The president, who has said he wants to focus on the future rather than litigate the past, also opened himself to distraction and attack by retracting the earlier assurance by top officials that they had no plans to prosecute lawyers for former President George W. Bush who approved the “enhanced interrogation” program.
A Democratic strategist close to the White House said: “The president looked resolute, and like he had threaded the needle perfectly on the substance: The heat from the right was preposterous, and the heat from the left was manageable. But now they look like the scarecrow, pointing in both directions. They got the policy right, but they look confused and beaten down by critics."
The implications go beyond a typical Washington spat over “message control.” Obama’s moves virtually guarantee a sharp public focus on two uncomfortable questions that his team previously sought to leave vague:
--Should people be tried and even sent to prison—as many Democrats want—for what Obama regards as illegal practices under Bush?
--Even if wrong, did those practices have any positive results in stopping new attacks?
Obama’s own statements are murky on both questions.