NPR logo White House: Obama Looks Ahead But AG Is Independent (And Can Look Back)

White House: Obama Looks Ahead But AG Is Independent (And Can Look Back)

On the issue whether U.S. intelligence agents should be investigated by the Justice Department for allegations that they broke the nation's laws against torture during the previous administration, President Barack Obama has frequently said he wants to look to the future, not behind to the Bush era's controversies.

But now those controversies are indeed pulling him backwards. Attorney General Eric Holder has named a prosecutor, John Durham, to probe the Central Intelligence Agency's use of harsh interrogation techniques during the Bush Administration and whether laws were violated.

So the White House issued the following statement on the president's behalf this afternoon.

The President has said repeatedly that he wants to look forward, not back, and the President agrees with the Attorney General that those who acted in good faith and within the scope of legal guidance should not be prosecuted. Ultimately, determinations about whether someone broke the law are made independently by the Attorney General.

While the president doesn't want to look backward, other past controversies dictate the need for him to make it very clear that the attorney general is free to do as he sees fit.

For much of the Bush Administration, the Justice Department was criticized for not being independent enough of the White House as was demonstrated by the firing of several U.S. attorneys apparently for political reasons.

During the presidential campaign, Obama and other Democrats criticized former President Bush for allowing the Justice Department to essentially become a political arm of the White House.

So his statement today reinforces the notion that he's running a different kind of White House by giving his attorney general the freedom to decide whether or not to proceed with a CIA probe.