WASHINGTON -- If senators vote this week to release key sections of a voluminous report on terrorist interrogations, an already strained relationship between lawmakers and the CIA could become even more rancorous, and President Barack Obama might have to step into the fray.
The Senate Intelligence Committee hopes that by publishing a 400-page summary of its contentious review and the 20 main recommendations, it will shed light on some of the most unsavory elements of the Bush administration's "war on terror" after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Despite now serving Obama, the CIA maintains that the report underestimates the intelligence value of waterboarding and other methods employed by intelligence officials at undeclared, "black site" facilities overseas. The entire investigation runs some 6,200 pages.
The dispute boiled into the open earlier this month with competing claims of wrongdoing by Senate staffers and CIA officials. The intelligence committee's chairwoman, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, accused the CIA of improperly monitoring the computer use of Senate staffers and deleting files, undermining the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches.
The agency said the intelligence panel illegally accessed certain documents. Each side has registered criminal complaints with the Justice Department.
This week's vote could fuel the fight, if it goes in favor of disclosure. It would start a process that forces CIA officials and Senate staffers to go line-by-line through the report and debate which elements can be made public and which must stay secret because of ongoing national security concerns.
The CIA and the executive branch hold all the keys as the final determiners of what ought to remain classified. Senators primarily have the bully pulpit of embarrassing the CIA publicly and the last-resort measure of going after the agency's budget.
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