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US defends treatment of foreign terror suspects

Written by: Staff
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GENEVA, May 5 (Reuters) The United States today defended its treatment of foreign terrorism suspects held abroad, telling a UN committee it backed a ban on torture and there had been ''relatively few actual cases of abuse''.

John Bellinger, legal adviser at the State Department, said the Bush administration was ''absolutely committed to uphold its national and international obligations to eradicate torture''.

Lobby groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch this week again accused the United States of mistreating detainees through cruel interrogation methods including ''water-boarding'' -- a form of mock drowning.

''This committee should not lose sight of the fact that these incidents are not systemic,'' Bellinger told the committee, which began a two-day probe of the US record today.

It would do a disservice to ''focus exclusively on allegations'' as ''relatively few actual cases of abuse and wrongdoing have occurred in the context of US armed conflict with al Qaeda'', he said.

''I would ask you not to believe every allegation you have heard.

Critics will now accept virtually any speculation and rumour circulated as fact,'' he added.

The United States is holding hundreds of al Qaeda and other suspects, arrested since the September. 11 attacks in 2001, at US-run detention facilities in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Scandals involving the sexual and physical abuse of detainees held by US forces, including at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad, have provoked worldwide outrage.

As head of the US delegation to the Geneva meeting, Bellinger said 30 senior American officials from four agencies would do their best to answer the UN experts' questions fully, but could not comment on intelligence activities.

The UN committee, composed of 10 independent experts, demanded last month that the United States provide more information about its treatment of prisoners at home and abroad.

In dozens of questions submitted to Washington, the panel also sought information about secret detention facilities and asked whether the United States assumed responsibility for alleged acts of torture in them.

''President (George W.) Bush has made clear that torture anywhere is an affront to human dignity everywhere,'' Bellinger said.

''Torture is wrong no matter where it occurs. The US continues to lead the fight to eliminate it everywhere,'' Barry Lowenkron, assistant US secretary for democracy, Human Rights and Labour, told the talks.

REUTERS OM PM503

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