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US Attorney General Defends Terrorism War Tactics

The attorney general of the United States has conceded mistakes were made in the handling of some prisoners captured in the war on terror, but he has told a European audience the United States does not condone torture and will punish anyone caught using it.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has spoken on the need for international cooperation in fighting terrorism at London's International Institute for Strategic Studies.

His appearance follows a series of condemnations of U.S. tactics in the war on terrorism from European human rights groups, some European politicians and the United Nations.

Gonzales concedes there have been self-inflicted setbacks in fighting radical Islamists, such as the mistreatment of inmates at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison, but he says the perpetrators have been punished, and the war's circumstances are unusual.

"Have we made mistakes? Yes, we've made mistakes," he said. "This has been a very difficult and challenging threat to the United States of America. But we are confronting issues that we've never seen before, a threat that we've never seen before."

Gonzales says he wants to correct any impression that the United States is trampling on human rights and international law in its fight against terrorists.

"I am concerned that there may be people in Europe who believe that the United States does not respect the rule of law," he said. "As the chief law enforcement officer of the United States, that is particularly troubling to me because I know our president. I know him very well. I know he believes in the rule of law and he has great expectations that everyone in his administration abide by our legal obligations."

The attorney general says the United States defines torture as, "the intentional infliction of severe mental or physical suffering." He says he understands that other people might have a lower threshold of what constitutes torture.

Gonzales would not comment about specific allegations of abuses at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp in Cuba, such as water boarding, during which a prisoner fears he might drown. He referred questions about the use of dogs to intimidate Guantanamo prisoners to the Defense Department.

Gonzales says international law was not designed to deal with transnational threats from terrorists who do not represent any particular country. He says there are questions about whether the privileges and rights of captives contained in the 56-year-old Geneva Conventions make sense when confronting 21st century terrorists.