CIA officers subjected some terrorism suspects held after the 9/11 attacks to interrogation methods that were not approved by either the US Justice Department or their own headquarters and illegally detained 26 of the 119 in CIA custody, the Senate Intelligence Committee has concluded in a long-awaited report.
The US spy agency programme's reliance on brutal techniques that were much more abusive than previously known, and its failure to gather valuable information from the detainees, harmed the United States' credibility internationally, the committee found. Its scathing, 6,300-page report on the CIA's interrogation and detention programme has yet to be officially released, but was leaked.
The agency also repeatedly misled the Justice Department while blocking Congress' and the White House's efforts to oversee the secret and now-defunct programme, sources said.
In all, the committee came to 20 conclusions about the CIA's harsh interrogation tactics after spending six years and US$40 million evaluating the programme.
The committee also found that critics in the agency were cut out of the debate over the programme or ignored, and abusive interrogators went unpunished.
Even six months after the spy agency received the legal authority to proceed with the programmeme, its officers remained unprepared for interrogating detainees, the report found.
The committee voted 11-3 on Thursday to recommend that the key findings and a summary of the report be declassified. The document now goes to US President Barack Obama, who's said he supports declassifying the findings. Most of the report and the underlying CIA documents might remain secret, however.
"The purpose of this review was to uncover the facts behind the secret programme and the results, I think, were shocking," said Senator Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat and the committee chairwoman. "The report exposes brutality that stands in sharp contrast to our values as a nation. It chronicles a stain on our history that must never be allowed to happen again. This is not what Americans do."
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama "would expect that the actions that are necessary to declassify a document like that be conducted in all due haste, and I think he would make that clear to the agencies involved in that effort and the individuals involved in that effort."
The bipartisan vote masked deep divisions between Democratic and Republican members of the committee. While both wanted the material declassified, they were at odds over its value. The CIA has rejected some of the findings and has written a still-secret rebuttal.
"This report is totally biased," said Senator Tom Coburn, a Republican. Senator Richard Burr said his fellow Republicans were in "opposition to the content" and would write a separate reaction. Republicans wouldn't discuss the nature of their objections, but they agreed with Coburn, who said, "it's not an accurate representation of the facts".
Coburn charged: "There's no context, and without context you don't get an accurate assessment of what's happening. It doesn't mean that everything they did was right."
Republicans were also upset at how the report was written and researched. Republican committee staff weren't consulted and key officials not interviewed.
"This was not produced in a bipartisan fashion. That's a weakness of the report," said Senator Susan Collins, a Republican. Relying only on documents, she said, "can't tell the whole story."
The question remained how much of the secret report would be divulged because the White House and the CIA might decide to release or withhold different portions. It's also unclear how long the final decision would take, with some experts predicting months.