POLITICS
04/03/2014 03:52 pm ET | Updated Apr 03, 2014

Senate Committee Approves CIA Torture Report For Release, Focus Moves To White House

Tom Williams via Getty Images

The Senate Intelligence Committee voted Tuesday to declassify the executive summary of a report detailing the CIA's George W. Bush-era torture and interrogation program, a move that will push the White House into the center of a fierce debate over how much to reveal about the agency's contentious post-9/11 actions.

The committee's vote was 11-3, with Democrats joined by several Republicans.

"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.), the committee's chair, said in a statement.

"It is now abundantly clear that, in an effort to prevent further terrorist attacks after 9/11 and bring those responsible to justice, the CIA made serious mistakes that haunt us to this day," said Feinstein. "We are acknowledging those mistakes, and we have a continuing responsibility to make sure nothing like this ever occurs again."

The committee began work on its 6,200-page report in 2009 and finished it in December 2012. Since then, however, the report has been caught in the middle of back-and-forth accusations between Senate Democrats and the CIA. In the latest, most public and most contentious episode, Feinstein accused the CIA of spying on Senate staffers as they were producing the report, and both sides have sent criminal referrals on the matter to the Justice Department.

The committee voted to declassify a 480-page executive summary of the report, as well as 20 findings and conclusions. The process could take weeks or months. The White House said later Thursday that the CIA will take the lead role on declassifying the information, the Guardian reported -- leaving much of the fate of the highly critical report in the agency's own hands.

Leaks from officials briefed on the report suggest that the CIA repeatedly misled the Justice Department and Congress on the efficacy of tactics like waterboarding. In addition to waterboarding, according to the Washington Post, the report reveals that the CIA employed tactics like repeatedly dunking suspects in ice water and smashing their heads against a wall.

The CIA's defenders, meanwhile, have already begun to push back: They are charging that partisan bias taints the report's conclusions, and that the report is fatally flawed by the fact that its authors did not interview CIA employees directly, instead relying on written records of the interrogation program.

CIA Director John Brennan has pledged to carry out a declassification review "expeditiously." But behind closed doors, the agency has fought to discredit the report. Human rights advocates warned that only the White House -- which by law has ultimate authority over declassification -- can settle the CIA-Senate dispute.

"The White House should take the lead," said Raha Wala, senior counsel at Human Rights First. "Given everything that's happened between the CIA and the Intelligence Committee, there's no question that there's at minimum the appearance of a conflict of interest on the part of the CIA. So it's up to the president to really show some leadership."

The Obama administration, however, has proven reticent to involve itself in the inter-branch dispute. Obama has said he supports the release of the report in some form.

In response to a question about whether it would be willing to overrule CIA objections to declassification of portions of the report's executive summary, National Security Council spokesperson Caitlin Hayden said in an email only that "Declassification is the responsibility of the Executive Branch. We'll do that as expeditiously as we can, but I'm not going to speculate on the timeframe for declassifying something we haven't received yet."

This story has been updated with news that the CIA will take the lead on declassifying the report.

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