The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence voted 11-3 Thursday to declassify parts of a secret report on Bush-era interrogations of terrorism suspects.
"The purpose of this review was to uncover the facts behind this secret program, and the results were shocking. The report exposes brutality that stands in stark contrast to our values as a nation. It chronicles a stain on our history that must never again be allowed to happen," Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., chairwoman of the committee, said in a statement. "This is not what Americans do."
Now that the 15-member panel votes has approved the declassification of a 400-page summary and the key findings of its report, the onus is on the Central Intelligence Agency and a reluctant White House to speed the release of one of the most definitive accounts about the government's actions after the 9/11 attacks.
The CIA will now start scanning the report's contents for any passages that compromise national security.
That has led to fears that the CIA, already accused of illegally monitoring the Senate's investigation and deleting files, could sanitize key elements of what Senate investigators aim to be the fullest public reckoning of the "enhanced interrogation techniques" used on Al-Qaeda suspects in CIA-run prisons abroad. Feinstein has urged the White House to get involved.
Congressional aides and outside experts familiar with the document say it is highly critical of waterboarding and other harsh interrogation methods, and concludes among other things that such practices provided no key evidence in the hunt for Osama bin Laden. The CIA disputes many of the conclusions in the report.
"It's important to tell the world, 'Yes, we made a mistake and we're not going to do it again,'" said Sen. Angus King, a Maine independent who planned to vote for the summary's release.
Human rights groups and advocates too believe the release of the report crucial to ensuring that similar tactics are never adopted again and that the debate over torture is settled once and for all.
"This information has been kept secret from the American people and from policymakers for years and keeping it secret just perpetuates the false impression that torture is effective and works," said Laura Pitter, senior national security researcher at Human Rights Watch. "In fact, is is immoral, illegal and ineffective and never should be employed, and was a terrible mistake that the U.S. needs to reckon with on so m any levels."
But some in the intelligence community said the Senate report, which was written by the committee's Democratic staff, was missing a key element: the voices of key CIA officials.
Those missing include former Bush administration officials involved in authorizing the use of waterboarding and other harsh questioning methods, or managing their use in secret "black site" prisons overseas.
"Neither I or anyone else at the agency who had knowledge was interviewed," said Jose Rodriguez, the CIA's chief clandestine officer in the mid-2000s, who had operational oversight over the detention and interrogation program. "They don't want to hear anyone else's narrative," he said of the Senate investigation. "It's an attempt to rewrite history."
Rodriguez himself is a key figure in the Senate report, not least for his order in 2005 to destroy 92 videotapes showing waterboarding of terror suspects and other harsh techniques.
Rodriguez said the Senate's report would be a "travesty" without input from him and officials such as former CIA directors Michael Hayden and Porter Goss. Congressional aides said the CIA's own field reports, internal correspondence, cables and other documents described day-to-day handling of interrogations and the decision-making and actions of Rodriguez and others.
Senate investigators have griped for years about what they contend is the CIA's failure to be held accountable for the harsh methods used during the George W. Bush administration's war on terror.
Bad blood between Senate aides and the CIA ruptured into the open last month when Feinstein took to the Senate floor to accuse the agency of improperly monitoring the computer use of Senate staffers and deleting files, undermining the Constitution's separation of powers. The CIA alleges the Senate panel illegally accessed certain documents. The Justice Department is reviewing criminal complaints against each side.
Feinstein said this week she had "no idea" how long a declassification process would take, but expressed hope that it could be resolved in a matter of weeks.
Amid all the distrust, Senate Democrats are pressing for President Barack Obama to step into the fray.
Obama, who outlawed waterboarding after taking office, sought closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention camp and released long-secret, Bush-era legal documents on harsh interrogations. He has publicly supported declassification of at least the findings of the Senate committee's report "so that the American people can understand what happened in the past, and that can help guide us as we move forward."
Still, the president has so far declined to weigh in publicly on Congress' dispute with the CIA.
Al Jazeera and The Associated Press