WASHINGTON - The United States has transferred as many as 70 terrorism suspects to Egypt, but none has been subjected to torture during interrogations there, Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif said today.
In a flat denial of allegations aired by human rights advocates and other critics, Nazif said torture is not a widespread practice in Egypt and suggested the problem was one of police abuse rather than standard policy.
"It happens sometimes, and we've seen police abuses all over the world. But I don't think it should be taken as a standard practice," Nazif said on NBC's Meet the Press.
He said Egypt has actively sought the return of Egyptians arrested abroad, including terror suspects, and has accepted their transfer from countries including the United States.
Asked how many terror suspects have been sent to Egypt by the United States, Nazif said: "I don't know the exact number but I know that people have been sent there. The numbers vary. I have heard the number 60 or 70."
The New York-based group Human Rights Watch issued a report last week that said the US war on terrorism had made Egypt the world's main destination for detainees transferred under a practice known as rendition, which usually occurs in secret and without any legal safeguards.
A report by the organisation estimated that 150 to 200 detainees have been transferred from other countries, including the United States, to Egypt since the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Human Rights Watch said torture was so widespread in Egypt, especially in national security cases, that each transfer from the United States and other countries constituted a violation of international conventions against torture.
Torture was also among human rights abuses cited by a State Department report on Egypt for 2004.
But Nazif denied the allegations.
"To say that we're bringing them back to torture them is not a very accurate statement. We shouldn't be doing that. We're not doing that," the prime minister said.
Asked to confirm that there are no torture tactics being used in interrogating suspected terrorists, Nazif responded: "No, sir." Period? "Yes, period," he replied.
The Bush administration, which has been embroiled in an abuse scandal over US treatment of detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, insists it does not engage in torture or send suspects to countries without assurances that they will not be mistreated.
"We take these assurances, we do what we can to monitor them, and obviously if we get evidence that countries are not abiding by these assurances, that we take into account in the next time we have a decision to make about a possible rendition," national security advisor Stephen Hadley told CNN's Late Edition.
The CIA took part in more than 80 transfers of detainees to other countries before Sept 11, 2001, and another 100 to 150 since then, according to officials and media reports.
A classified directive signed by Bush after the Sept 11 attacks gives the CIA broad power to transfer detainees without case-by-case approval from the White House, US officials say.