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Obama condemns CIA torture as 'contrary to our values'

The CIA director claimed controversial techniques helped 'thwart attack plans'
The Central Intelligence Agency has been accused of systematically torturing detainees (AFP)

US President Barack Obama has called allegations of systemic torture by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) as “contrary to our values” on Tuesday, as the US Senate released its much-anticipated report into the intelligence agency’s interrogation of Al-Qaeda suspects.

The heavily redacted 500-page summary of a longer report also condemned the techniques as “ineffective” claiming they did not help prevent major terror attacks.

"The report documents a troubling program involving enhanced interrogation techniques on terrorism suspects in secret facilities outside the United States," Obama said in a statement on Tuesday.

"It reinforces my long-held view that these harsh methods were not only inconsistent with our values as nation, they did not serve our broader counterterrorism efforts or our national security interests.

"Moreover, 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 added, in statement.

"That is why I will continue to use my authority as president to make sure we never resort to those methods again. That is why I unequivocally banned torture when I took office, because one of our most effective tools in fighting terrorism and keeping Americans safe is staying true to our ideals."

The CIA's director John Brennan, however, denied that the interrogation techniques had been disproportionate stating that they "did produce intelligence that helped thwart attack plans, capture terrorists and save lives."

"As noted in CIA's response to the study, we acknowledge that the detention and interrogation program had shortcomings and that the Agency made mistakes," Brennan said, in a statement.

"The most serious problems occurred early on and stemmed from the fact that the agency was unprepared and lacked the core competencies required to carry out an unprecedented, worldwide program of detaining and interrogating suspected Al-Qaeda and affiliated terrorists.”

Among its revelations, the report revealed a more widespread use of waterboarding – a technique which simulates drowning by placing a wet towel over a suspects head – than had originally been attested to by the government, who originally claimed that only three people – al-Qaeda suspects Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Zabaydah, and Abd Al Rahim al-Nashiri – had been subjected to it.

It also documented the use of “stress positions”, non-stop interrogation and “forced rectal feeding.”

There were also suggestions that the CIA had lied about the effectiveness of the techniques, claiming after examing 20 case studies that the they “regularly resulted in fabricated information.”

"In carrying out that program, we did not always live up to the high standards that we set for ourselves and that the American people expect of us," Brennan said. 

"As an agency, we have learned from these mistakes, which is why my predecessors and I have implemented various remedial measures over the years to address institutional deficiencies."

Former vice president Dick Cheney also defended the CIA's interrogation techniques telling The New York Times on Sunday that it was "absolutely, totally justified."

"When we had that program in place, we kept the country safe from any more mass casualty attacks, which was our objective," he said.

Many commentators have predicted a worldwide backlash against the report's finding, with Republican head of the House intelligence committee Mike Rogers warning US partners had predicted the revelations could “cause violence and deaths."

US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel said he had put the US military on high alert in anticipation of any backlash.

"I have ordered all our combatant commanders to be on high alert everywhere in the world," he told reporters in Baghdad, though he said no specific threat had been discovered.

Asim Qureshi, research director at CAGE, an advocacy group working to empower communities impacted by the War on Terror, said his organisation was “not surprised at all” by the report.

“Really this only verifies everything we've been saying,” he told Middle East Eye.

“The difference here is that it's the government itself that is finally admitting it, whereas the whole NGO community has been talking about this for quite some time.”

While he welcomed the report's finding, he said he was skeptical of any fundamental political change taking place, citing Obama's failure to close the notorious Guantanamo Bay.

“There isn't a political appetite in America to hold these crimes to account and the fact is that Obama came into office with a mandate of closing Guantanamo – that hasn't happened,” he said.

“And if the internationally easy win [of closing Guantanamo] wasn't possible, I fail to see how he will actually hold people to account for being involved in torture programmes.”

He also suggested that even if prosecutions were brought over the revelations “it will only ever be low level people and even then the sentences will be extremely low, if anything at all.”

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