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Red Cross: U.S. Denying Access

A senior U.S. State Department official has confirmed that the United States has yet to grant the international Red Cross access to all its terror detainees, the Red Cross chief said Friday.

John B. Bellinger III, legal adviser of the State Department, was asked during a visit to Geneva on Thursday whether the ICRC has access to all other similar prisoners held by the United States elsewhere in the world. Bellinger replied, "No," and declined to say more.

Red Cross chief Jakob Kellenberger said that he has been urging senior U.S. officials for at least two years to make sure the ICRC, which is assigned under the Geneva Conventions on warfare to check on conditions of detainees, gains access to all detainees held by the United States.

"We continue to be in intense dialogue with them with the aim of getting access to all people detained in the framework of the so-called war on terror without any geographical limitation," Kellenberger said.

He said the ICRC was are already visiting "very many detainees" being held by the United States "in Guantanamo, in Afghanistan, in Iraq," but he declined to say where else the ICRC believed the United States was holding detainees.

Kellenberger, asked whether the ICRC had visited any secret U.S. detention facilities in Europe, said, "No."

Reports of secret prisons have roiled Europe for a month. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, on a trip to Europe this week, sought to clarify the U.S. policy on secret prisons and treatment of terrorism suspects.

"The United States doesn't engage in torture, doesn't condone it, doesn't expect its employees to engage in it," Rice said at a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Brussels.

But she said she can give no guarantee that terrorism detainees won't be abused despite what she called the United States' clear rules against torture.

"Will there be abuses of policy? That's entirely possible," Rice said. "Just because you're a democracy it doesn't mean that you're perfect."

She offered assurances, however, that any abuses would be investigated and violators punished.

"That is the only promise we can make," Rice said.

The foreign ministers appeared receptive. NATO Secretary General Jaap De Hoop Scheffer said Rice had "cleared the air."

"You will not see this discussion continuing" De Hoop Scheffer told a news conference Thursday.

His comments echoed those of several foreign ministers who sought to shift away from a confrontation with Washington over the issue.

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