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The disclosure of secret Justice Department legal opinions on interrogation on Thursday set off a bitter round of debate over the treatment of suspected terrorists in American custody and whether Congress has been adequately informed of administration legal policies.

Democrats on Capitol Hill demanded to see the classified legal memorandums, disclosed by The New York Times on Thursday, that gave the CIA expansive approval in 2005 for harsh interrogation techniques.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, wrote to Acting Attorney General Peter D. Keisler asking for copies of all opinions on interrogation since 2004.

“I find it unfathomable that the committee tasked with oversight of the CIA’s detention and interrogation program would be provided more information by The New York Times than by the Department of Justice,” Rockefeller wrote.

The ranking Republican on the panel, Sen. Christopher S. Bond of Missouri, said in a statement Thursday night that the committee had been briefed on the administration’s “legal justifications” for interrogation.

Bond said he understood that the administration did not want to turn over the opinions themselves because they had confidential legal advice.

Administration officials confirmed the existence of the classified opinions but said they did not condone torture. The White House press secretary, Dana Perino, said she could not discuss CIA methods but added, “What I can tell is that any procedures that they use are tough, safe, necessary and lawful.”

One 2005 opinion gave the Justice Department’s most authoritative legal approval to the harshest agency techniques, including head slapping, exposure to cold and simulated drowning, even when used in combination.