The CIA and several of its past leaders are stepping up a campaign to discredit a five-year Senate investigation into the agency’s interrogation practices after 9/11.
They are concerned that the historical record may define them as torturers and expose them to legal action around the world.
The Senate intelligence committee’s report does not urge prosecution for wrongdoing and the Justice Department has no interest in reopening a criminal probe.
But the threat to former interrogators and their superiors was underlined as a UN special investigator demanded those responsible for “systematic crimes” be brought to justice.
Human rights groups also pushed for the arrest of key CIA and George W Bush administration figures if they travel overseas.
Current and former CIA officials pushed back, determined to paint the Senate report as a political stunt by Democrats tarnishing a programme that saved American lives.
It is a “one-sided study marred by errors of fact and interpretation – essentially a poorly done and partisan attack on the agency that has done the most to protect America,” former CIA directors George Tenet, Porter Goss and Michael Hayden wrote in the Wall Street Journal.
Mr Hayden was singled out by Senate investigators for what they said was a string of misleading or false statements he gave in 2007 about the importance of the CIA’s brutal treatment of detainees in thwarting terrorist attacks.
He described the focus on him as “ironic on so many levels” as any wrongdoing pre-dated his arrival at the CIA. “They were far too interested in yelling at me,” he said.
The intelligence committee’s 500-page release concluded that the CIA inflicted suffering on al- Qaida prisoners beyond its legal authority and that none of the agency’s “enhanced interrogations” provided critical, life-saving intelligence.
It cited the CIA’s own records, documenting in detail how waterboarding and lesser-known techniques such as “rectal feeding” were employed.