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US defends detainee treatment, denies torture at UN panel hearing

[JURIST] US Department of State legal adviser John Bellinger [official profile] defended US policies on the treatment of detainees as the UN Committee against Torture [official website] began its review Friday of US compliance with the Convention against Torture [text]. During the first of two days of hearings, the committee focused their questions [issue list, PDF] on whether the US has established criminal responsibility up the chain of command for acts of torture [JURIST news archive] by US forces and allegations that the US has used extraordinary rendition [JURIST news archive] to transfer terror suspects to countries that have been known to use torture. Bellinger said that the US is "absolutely committed to uphold its national and international obligations to eradicate torture" and that "there are no exceptions to this prohibition." Addressing reporters after the hearing concluded, Bellinger said that provisions in the torture convention that prohibit transferring detainees to countries where they could be tortured do not apply to detainee "transfers that take place outside of the United States." Bellinger did add, however, that the US has "as a policy matter, applied exactly the same standards" to such transfers.

Members of the US delegation also emphasized that there have been "relatively few actual cases of abuse" of terror detainees and Bellinger said that some allegations have been widely exaggerated. Deputy US Assistant Defense Secretary Charles Stimson told the UN panel that of the 120 detainee deaths that have occurred in Afghanistan and Iraq, abuse was suspected in only 29 cases. He said that the deaths had been investigated and appropriate action taken. Stimson also said that no detainees have died at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive]. The US will continue to defend its record when the committee reconvenes Monday afternoon. Reuters has more.

Bellinger and Stimson's testimony comes a day after two US-based human rights groups released shadow reports highly critical of US compliance with the torture convention. The American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch [advocacy websites] each submitted reports to the UN committee; the HRW Supplemental Submission to the Committee Against Torture [text] outlines "new laws, policies, and practices that reflect the continuing failure of the U.S. to fully accept its obligations under the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment." The ACLU submitted a 343-page report [PDF text; additional materials] concluding that "The U.S. government is in clear and unequivocal violation of its obligations under the Convention Against Torture." Reuters has more.

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Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

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