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Senate panel votes to release harsh review of CIA interrogation techniques

Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., speaking on Capitol Hill in Washington on March 27. (Associated Press)
Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., speaking on Capitol Hill in Washington on March 27. (Associated Press)

WASHINGTON – The Senate Intelligence Committee voted Thursday to release parts of a hotly contested, secret report that harshly criticizes CIA terror interrogations after 9/11, and the White House said it would instruct intelligence officials to cooperate fully.

The panel voted 11-3 to order the declassification of almost 500 pages of a 6,300-page review that concluded waterboarding and other “enhanced interrogation methods” were excessively cruel and ineffective in producing valuable intelligence. Even some Republicans who agree with the spy agency that the findings are inaccurate voted in favor of declassification, saying it was important for the country to move on.

The intelligence committee and the CIA are embroiled in a bitter dispute related to the three-year study. Senators accuse the agency of spying on their investigation and deleting files. The CIA says Senate staffers illegally accessed information. The Justice Department is reviewing competing criminal referrals.

“The purpose of this review was to uncover the facts behind the secret program and the results, I think, were shocking,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., 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 press secretary Jay Carney restated President Barack Obama’s support for declassifying the document and said intelligence officials would be instructed to conduct the work quickly. CIA spokesman Dean Boyd said his agency would “carry out the review expeditiously,” but suggested the process may be difficult.

“We owe it to the men and women directed to carry out this program to try and ensure that any historical account of it is accurate,” Boyd said.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, the intelligence committee’s top Republican, joined the vote in favor of declassification despite criticizing the report as a “waste of time.” He said the U.S. public should be able to see the report alongside reservations among the GOP members of the committee.

“This is a chapter in our past that should have already been closed,” Chambliss told reporters.

Members of the intelligence community have criticized the investigation for failing to include interviews from top spy agency officials who authorized or supervised the brutal interrogations. They questioned how the review could be fair or complete.

Senate investigators were unable to talk to relevant CIA officials because of legal constraints posed by a separate investigation ordered by Attorney General Eric Holder. At Holder’s direction, John Durham, an independent prosecutor, conducted several criminal probes related to interrogation methods and evidence destruction before dropping them altogether in 2012 – shortly before the Senate panel wrapped up its work.

As a result of Thursday’s vote, the CIA will start scanning the report’s contents for any passages that could compromise national security.

Feinstein and other senators have cited a series of misleading claims by the CIA over the years about the effectiveness of the program, including in statements the agency made to President George W. Bush and Congress.