Human rights groups and the United Nations have called for the prosecution of US officials involved in what a Senate report called the “brutal” CIA interrogation of al-Qaeda suspects.
A top UN human rights envoy said there had been a “clear policy orchestrated at a high level”.
The CIA has defended its actions in the years after the 9/11 attacks on the US, saying they saved lives.
President Barack Obama said it was now time to move on.
UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Counter-Terrorism Ben Emmerson said that senior officials from the administration of George W. Bush who planned and sanctioned crimes must be prosecuted, as well as CIA and US government officials responsible for torture such as waterboarding.
“As a matter of international law, the US is legally obliged to bring those responsible to justice,” Ben Emmerson said in a statement made from Geneva.
“The US attorney general is under a legal duty to bring criminal charges against those responsible.”
Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth said that the CIA’s actions were criminal “and can never be justified”.
“Unless this important truth-telling process leads to prosecution of officials, torture will remain a <<policy option>> for future presidents,” he said.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) argued that the attorney general should appoint a special prosecutor to conduct “an independent and complete investigation of Bush administration officials who created, approved, carried out and covered up the torture program”.
“The crime of torture has no statute of limitations when torture risks or results in serious injury or death, and the US government has the obligation under international law to investigate any credible evidence that torture has been committed,” an ACLU statement said.
“If there’s sufficient evidence of criminal conduct… The offenders should be prosecuted. In our system, no one should be above the law, yet only a handful of mainly low-level personnel have been criminally prosecuted for abuse. That is a scandal.”
CIA torture report key findings:
None of 20 cases of counterterrorism “successes” attributed to the techniques led to unique or otherwise unavailable intelligence
The CIA misled politicians and public
At least 26 of 119 known detainees in custody during the life of the program were wrongfully held, and many held for months longer than they should have been
Methods included sleep deprivation for up to 180 hours, often standing or in painful positions
Saudi al-Qaeda suspect Abu Zubaydah was kept confined in a coffin-sized box for hours on end
Waterboarding and “rectal hydration” were physically harmful to prisoners, causing convulsions and vomiting
According to a US Senate report, the CIA carried out “brutal” interrogations of al-Qaeda suspects in the years after the 9/11 attacks.
The summary of the report, compiled by Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said that the CIA misled Americans about what it was doing.
The information the CIA collected this way failed to secure information that foiled any threats, the report said.
In a statement, the CIA insisted that the interrogations did help save lives.
“The intelligence gained from the program was critical to our understanding of al-Qaeda and continues to inform our counterterrorism efforts to this day,” Director John Brennan said in a statement.
However, the CIA said it acknowledged that there were mistakes in the program, especially early on when it was unprepared for the scale of the operation to detain and interrogate prisoners.
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The program – known internally as the Rendition, Detention and Interrogation program – took place from 2002 to 2007, during the presidency of George W. Bush.
Suspects were interrogated using methods such as waterboarding, slapping, humiliation, exposure to cold and sleep deprivation.
Introducing the report to the Senate, Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein described the CIA’s actions as a stain on US history.
“The release of this 500-page summary cannot remove that stain, but it can and does say to our people and the world that America is big enough to admit when it’s wrong and confident enough to learn from its mistakes,” Dianne Feinstein said.
“Under any common meaning of the term, CIA detainees were tortured,” she added.
Earlier, President Barack Obama responded to the report, saying the methods used were inconsistent with US values.
“These techniques did significant damage to America’s standing in the world and made it harder to pursue our interests with allies and partners,” he said in a statement.
Reacting to the release of the report summary, the Senate Republican leaders insisted that the methods used helped in the capture of important suspects and the killing of Osama bin Laden.
“Claims included in this report that assert the contrary are simply wrong,” Senators Mitch McConnell and Saxby Chambliss said in a joint statement.
The Senate committee’s report runs to more than 6,000 pages, drawing on huge quantities of evidence, but it remains classified and only a 480-page summary has been released.
Barack Obama halted the CIA interrogation program when he took office in 2009.
Earlier this year, the president said that in his view the methods used to question al-Qaeda prisoners amounted to torture.
Publication of the report had been delayed amid disagreements in Washington over what should be made public.
The US Senate has voted to recommend declassification of part of its report into “brutal” interrogation methods used by the CIA when questioning terror suspects.
But the Senate Intelligence Committee officials say it will be some time before the summary is made public.
Leaked parts of the report showed that the CIA often misled the government over its interrogation methods when George W. Bush was president.
The CIA disputes some of the findings, saying the report contains errors.
Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein said that it had voted 11-3 to declassify what she called the “shocking” results of the investigation.
“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 be allowed to happen again. This is not what Americans do,” California Democrat Dianne Feinstein said.
Senate report showed that the CIA often misled the government over its interrogation methods when George W. Bush was president
Correspondents say that while some of the committee’s Republicans voted with the Democrats in favor of declassifying the report, it was clear there were bitter divides within the panel.
Georgia Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss said that while he voted for the report’s declassification “to get it behind us”, it was still “a waste of time”.
A statement released by Dianne Feinstein said that the report highlighted “major problems” with the CIA’s management of its secret Detention and Interrogation Program, which involved more than 100 detainees.
“This is also deeply troubling and shows why oversight of intelligence agencies in a democratic nation is so important,” the statement said.
“The release of this summary and conclusions in the near future shows that this nation admits its errors, as painful as they may be, and seeks to learn from them.
“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.”
The statement said that the full 6,200-page report – which took five years to compile – has been updated and will be declassified at a later time.
It said that the executive summary, findings and conclusions – which total more than 500 pages – will be sent to President Barack Obama for declassification review and subsequent public release.
Leaks of the report in the Washington Post on Tuesday said that the CIA used secret “black sites” to interrogate prisoners using techniques not previously acknowledged.
These included dunking suspects in icy water and smashing a prisoner’s head against a wall.