Former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other top administration officials are responsible for abuse of detainees in US custody, a bipartisan Senate report said Thursday.
"Rumsfeld's authorization of aggressive interrogation techniques for use at Guantanamo Bay was a direct cause of detainee abuse there" and "influenced and contributed to the use of abusive techniques... in Afghanistan and Iraq," the report concluded.
It said Rumsfeld authorized harsh interrogation techniques on December 2, 2002 at the US prison facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, although he ruled them out a month later.
"The message from top officials was clear; it was acceptable to use degrading and abusive techniques against detainees," said Democratic Senator Carl Levin, who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee that produced the report.
"Attempts by senior officials to pass the buck to low-ranking soldiers while avoiding any responsibility for abuses are unconscionable."
The committee focused much of its nearly two-year investigation on the Defense Department's use of controversial interrogation techniques, including stress positions, forced nudity, sleep deprivation and waterboarding, or simulated drowning.
"Those efforts damaged our ability to collect accurate intelligence that could save lives, strengthened the hand of our enemies and compromised our moral authority," said the report, most of which remained classified.
The coercive techniques first originated from a memo President George W. Bush signed on February 7, 2002, that declared the Geneva Convention's norms for humane treatment of prisoners did not apply to Al-Qaeda and Taliban detainees, according to the report.
Top administration officials, including then-national security advisor Condoleezza Rice, participated in meetings on the harsh interrogation techniques as early as that spring, the report said.
The Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape (SERE) training techniques, designed to teach US troops how to resist enemy interrogations, were the template for detainee interrogation.
The report, approved unanimously by voice vote last month in the committee, found it "particularly troubling" for senior officials to have approved the use of techniques "modeled, in part, on tactics used by the Communist Chinese to elicit false confessions from US military personnel."
The adoption of SERE techniques was "inexcusable," said Senator John McCain of Arizona, a ranking Republican on the committee and a former prisoner of war in Vietnam.
"These policies are wrong and must never be repeated."
McCain lost the US presidential election last month to Barack Obama, who has vowed to close the Us "war on terror" prison in Guantanamo Bay.