A top UN human rights envoy and human rights groups are calling for the prosecution of U.S. officials involved in what a Senate report called the "brutal" CIA interrogation of suspected terrorists.
The report by the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee, released on December 9, said the CIA used interrogation techniques that were "far worse" than they had led officials to believe.
It also said the use of the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques such as waterboarding "was not an effective means of obtaining accurate information or gaining detainee cooperation."
UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and counterterrorism Ben Emmerson said that senior officials from the administration of George W. Bush who planned and authorized crimes must be prosecuted, as well as CIA and U.S. government officials responsible for torture.
The statement said the United States is "legally obliged to bring those responsible to justice."
The American Civil Liberties Union called on the U.S. attorney general to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate officials who "created, approved, carried out, and covered up the torture program."
"The offenders should be prosecuted," the statement said. "In our system, no one should be above the law."
Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth said that, if the release of the report does not lead to the prosecution of officials, "torture will remain a 'policy option' for future presidents."
The 6,000 page report was the result of a five-year investigation by the Senate Intelligence Committee. Only an edited version of the report's 525-page executive summary was published.
It detailed the CIA's interrogation methods for suspected Al-Qaeda operatives at secret facilities in Europe and Asia in the years after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks against the United States.
The report accused the CIA of misleading "policymakers and others" about the level of brutality used against suspected terrorists in the years following the attacks.
The document also said that the methods included physical abuse that was conducted "despite warnings from CIA medical personnel" that the techniques "could exacerbate physical injuries."
President Barack Obama called the revelations in the report "troubling."
He said he had banned harsh interrogation techniques after taking office in 2009 because they are "contrary to our values."
The president also said the techniques "did significant damage to America's standing in the world and made it harder to pursue our interests with allies and partners."
But he also said it was now time to move on, saying "I hope that [the] report can help us leave these techniques where they belong -- in the past," he said.
In a statement, CIA Director John Brennan said the agency made mistakes and learned from them.
But he also said the coercive techniques "did produce intelligence that helped thwart attack plans, capture terrorists and save lives."
Former Vice President Dick Cheney told "The New York Times" that the interrogations were "absolutely, totally justified."
He said they "kept the country safe from any more mass casualty attacks, which was our objective."
Influential Republican Senator John McCain argued that torture "rarely yields credible information."
Even in the hunt for Osama Bin Laden, he said, the most important lead came from "conventional interrogation methods."
Other senior Republican lawmakers disputed the conclusion that the CIA interrogation methods highlighted in the report failed to yield intelligence leading to the capture of key terrorist figures.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and Senator Saxby Chambliss, the intelligence committee's ranking Republican member, said in a joint statement: "Claims included in this report that assert the contrary are simply wrong."
The two Republican senators echoed previous concerns voiced by critics of the decision to declassify and release the report to the public, saying the move would have "serious consequences" for U.S. national security interests.
Asked about the U.S. report, British Prime Minister David Cameron said, "Let us be clear: Torture is wrong. Torture is always wrong."
"After 9/11 there were things that happened that were wrong. And we should be clear about the fact they were wrong."
Polish Defense Minister Tomasz Siemoniak said the publication of the report will undermine the trust that its allies have in the United States.
Just hours before the report was released in Washington, U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced that he had ordered a worldwide military "high alert" for U.S. forces due to the possibility that the report could lead to attacks against U.S. troops.
The White House said on December 8 that U.S. embassies and other sites around the world had been ordered to take precautions amid "some indications" of "greater risk."
In notices to Americans in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the U.S. embassies in the two countries are warning that the release of the report "could prompt anti-U.S. protests and violence against U.S. interests, including private U.S. citizens."
With reporting by AP, Reuters, AFP