The United States has released a long-awaited report detailing how the Central Intelligence Agency employed extreme interrogation methods on suspected terrorists following the September 11, 2001, attacks.
The Senate Intelligence Committee disclosed a lengthy summary Tuesday of the CIA's interrogation techniques, including confinement in small places, sleep deprivation and waterboarding, which simulates drowning.
All are methods that CIA critics and human rights organizations consider torture.
The report said the agency also used "ice baths"; "rectal rehydration," a form of feeding through the rectum; and threats that suspects' relatives would be harmed. One suspected extremist froze to death while in captivity.
The report said that the interrogations were "far more brutal" than the CIA had said and that the agency had "misled" Congress and the White House about its activities.
Banned use of techniques
When he took office in 2009, President Barack Obama banned use of the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques, which had been authorized by his predecessor, George W. Bush, in the aftermath of the 2001 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people.
The report noted, however, that Bush did not know the details of what the CIA was doing.
The Senate report is the first public documentation of the CIA's alleged use of torture on al-Qaida suspects during what the Bush administration called a Global War on Terror.
On Tuesday, Obama vowed that harsh U.S. interrogation methods would not take place on his watch, saying the techniques did significant damage to American interests abroad without serving counterterrorism efforts.
Obama issued a written statement in response to the Senate report: "Rather than another reason to refight old arguments, I hope that today's report can help us leave these techniques where they belong — in the past.''
The report "reinforces my long-held view that these harsh methods were not only inconsistent with our values as a nation, they did not serve our broader counterterrorism efforts or our national security interests," he added.
U.S. diplomatic facilities and military installations overseas were under increased security Tuesday leading up to the release of the report, even though general information about the interrogation techniques has been known for years.
In announcing the release of the report, Diane Feinstein, a Democratic senator from California and the committee chair, said, “Under any common meaning of the term, CIA detainees were tortured."
The senior national security counsel at U.S.-based Human Rights Watch, Laura Pitter, welcomed the report.
"It was important for the United States to acknowledge wrongdoing, understand what happened, and hopefully these are the first steps towards some kind of accountability," she said.
CIA Director John Brennan, in responding to the study’s release, said, “We acknowledge that the detention and interrogation program had shortcomings and that the agency made mistakes."
"The most serious problems occurred early on and stemmed from the fact that the agency was unprepared and lacked the core competencies required to carry out an unprecedented, worldwide program of detaining and interrogating suspected al-Qaida and affiliated terrorists," Brennan said.
“Our review indicates that interrogations of detainees on whom EITs [enhanced interrogation techniques] were used did produce intelligence that helped thwart attack plans, capture terrorists, and save lives," he added.
But U.S. Senator John McCain, who was tortured while held captive by the North Vietnamese four decades ago, rejected that view.
"Torture produces more misleading information than actionable intelligence," the Arizona Republican said.
Brennan said the CIA also disagreed "with the study’s characterization of how CIA briefed the program to the Congress, various entities within the executive branch and the public.”
He rejected what he characterized as the study's inference that the agency “systematically and intentionally misled each of these audiences on the effectiveness of the program," and he also took issue with the manner in which the Senate committee investigated the detention and interrogation program.
“No interviews were conducted of any CIA officers involved in the program, which would have provided members with valuable context and perspective surrounding these events," he said.
Secretary of State John Kerry, in a statement, noted that the period under review is “more than five years behind us, so we can discuss and debate our history — and then look again to the future."
“I want to underscore that while it’s uncomfortable and unpleasant to re-examine, it's important that this period not define the intelligence community in anyone's minds," Kerry said.
In defending CIA personnel, he said, "Every single day, the State Department and our diplomats and their families are safer because of the men and women of the CIA and the Intelligence Community. ... The awful facts of this report do not represent who they are, period."
When asked about the report's findings, Stephane Dujarric, spokeswoman for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, said that Ban has previously stated his position against torture and the need for accountability.
Cheney backs CIA
On Sunday, former Vice President Dick Cheney defended the agency's actions in a interview with The New York Times.
Cheney, one of the program's strongest supporters, said he never believed the CIA withheld information from the Bush administration, and he noted that the program had been authorized by the Justice Department.
He said the CIA officers who ran the program should be "decorated, not criticized."
Former CIA officials disputed the report's findings, as did Senate Republicans, whose written dissent accused Democrats of inaccuracies, sloppy analysis and selective use of evidence to reach a predetermined conclusion.
George Tenet, CIA director when the 2001 attacks occurred, said in defending the agency, “We know that the program led to the capture of al-Qaida leaders and took them off the battlefield, that it prevented mass casualty attacks and that it saved thousands of American lives.”
Former CIA Director Michael Hayden denied the CIA lied about its program. He said releasing the report will make it less likely that countries that cooperated in the past with Washington in the fight against terrorists will do so in the future.
The former CIA veteran in charge of the interrogation, Jose Rodriguez, wrote in The Washington Post last week that the claim the interrogation "brought no intelligence value is an egregious falsehood. It is a dishonest attempt to rewrite history."
Watch related report from VOA's Zlatica Hoke:
Sharon Behn contributed to this report from Washington. Some material for this report came from Reuters.