Dick Cheney's displeasure and Nancy Pelosi's discomfiture may have revived the idea of setting up a "truth commission" to look into the Bush-era counterterrorism policies, but President Barack Obama still wants no part of it. According to David Axelrod, the President's senior adviser, Obama remains convinced that looking forward rather than back "is best for the country."
Plans for a truth commission, originally proposed by Senator Patrick Leahy, had seemed doomed by Obama's initial thumb's-down. But they gained some traction in recent weeks, thanks to fresh controversies over the CIA's detention and interrogation policies under Bush. Former Vice President Dick Cheney has repeated claims that the harsh interrogation of terrorism suspects helped save thousands of American lives. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has had to deny that she was informed about the CIA's use of waterboarding and has accused the agency of misleading Congress. (See pictures of the aftershocks of the Abu Ghraib scandal.)
The Obama Administration had hoped that last month's release of the so-called torture memos would shed some light on the dark practices; the ensuing uproar, from both sides of the political divide, has only made things murkier. For many, the controversies make the case for an independent inquiry: what better way to sweep aside the politics and get to the facts? (Read about the Pentagon's role in torture tactics.)
Axelrod, however, argues the opposite. "I would say the last three weeks have demonstrated the perils of such a thing," he told TIME this week, "because what you have seen is Cheney and the authors of the old policy trying desperately to justify what they did, and then you have seen people who are enraged by Cheney and the old policies who want to relitigate the whole matter. And all of a sudden you are in the old time machine headed backwards. And that's not useful." (Read a story about how the waterboarding controversy is drowning Pelosi.)
Axelrod points out that the Obama Administration has no vested interest in holding back an inquiry. "Obviously this is a look-back that doesn't relate to stuff that we did but stuff that the last Administration did. So it's not a self-interested decision to say we want to look forward and not back. But it really is ... what the President thinks is best for the country." (See pictures of Pelosi throughout her career.)
That doesn't mean there won't be a truth commission, however. "We don't govern by fiat over here," says Axelrod. "If Congress wants to move forward, they will move forward... we are prepared for whatever."
There are now slow-moving inquiries by the Senate judicial and intelligence committees as well as Representative John Conyers' proposal for an investigative commission with subpoena power, currently being considered by the House Armed Services Committee. Meanwhile, Leahy's staffers say the Senator is trying to build bipartisan support for a commission. But he's had little support from Republicans, and the congressional recess will likely slow his efforts. The break may have the same effect on Republican calls from former Speaker Newt Gingrich to Representative Pete Hoekstra for investigations into Pelosi's claims.