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US lawmakers to vote on secret CIA interrogation report

The US Capitol in Washington, DC, on March 11, 2014
The US Capitol in Washington, DC, on March 11, 2014

A US Senate committee will vote next week on whether to declassify its report on a CIA interrogation program, potentially shedding light on some of the most objectionable tactics of America's war on terror.

Disputes over the 6,300-page review and the years-long research conducted by Senate Intelligence Committee staff have led to a rift between the Central Intelligence Agency and Senator Dianne Feinstein, who heads the panel.

She said Wednesday that a vote is expected April 3, after one this week was postponed to give lawmakers more time to review the parts of the document that could be released to the public.

Feinstein wants to declassify the 400-page summary of the report, which critics of CIA interrogation policies have dubbed the torture report, as well as its key findings and conclusions.

"I think it's very important that it be made public" so that the brutal techniques used in the program "will never happen again," she told AFP.

Senate Democrat John Rockefeller, who avidly supports releasing the entire report with minimal redactions, said there was sufficient support among committee members for Feinstein's proposal.

When the report, one of the most exhaustive acts of congressional oversight, was approved by the committee back in 2012, Feinstein described the program's so-called black sites and use of enhanced interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, as "terrible mistakes."

Lawmakers including Republican Senator John McCain equated such techniques with torture. Feinstein and others questioned whether the program yielded useful intelligence that could have thwarted future terrorist attacks.

President Barack Obama has said he would like to see the report made public.

The move would require final steps by the executive branch, and CIA director John Brennan has signalled his willingness to begin declassification.

"I expect the Committee will submit at least some portion of the report to the CIA for classification review, and, if that happens, CIA will carry out the review expeditiously," Brennan said Friday in a message to staff.

Declassification would revive debate over the controversial interrogation techniques that framed the program hatched during president George W. Bush's administration at the height of the post-9/11 war on terror.

The behind-the-scenes spat between the CIA and the Senate committee spilled into the open in recent weeks, with Feinstein accusing the agency of spying on its congressional overseers.

The CIA countered that Senate staff improperly accessed classified documents.

Dozens of human rights and civil society groups as well as hundreds of former administration officials, former interrogators, military personnel and experts have called for releasing the findings.

Among them is the program's chief legal architect John Rizzo.

The former CIA lawyer wrote in Wednesday's USA Today that he understood the report offers "scathing" criticism of the interrogation program and those at the CIA, including himself, who conceived and implemented it.

"So be it. Let it out," he added. "Americans deserve to see all of it and make their own judgments."