WASHINGTON — A newly declassified narrative of the Bush administration's advice to the CIA on harsh interrogations shows that the small group of Justice Department lawyers who wrote memos authorizing harsh interrogation techniques were operating not on their own but with direction from top administration officials, including then-Vice President Dick Cheney and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.
At the same time, the narrative suggests that then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and then-Secretary of State Colin Powell were largely left out of the decision-making process.
The narrative, posted Wednesday on the Senate Intelligence Committee's Web site and released by its former chairman, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., came as Attorney General Eric Holder told reporters that he'd "follow the evidence wherever it takes us" in deciding whether to prosecute any Bush administration officials who authorized harsh techniques that are widely considered torture.
In a statement accompanying the narrative's release, Rockefeller said the task of declassifying interrogation and detention opinions "is not complete" and urged prompt declassification of other opinions from 2006 and 2007 that he said would show how Bush Justice Department officials interpreted laws governing torture and war crimes.
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These developments come days after the Obama administration declassified four Justice Department memos from 2002 and 2005 that revealed in detail authorized interrogation methods, such as waterboarding, which simulates drowning, sleep deprivation and putting detainees in containers with insects.
The drafting of the narrative began last summer, at the prompting of Rockefeller. The Senate Intelligence Committee staff drafted the document, with heavy input from the Bush administration, in a multi-department effort largely coordinated through the Director of National Intelligence's office.
Bush's National Security Council, however, refused to declassify it.
Obama's National Security Adviser, James L. Jones, signed off on its release last week and the Senate panel cleared it Tuesday.
Among other details, the narrative shows that:
_ The CIA thought al Qaida operative Abu Zubaydah was withholding information about an imminent threat as of April 2002, but didn't get authorization to use various interrogation techniques on him until more than three months later.
_ Key Senate Intelligence Committee members were briefed on the techniques used on Zubaydah and Khalid Sheik Mohammed in 2002 and 2003.
_ The Director of Central Intelligence in the spring of 2003 sought a reaffirmation of the legality of the interrogation methods. Cheney, Rice, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft and White House counsel Alberto Gonzales were among those at a meeting where it was decided that the policies would continue. Rumsfeld and Powell weren't.
_ The CIA briefed the Rumsfeld and Powell on interrogation techniques in September 2003.
_ Administration officials had ongoing concerns about the legality of waterboarding as they continued to justify its legitimacy.
Cheney couldn't be reached for comment. Rice, through an aide, declined to comment.
As the narrative was released, various civil liberties and liberal activist organizations said they planned to present Holder on Thursday with 250,000 petition signatures calling for the appointment of an independent prosecutor to lead a criminal investigation into alleged torture.
Meanwhile, Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and independent Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut wrote to Obama urging him not to prosecute Bush officials who offered legal advice about CIA interrogations.
While the senators deemed some of the legal analyses "deeply flawed," they said that criminalizing bad legal opinions "would have a deeply chilling effect on the ability of lawyers in any administration to provide their client — the U.S. government — with their best legal advice."
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, on Wednesday reiterated his call for an independent "truth commission" to examine the interrogations, and said that if Republicans wouldn't go along with the bipartisan commission, he'd seek an investigation through the Senate.
(William Douglas contributed to this article.)
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