KIEV, Ukraine - Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sought Wednesday to clarify U.S. policy on harsh interrogation methods, saying no U.S. personnel may use cruel or degrading practices at home or abroad.
Rice's remarks followed confusion in the United States over whether CIA employees could use means otherwise off limits for U.S. personnel.
It also follows strong and sustained criticism in Europe over techniques such as waterboarding, in which prisoners are strapped to a plank and dunked in water.
"As a matter of U.S. policy," Rice said the United Nations Convention against Torture "extends to U.S. personnel wherever they are, whether they are in the U.S. or outside the U.S."
The U.N. treaty also prohibits treatment that doesn't meet the legal definition of torture, including many practices that human rights organizations say were used routinely at the U.S. military prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The Bush administration has previously said the ban on cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment did not apply to Americans working overseas. In practice, that meant CIA employees could use methods in overseas prisons that would not be allowed in the United States.
Even so, asked if Rice had stated a new U.S. policy for the treatment of detainees abroad, White House press secretary Scott McClellan said, "It's existing policy."
Defense Department officials say military personnel are forbidden from using inhumane treatment of detainees regardless of location.
Human rights organizations and critics in Europe have said that the administration's prior statements that standards overseas were different created a loophole for treatment almost indistinguishable from torture. Prisoners suspected of links to terrorism have been chained to the floors of their cells, denied sleep and led to believe they could be killed.
Rice's comments about interrogation techniques came an AP-Ipsos poll found that a majority of Americans and most people in Britain, France and South Korea say that torturing suspected terrorists is justified at least in rare instances. Most people in Spain and Italy opposed all torture, while those in Canada, Mexico and Germany were split.
Rice's five-day European trip has been dominated so far by allegations of secret CIA prisons in Europe and the U.S. treatment of terror suspects in those facilities. Her statements Wednesday reflect ongoing tensions between the White House, Congress and the State and Defense departments over the treatment of detainees.
House and Senate negotiators are expected to include a ban on cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of foreign terrorism suspects in a final defense bill. The White House has threatened to veto any bill containing such a ban, but President Bush's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, has been negotiating with its chief sponsor, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., to find a compromise.
Separately, Rice delivered a rebuke to Russian President Vladimir Putin over a new law she said infringes on democracy. Drawing a comparison with Ukraine's new democratic government, Rice criticized a Russian law restricting the activities of human rights groups, democracy promoters and other independent organizations.
"Democracy is built, of course, on elections, it's built on principle, it's built on rule of law and freedom of speech," she said.
Rice said U.S. diplomats have told Putin they are concerned about the restrictions.
The secretary of state spoke during a press conference Wednesday with Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko in his nation's capital, Kiev. Rice's visit was intended, in part, to bolster Yushchenko a year after he came to power in a popular revolution.
Yushchenko said that they discussed energy projects that U.S. companies might participate in, as well as joint efforts to combat bird flu. Ukraine recorded its first case of bird flu on Saturday.
He said that Ukraine is looking forward to the visit next year of the head of NASA, saying it should lead to the signing of an agreement on air and space cooperation.
Yushchenko said he and Rice also discussed "common views on what Ukraine has managed to do on speeding up its" admission to the World Trade Organization. He said the two discussed technical issues pertaining to Ukraine's WTO ambitions and "we hope that the American side will take a positive view."
Rice also took questions from university students before a meeting later Wednesday with Ukraine's foreign minister.
She told the students they are responsible for securing democracy. "It really now is up to you. Ukraine has won its democracy the hard way - you won it in the streets," she said.
Rice's motorcade entered the Ukrainian capital Tuesday along the route where demonstrators set up a tent city last year and eventually helped force aside a Russian-allied presidential candidate.
The United States played an important role in condemning a fraud-marred presidential vote and calling for a revote, which Ukraine's Supreme Court ordered and Yushchenko won.
Yushchenko campaigned partly on a promise to pull Ukraine's troops out of the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq, but the Bush administration quickly adopted him as a democratic darling. The Ukrainian leader visited the White House in April.