The UN was grilling the US on its compliance with the global ban on torture yesterday for the first time since Washington declared war on terrorists, focusing on allegations of secret CIA prisons and flights transferring suspects for possible torture in other countries.
The UN Committee Against Torture, the global body's watchdog for a 22-year-old treaty forbidding prisoner abuse, was asking US officials about a series of issues ranging from Washington's interpretation of the absolute ban on torture to its interrogation methods in prisons such as Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
US State Department lawyer John Bellinger III, who was leading the US delegation at the hearing, defended Washington's commitment to its international obligations and said it would try to answer the committee's questions.
However, he said the delegation may not be able to answer all questions because much of the information relates to intelligence activities.
"We welcome this dialogue and we're committed to answering your questions," Bellinger told the committee in his opening address.
Bellinger's 25-member team for the hearings includes officials from the defense, justice and homeland security departments.
"While I am acutely aware of the innumerable allegations ... about various US actions, I would ask you not to believe every allegation that you've heard. Allegations about US military or intelligence activities have become so hyperbolic as to be absurd," Bellinger said.
US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Charles Stimson said a total of 120 detainees had died in Iraq and Afghanistan. No detainees died at Guantanamo Bay, he said.
He said 29 of those deaths involved suspected abuse or other violations of law and policy.