to, seeking such cooperation, will remember that we burned Country X., so we can't do that, in public at least.
I'm not sure, this is really the key question, Gwen: How do you do better than what she's done? Where I'm sitting with my vantage point, I'm not sure how you really improve on this, given the reality of the circumstance.
GWEN IFILL: Okay. We'll leave it there for now. Richard Falkenrath, Stephan Richter, thank you both very much.