By Pam Benson
The Senate Intelligence Committee has voted to approve an exhaustive study on the CIA's controversial detention and interrogation program that critics have charged was akin to torture.
By a 9-6 vote, the committee signed off Thursday on a 6,000-page classified report that has been in the works for nearly four years. The report is based on the study of six million, mostly CIA, documents and includes 35,000 footnotes and 20 findings and conclusions.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the committee chairwoman, said after the vote that the study was one of the most significant oversight efforts in the history of the United States.
The detention and interrogation was authorized by the Bush administration after the September 11 terrorist attacks but was discontinued by President Barack Obama when he took office in 2009.
The CIA, with help from the military and foreign partners, captured suspected terrorists and detained those considered of high value at secret prisons scattered around the world.
The agency was authorized to use what were called enhanced interrogation techniques on people it thought had critical information that could prevent attacks. Those methods included waterboarding, stress positions, exposure to low temperatures and slaps.
Feinstein, in her statement said, "I strongly believe the creation of long-term, clandestine 'black sites' and the use of so-called 'enhanced-interrogaton techniques' were terrible mistakes."
The study uncovered "startling details" and raised "critical questions about the intelligence operations and oversight," the senator said.
Although Republicans on the committee initially supported the study, they withdrew participation in 2009 after the Obama administration's Justice Department launched an investigation into whether CIA personnel engaged in illegal activities.
Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, ranking Republican on the committee, voted against the report.
"I opposed this report today, for a number of reasons, including that the vote was rushed before the CIA had the opportunity to provide input and with little time for Members to review it.," Chambliss said in a statement to CNN. " In the limited time, we have had to review it, a number of significant errors, omissions, assumptions, and ambiguities—as well as a lot of cherry-picking—were found that call the conclusions into question. The committee has not interviewed a single person, or offered anyone the opportunity to respond to these findings and correct inaccuracies. I believe the committee has made a mistake in passing judgment without hearing from those involved and it is the committee’s reputation, the CIA’s reputation, and our national security that will pay the price."
Not all Republicans agreed.
In a letter to the committee, Arizona Sen. John McCain, a victim of torture while he was held as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam, called on the members to approve the report and make it public.
McCain said the comprehensive study confirms "that the cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of prisoners is not only wrong in principle and a stain on our country's conscience, but also an ineffective and unreliable means of gathering intelligence... It is my hope that we can reach a consensus in this country that we will never again engage in these horrific abuses and that the mere suggestion of doing so should be ruled out of our political discourse, regardless of which party holds power."
Civil liberties and human rights groups applauded the vote.
"The committee took an important step toward making sure that history doesn't repeat itself," said Christopher Anders, senior legislative counsel at the ACLU. "The investigation and report are also an important precedent for establishing checks and balances between Congress and a CIA that has often flouted both the law and American values."
Melina Milazzo of Human Rights First said the "committee has sent a clear message that torture and abuse have no place in U.S. intelligence operations."
Both organizations called on the committee to make the report public as soon as possible.
The report will first be sent to the president, the CIA and other relevant parties for comment. Feinstein said the committee will make a decision about declassification after it receives executive branch comments.