Berlin German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Tuesday that the United States has admitted making a mistake in the case of a German national who claimed he was wrongfully imprisoned by the CIA.
Merkel spoke during a press conference with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who refused to discuss specifics with reporters. The two leaders' first meeting was dominated by questions about U.S. terrorism policies, including the five-month detention of Lebanese-born Khaled al-Masri and reports of secret CIA prisons and potentially illegal use of European airports and airspace to transport terror suspects.
"The American administration is not denying" it erred in the case of al-Masri, Merkel said through a translator.
Merkel welcomed that admission and added that she was grateful for Rice's assurances that the United States conducted anti-terror operations legally and without the use of torture.
"I'm happy to say we have discussed the one case, which the government of the United States has of course accepted as a mistake," Merkel said. "I'm very happy that the foreign minister has repeated here that when such mistakes happen, they must be corrected immediately. Everything else must happen in accordance with the law."
"We haven't discussed other cases," Merkel added, "so I cannot recognize any pattern."
U.S. officials said the two leaders did not discuss the al-Masri case in detail Tuesday. But the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they considered Rice's meeting with Merkel private, acknowledged that the United States has previously told the Germans that his was a case of mistaken identity.
The German parliament will soon take up the matter, Merkel said, adding, "That is appropriate."
"We recognize the chancellor will be reviewing this" in parliament, Rice said. "We also recognize that any policy will sometimes result in error and when it happens we do everything we can to correct it."
The American diplomat also offered a broad defense of intelligence gathering in the pursuit of terrorists.
"This is essentially a war in which intelligence is absolutely key to success," Rice said. "If you are going to uncover plots, if you are going to get to people before they commit their crimes, that is largely an intelligence function."
Ticking off a list of recent terror attacks, Rice said the consequence of failing to find out about terror plots ahead of time can be seen not only in New York and Washington, sites of the 9-11 jetliner attacks, but also in Amman, Jordan; Beslan, Russia; London; Madrid and elsewhere.
Later Tuesday, Rice was flying to Romania, a country identified as a likely site of a secret detention facility run by the CIA. Romania denies it. She will sign a defense cooperation pact related to an air base the advocacy group Human Rights Watch has identified as a likely site for a clandestine prison.