CAIRO, Egypt – In his first visit to Egypt, the U.S. attorney general defended the transfer of terror suspects for incarceration and interrogation in other countries.
Human rights groups have raised concerns about the so-called extraordinary rendition of terror suspects, some of whom have charged they were tortured in the countries where they were sent. The U.S. has said it does not send anyone to countries that torture.
Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales acknowledged the U.S. practice of sending terror suspects to prisons in their home countries. But he refused to confirm reports that Egypt, whose human rights record has been criticized by Washington, had received any of the suspects.
"I'm not going to confirm that there have been any (suspects sent to Egypt), and I'm certainly not going to talk about the numbers — it's intelligence activity and we just don't do that," Gonzales told reporters after meeting Saturday with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
"All I can say is that we do have an obligation to seek assurances from any country in which we are returning someone, that the individual is not going to be tortured," he said.
Gonzales said the U.S. would send a Justice Department lawyer to be stationed in Cairo "so we can further cement our relationship and we have someone on the ground representing me."
Egyptian Interior Minister Habib el-Adly has denied that Egypt was torturing terror suspects from abroad.
Detainees have said they were transferred from the U.S. to alleged secret facilities in countries including Poland, Romania, Jordan, Syria and Egypt.
Italy is investigating allegations that 22 CIA agents kidnapped an Egyptian Muslim preacher, Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr, from a Milan street in February 2003 and returned him to Egypt.
An Italian newspaper quoted his lawyer as saying that Nasr was tortured after his return.
Gonzales said he saw no contradiction between the U.S. promoting democracy around the world and running a facility like the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where activists and former detainees have alleged abuse has taken place.
The U.S. Supreme Court, in a major rebuke to President George W. Bush, said Thursday that his plan to put some Guantanamo detainees on trial before military commissions was unconstitutional because the tribunals were not authorized by Congress and violated international law.
"We have procedures in place to ensure that those at Guantanamo in fact deserve to be at Guantanamo," Gonzales said. "We're looking for ways to deal with terrorists other than at Guantanamo if we can — the U.S. has no intention and no desire to be the world's jailers," he added.
Gonzales arrived in Egypt Wednesday and has met the country's ministers of justice and interior, as well as with the prosecutor-general.
He said the political situation in Egypt had improved despite criticism that government practices were oppressive.
"The promotion of the rule of law is very, very important, and the growth of democracy," he said. "Challenges exist, and we consider President Mubarak a valuable ally to the U.S."