That longed-for moment when we see either Dick Cheney, or maybe even Dubya himself, in the dock, got a little closer last week, with revelations that a secret CIA counter-terrorism program was concealed from Congress on the orders of VP Cheney.

Obama-appointed CIA head Leon Panetta has, it is claimed, testified to a closed committee of Congress that the program went on from 9/11 onwards, and that Panetta himself only found out about it in June.

What the actual program was is shrouded in mystery — it could be anything from lethal cigar nude bomb wackiness to a plan for the total suspension of the Constitution and the imposition of a dictatorship. David Lindorrf, a specialist in the history of Bush dirty tricks campaigns suggests that it’s most likely an assassination program on a vastly expanded scale — indeed it may be the “big secret” Bob Woodward spoke of in the publicity for his most recent book on the Bush administration.

But more importantly it may be the crucial step the Obama administration needs, if it is of a mind, to appoint a special prosecutor to inquire into the whole conduct of secret ops during the Dubya years, with attorney-general Eric Holder saying that he is “mulling over” the possibility.

The Obama administration has given every indication that it has no desire to appoint a special prosecutor, despite the urging of the liberal left — calculating that the long drawn-out struggle that an investigation and prosecutions would draw away such energy as the administration has, reignite the culture wars, and pose some nasty questions about how much Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid knew about the use of torture by the agency and others.

But if there is going to be a special prosecutor, Obama wants one appointed in an atmosphere in which as many people as possible are clamouring for something to be done; as this correspondent noted during the initial revelations of further torture photos (though not of the photos themselves) and of the true extent of water-torture — euphemistically called water-boarding — Obama’s method is to look as if he has been pushed to a course of action by general clamour, and has to proceed more in sorrow than in anger etc etc, to do what he had already considered doing anyway.

The downside of this is that Obama looks diffident, pushed around. But the upside of it is that he looks like he’s doing something that people think must happen, that he has become an agent of the general will.

By doing it thusly, he avoids getting too far out in front of middle America. It also means that people taking him on are taking on a much larger force. The method is one he used again and again in his campaign.

At some point of course he absolutely can’t avoid an inquiry into what went on — the possible undermining of American government is so absolutely stark that to not address it is to leave a gaping hole in history.

Yet with its prosecution of the war in Afghanistan, the administration is heading towards a fullblown crisis, and increased conflicts with a Democratic congress — who want to expand the eight-person closed committee who first heard these revelations to become a 40-person committee, a move Obama has threatened to veto — a moment which might mark a clear rupture between the Obama administration and American liberalism, once and for all.