WASHINGTON - Top Bush administration officials gave the CIA approval to use waterboarding, a controversial interrogation technique, as early as 2002, a Senate intelligence report shows.
On July 17, 2002, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, who later became secretary of state, said the CIA could proceed with "alternative interrogation methods," including waterboarding, when questioning suspected al Qaeda leader Abu Zubaydah.
The decision was contingent on the Justice Department's determining the method's legality. A week later, Attorney General John Ashcroft had determined the "proposed interrogation techniques were lawful," the report said.
The same techniques also were used in the interrogations of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the first person charged in the United States in the 2000 attack on the USS Cole in Yemen that killed 17 U.S. sailors, and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the suspected mastermind behind the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States.
The release of the report, prepared by the attorney general's office at the request of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, details and declassifies the advice given to the CIA regarding its interrogation techniques.
The techniques again gained the endorsement of the Bush administration in spring 2003 when the CIA asked for a "reaffirmation of the policies and practices in the interrogation program."
In a meeting that included Vice President Dick Cheney, CIA Director George Tenet, Ashcroft, Rice and their legal counsels, "the principals reaffirmed that the CIA program was lawful and reflected administration policy," the report said.
President Obama has called waterboarding -- which simulates drowning -- torture and last week released a series of Bush-era memos on interrogation tactics.
One memo showed that CIA interrogators used waterboarding at least 266 times on Zubaydah and Mohammed.
In a 2008 interview with ABC, Cheney defended the practice of waterboarding, now banned by the Obama administration, particularly in the case of Mohammed.
"Did it produce the desired results? I think it did," Cheney said.
"Khalid Sheikh Mohammed ... provided us with a wealth of information. There was a period of time there, three or fours years ago, when about half of everything we knew about al Qaeda came from that one source.
"So it's been a remarkably successful effort," he said. "I think the results speak for themselves."
More recently, Cheney said some people are more interested in reading terrorists their rights than protecting the United States, a dig at the new administration.
Cheney this week called Obama's release of the Bush memos "disturbing" and said the administration is sitting on other CIA memos that show that the interrogations helped stop terror attacks.
"They didn't put out the memos that show the success of the effort, and there are reports that show specifically what we gained as a result of this activity," Cheney told Fox News on Monday. "They have not been declassified."