Congressional Democrats and many Washington journalists are predicting that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's current dispute with the Central Intelligence Agency may ultimately hasten the push toward the last thing Republicans want -- a comprehensive investigation of prisoner detention and interrogation during the administration of former President George W. Bush.
The Pelosi controversy centers on whether the House's top Democrat was briefed in 2002 by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) that waterboarding and other abusive interrogation techniques were being used when she was chair of the House Intelligence Committee.
Pelosi says the CIA told her waterboarding was not being used; she has accused the agency of misleading Congress. The CIA claims it informed her, as well as a small number of other Congressional leaders.
While President Barack Obama appears to be ambivalent about a comprehensive look-back, many of Pelosi's House colleagues - and much of the media -- are ramping up their calls for an independent 9/11-type commission to investigate not only what Pelosi knew and when she knew it, but what happened to detainees during the Bush years.
If there is a full-blown investigation of Bush-era policies, it is sure to drill down into the CIA's activities following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and in the year-long run-up to the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq.
There is little dispute that the CIA played a major role in the interrogation of terror suspects during that period. Public disclosure of what the CIA did - and testimony about who authorized, approved, and implemented it -- is likely to be a major embarrassment for Republicans who controlled the White House and both chambers of Congress at the time.
A recent Senate hearing on torture provides a measure of just how embarrassing such revelations could be.
That hearing revealed two claims that went largely unreported in mainstream media accounts.
The first claim was intended to debunk the widely-held view that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) were at odds about the effectiveness of harsh interrogation practices. Testimony at the hearing suggested that the two agencies were in agreement.
The second claim was that CIA operatives were responsible for the application of abusive interrogation practices. But testimony asserted that these interrogations were carried out by private contractors, and that CIA personnel present at the time agreed with the FBI that the so-called "enhanced techniques" were unnecessary and counterproductive.
Both these claims came from a former FBI special agent, Ali Soufan, an interrogator who helped question Abu Zubaydah - the first high-value detainee in American custody. Soufan spoke to the Senate committee from behind a partition that concealed his identity to protect his personal security.
Soufan testified that he had built a relationship with Abu Zubaydah using traditional FBI interrogation technques and was getting valuable information.
He said both agencies wanted to continue this approach, but were overruled by "headquarters." But the identity and location of the "headquarters" and the identity of the CIA contractors remains shrouded in mystery.
Soufan told the Senate hearing that after the FBI was asked to leave, CIA contractors waterboarded Zubaydah 183 times in a single month.
He testified that the people on the ground who pushed hardest for abusive interrogations were CIA contractors. "The interrogation team was a combination between FBI and CIA, and all of us had the same opinion that contradicted with the contractor. The contractors had to keep requesting authorization to use harsher and harsher methods," he said.
In his written testimony, Soufan said contractors used nudity, sleep deprivation, loud noise and temperature manipulation against Zubaydah. The timeline indicates that this was done before the Justice Department had provided written legal authority to use these techniques.
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