Condoleezza Rice, the former US secretary of state, approved the use of torture methods such as waterboarding as early as 2002, a new report says.
A US senate intelligence committee report said on Wednesday that Rice, then national security adviser, verbally gave the green light to the CIA in July 2002 to use waterboarding on Abu Zubaydah, an al-Qaeda suspect held in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.
A few days later on August 1, 2002, the then US justice department approved the use of waterboarding in a secret memo, the report said.
Abu Zubaydah underwent waterboarding at least 83 times in August 2002, according to memos from the administration of George Bush released earlier this week.
The news comes as the senate armed services committee had its own report declassified earlier this week, in which it said senior US officials in the Bush administration were involved in the approval of the use of torture on so-called terror suspects.
Both reports follow the release of internal Bush administration legal memos by Barack Obama, the US president, that justified the use of torture by the CIA, a move that has sparked a wave of controversy in the US over the use of torture on detainees.
|Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was reportedly
waterboarded 183 times [EPA]
The memos document in detail techniques lawyers believed would not break laws against torture including waterboarding, the repeated slamming of a prisoner's head against a padded wall, face-slapping and sleep deprivation.
Robert Gates, the US defence secretary, said the scale of the revelations in the memos and reports had left him concerned about a potential backlash against US forces overseas.
"I...was quite concerned, as you might expect, with a potential backlash in the Middle East and in the theaters where we're involved in conflict," he said.
"There was the realisation in the discussions that some of these disclosures could be used by al-Qaeda and our adversaries," Gates added but said that keeping the contents of the documents secret was "unrealistic".
The senate intelligence report, which compiles legal advice provided by the Bush administration to the CIA, says Rice personally conveyed the administration's approval to waterboard Zubaydah, a so-called high-value detainee, to George Tenet, then director of the CIA.
|The CIA has come under increased scrutiny
following the release of the documents [AP]
It also shows that dissenting legal views about the severe interrogation methods were brushed aside repeatedly.
The new timeline in the intelligence committee report indicates that Rice, then reporting to Bush, played a greater role than she has previously acknowledged last year in written testimony to the senate armed services committee.
Rice told the armed services committee last year that she had attended meetings where the CIA's requests over interrogation techniques were discussed, but said she did not recall details and did not refer to her reported direct role in approving the programme in her written statement to the committee.
Zubaydah underwent waterboarding at least 83 times in August 2002, far more than the agency had originally admitted, while Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the September 11 attacks in 2001, was waterboarded 183 times in March 2003, one of the memos released earlier this week said.
Some critics have accused Obama of undermining the US intelligence community after he ordered the release of "top secret" memos on interrogation techniques that have largely been condemned as torture.
And last week Dennis Blair, Obama's own most senior intelligence official, said in a memo leaked to the Associated Press news agency that "high value information'' was obtained through the use of such harsh techniques.
But on Tuesday, in a written statement, Blair said the information gained from the techniques "was valuable in some instances, but there is no way of knowing
whether the same information could have been obtained through other means.''
Obama has defended the decision to release the memos and has reassurred CIA employees that they will not face any punitive action from the government.
However, earlier this week he left the door open to the possibility that those who drafted the memos approving the tactics could be prosecuted, saying that it was up to Eric Holder, the US attorney-general, who has condemned waterboarding as
torture, whether to press charges.
Obama also said that he would support a congressional investigation over the issue if it were conducted in a bipartisan manner.