The US Senate Intelligence Committee has voted to release parts of a hotly contested, secret report that harshly criticises CIA terror interrogations after September 11, 2001, and the White House says it will instruct intelligence officials to co-operate fully.
The panel voted 11-3 to order the declassification of almost 500 pages of a 6300-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 favour 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 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."
The White House on Thursday (local time) restated President Barack Obama's support for declassifying the document.
Press secretary Jay Carney said the president will instruct intelligence officials to conduct declassification work quickly. CIA spokesman Dean Boyd said his agency would "carry out the review expeditiously".
Senator Saxby Chambliss, the intelligence committee's top Republican, joined the vote in favour of declassification despite criticising the report as a "waste of time". However, he said the US public should be able to see the report alongside reservations among the Republican 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 criticised the investigation for failing to include interviews from top spy agency officials who authorised or supervised the brutal interrogations. They questioned how the review could be fair or complete.
"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 programme. "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.
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.
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.
As a result of the vote, the CIA will start scanning the report's contents for any passages that could compromise national security. That has led to fears that a recalcitrant CIA might sanitise key elements of what Senate investigators aim to be the fullest public reckoning of how al Qaeda suspects were treated in CIA-run prisons abroad.
The report was produced exclusively by Democratic staffers. It concludes among other things that waterboarding and other harsh techniques provided no key evidence in the hunt for Osama bin Laden, according to congressional aides and outside experts familiar with the document.
Feinstein and other senators have cited a series of misleading claims by the CIA over the years about the effectiveness of the programme, including in statements the agency made to Republican President George W Bush and Congress.
Chambliss said Republicans would dispute some of these conclusions in their own report. "There was information gleaned from this programme that led not only to the takedown of bin Laden, but to the interruption and disruption of other terrorist plots over a period of years."
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 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 US Constitution's separation of powers.