More than 100 US soldiers and intelligence officers have been disciplined for abusing detainees, US officials said on Monday before an international panel investigating the country's treatment of prisoners in its fight against terrorism. The number is nearly twice that cited by human-rights groups.
In the second and final day of questioning by the UN Committee Against Torture, members of a US delegation responded to queries on topics including the definition of torture and policies on transferring prisoners to countries with poor human-rights records.
The delegates said the US was acting to ensure that it adhered to its treaty obligations to prevent the torture of prisoners. It is one of 141 signers of the Convention Against Torture, a 1987 treaty. Problems of abuse found in prisons like Abu Ghraib in Iraq were isolated missteps, they said.
"We recognize much of the world does hold the United States to a high standard," said the State Department's legal adviser, John Bellinger, who led the delegation.
"Without question our record has improved," he said.
Nora Sveaass, a panel member from Norway, said the US had given "very reassuring answers" on efforts to bring those responsible for torture to justice.
Charles Stimson, deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs, said 103 US service members and intelligence officers had been court-martialed since 2001, leading to 19 convictions with jail terms of a year or more.
That figure contrasted with numbers quoted by the panel last week and provided by Human Rights Watch, a nonprofit organization based in the US. The group identified 54 courts-martial, 10 of which resulted in jail terms of a year or more.
But rights groups said the numbers cited by US officials were still low. Last week the panel cited data from rights groups saying that more than 600 service members or intelligence officers had been involved in suspected acts of torture.
In the two days of questioning, the panel pushed the delegation to define the scope of torture. On Monday, Fernando Marino Menendez, a panel member from Spain, asked whether torture could be defined to include the forced disappearance of terrorism suspects and the establishment of secret prisons.
"I don't think one can say per se that it is," Bellinger replied.