The Senate Intelligence Committee voted 9-6 on Thursday to approve a report on the CIA's post-9/11 interrogation program that could shed light on the debate over torture. But for now, even as the new movie "Zero Dark Thirty" stirs up public debate about the use of harsh interrogation tactics, declassifying the report to prepare for its release to the public could take months, if not longer.
"The report uncovers startling details about the CIA detention and interrogation program and raises critical questions about intelligence operations and oversight," Senate Intelligence Chair Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said in a statement after the vote. "I strongly believe that the creation of long-term, clandestine 'black sites' and the use of so-called 'enhanced-interrogation techniques' were terrible mistakes. The majority of the Committee agrees."
The 6,000-page report, which has been in the works since 2009, focuses on 6 million pages of documents about the CIA's post-9/11 interrogation tactics, including so-called enhanced interrogation, like waterboarding, which is torture. Republicans on Senate panel boycotted participation in the report's preparation because, they said, it is based on CIA documents instead of interviews conducted directly with agents.
If portions of the report are ever made public, they could give the American people a critical perspective on one of the most high-profile debates in the long decade of war since Sept. 11: whether the torture, promoted by the likes of former Vice President Dick Cheney, actually yielded intelligence of any worth.
Cheney foil Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who has long opposed the United States' use of torture based on his own experiences in a North Vietnamese prison, told HuffPost on Tuesday, "I totally agree with the report, and I hope it can be made public as soon as possible."
The committee found little evidence that torture was effective, Reuters reported in April, basing that conclusion on anonymous sources. But the fact that the report itself is still classified has left Cheney and former CIA clandestine operations chief Jose Rodriguez a free hand to claim that "enhanced interrogation" did work.
The next step for the report, Feinstein told HuffPost, is to "go to the White House, to the attorney general, to the DNI, to the CIA for possible technical amendments." The Senate panel would then need to act to declassify parts of the report to release it for public review, and the various government agencies involved would also need to sign off.
While "Zero Dark Thirty" suggests that a critical piece of information in the hunt for Osama bin Laden was extracted from a prisoner by using "enhanced interrogation," top senators speaking to The Huffington Post dismissed the proposition. Feinstein and Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) issued a letter in April specifically rebutting the suggestion that coercive interrogation was a central component in the hunt for bin Laden.
Giving the American people access to the same information that senators like Feinstein and McCain have is a critical step toward a real debate, said Brig. Gen. David R. Irvine, a retired Army Reserve officer who taught prisoner interrogation and opposes torture.
"The torture echo chamber has been largely unrebutted," Irvine said in a conference call on Tuesday. "Torture advocates have claimed over and over that it works, that they can't give an explanation of all the claimed success because 'they're classified, and if only we could tell you what we know, you'd understand.'"
But the Senate committee has had access to those classified files. "We're confident that the findings will show," Irvine said, "that all of the waterboarding and all of the brutality and everything else that trashed the Geneva conventions produced nothing but a national tragedy."