Fears of backlash as US to release CIA torture report
WASHINGTON - Agence France-Presse
AFP PhotoAmerican embassies were on heightened alert Dec. 9 amid fears of a backlash to a long-delayed US Senate report into the CIA's brutal interrogation of Al-Qaeda suspects after the 2001 attacks.
White House officials confirmed Monday they expect the report to be published, even though US Secretary of State John Kerry warned late last week about the impact it could have around the world.
While heavily redacted, the report is expected to be a damning indictment of a secret program under the administration of former president George W. Bush to question dozens of terror detainees.
Since coming to office in 2009, President Barack Obama has sought to distance the United States from past deeds and outlawed harsh interrogation techniques which he has denounced as "torture."
"We have heard from the committee that they do intend to release the report tomorrow," White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters.
"Prudent steps" had been taken to boost security at US facilities and diplomatic missions abroad in case the report triggers a wave of fury, he added.
The report is understood to cover the treatment of around 100 terror suspects rounded up by US operatives between 2001 and 2009, after the September 11, 2001 attacks by Al-Qaeda which destroyed the World Trade Center in New York and damaged the Pentagon.
The suspects were subjected to waterboarding, stress positions and other harsh methods, in a series of interrogations either at CIA-run secret prisons or the Guantanamo Bay US military base in Cuba.
US media said the report is also expected to reveal that the CIA misled the White House about the details and success of the program.
"We tortured some folks," Obama said in August, talking about the contents of the report.
The CIA's defenders insist the methods saved American lives by helping to uncover Al-Qaeda's network, while critics say they ran contrary to US values and hardened anti-American attitudes.
The 6,200-page report has been prepared by the US Senate intelligence committee. Its chairwoman, Senator Dianne Feinstein, sparred for months with the administration over proposed redactions.
In April, the Senate committee voted overwhelmingly to release a reportedly severely critical 500-page executive summary and 20 conclusions of the secret document.
But first the lawmakers had to negotiate with the White House on redactions -- something Feinstein, who called the report's findings "shocking," pledged to do.
The undertaking caused deep friction between the intelligence community and the lawmakers and Senate staffers.
"We've declassified as much of that report as we can," said Earnest.
"The president believes that on principle it's important to release that report so that people around the world and people here at home understand exactly what transpired," he added.
Feinstein told reporters Monday she wants Americans reading the report to see that "when we make mistakes we admit them... and we move on."
The State Department has put its missions around the world on watch, and asked them to review security arrangements ahead of the report's release.
Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill said she supported the release of the report.
"It exposes what the world already knows and that is that the United States engaged in torture. But my feeling about this is that this is a gut check moment for our democracy," she told CBS.
"This report would never happen in North Korea, or China or Russia," she argued. "If it doesn't come out, then we all need to get comfortable with the fact that in America, the CIA has no oversight." But Republican chairman of the House intelligence committee Mike Rogers said Sunday: "I think this is a terrible idea."
"Our foreign partners are telling us this will cause violence and deaths."
And former Bush vice president Dick Cheney staunchly defended the interrogation program, telling the New York Times it was "absolutely, totally justified."
He denied the CIA withheld any information, and emphasized the program had been vetted by the Justice Department.
"As far as I'm concerned, they ought to be decorated, not criticized," he said of the CIA interrogators.
"When we had that program in place, we kept the country safe from any more mass casualty attacks, which was our objective," he said.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki confirmed Kerry had spoken with Feinstein last week to highlight ongoing efforts against the Islamic State group as well as the safety of American hostages around the world.
Another State Department official, who asked not to be named, said "you could infer that he talked about delaying the release."