The United States has vigorously defended its treatment of terror suspects before the UN Committee Against Torture that is examining U.S. compliance with the Convention Against Torture. The committee of 10 independent experts has raised concerns about the way the United States is waging the war against terror.
The head of the U.S. delegation, State Department Legal Adviser John assured the Committee that the United States believes torture is wrong and does not condone its practice.
"I want to reiterate the United States government's absolute commitment to upholding our national and international obligations to eradicate torture and to prevent cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment worldwide. United States criminal laws prohibit torture. There are not exceptions to this prohibition," he said.
Bellinger told the committee he was acutely aware of the numerous allegations that have appeared about various U.S. actions. He urged the experts not to believe everything they have heard.
"It does a disservice to the quality of our dialogue, to focus exclusively on the allegations and relatively few actual cases of abuse and wrongdoing that have occurred in the context of the U.S. armed conflict with al-Qaida," he added. "I do not mean to belittle or shift attention away from these cases in any way, but we suggest that this committee should not lose sight of the fact that these incidents are not systemic."
This led to a debate between members of the 30 strong U.S. team and the 10 committee experts. The committee wanted to know what measures the United States was taking to ensure that abuses such as those committed in Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison did not occur again.
They also raised concerns about the U.S. refusal to denounce "water boarding," a type of mock drowning, as a form of torture or cruel and inhumane treatment. Another key question had to do with the practice of rendition, whereby the U.S. sends terror suspects to third countries, some of which have been known to practice torture.
Human rights groups attach great significance to this hearing. Human Rights Watch official Jennifer Daskal said it marks the first time the United States will have been held internationally accountable for its record on terror since the fight against terrorism began in 2001.
"Since that time, there has been a whole new panoply of practices and policies that have been promulgated and implemented by the U.S. and this is the first time the U.S. will be held internationally accountable for those practices," she said.
The United States delegation has been asked to return Monday afternoon to provide the committee with answers to additional questions it posed today.