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U.S. secret prisons at odds with democracy: OSCE

Reuters / Howard Goller and Paul Holmes | September 20 2006

The United States cannot spread democracy and detain terrorism suspects in secret prisons at the same time, the head of the world's largest regional security grouping said on Wednesday.

"It's about the rule of law and this is a very clear infringement of the rule of law," OSCE Chairman-in-Office Karel De Gucht said when asked about the prisons acknowledged by President Bush.

The Vienna-based Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has 56 participating states, including the United States, with goals that include preventing conflict, managing crises and supporting the spread of democracy.

"You cannot spread democracy and deny the basic principles of democracy," De Gucht, who is also Belgian foreign minister, said in New York where he was meeting U.S. and other officials during the U.N. General Assembly.

Two weeks ago, Bush acknowledged the CIA had interrogated dozens of suspects at secret locations outside the United States. He denied they were tortured. Human rights groups say incommunicado detention often leads to abuse.

"Whatever smart legal people may tell about this, about an extra-territorial affect of American law, about whether or not the Geneva Conventions protect terrorists and all that kind of thing, ... the basic element in it is that this is not respectful of law," De Gucht said.

He defended an OSCE decision to send an observer mission to U.S. congressional elections in November, brushing aside criticism from some American conservatives who say observers are unnecessary in a proven democracy.

"I think it's an excellent use of the means of the OSCE actually," De Gucht said.

"If you want to have strong arguments vis a vis the ... participating states east of Vienna, you should also have monitoring west of Vienna.

"I know there is some criticism about this in the U.S. but I think that's a mistake, you know. It's strengthening our case in the OSCE that we say, 'Look we are democratic, just come and see.'"

De Gucht welcomed what he said was a growing recognition by the United States that it should not try to pursue foreign policy alone.

"They are realizing that unilateralism is not going to make necessarily a better world," he said.

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