OBAMA KEEPS PROSECUTIONS ON THE TABLE…. During a press availability Jordan’s King Abdullah, President Obama fielded a couple of questions about possible sanctions against Bush administration officials who wrote torture memos. The president went a little further than Rahm Emanuel and Robert Gibbs were prepared to go.

President Obama suggested today that it remained a possibility that the Justice Department might bring charges against officials of the Bush administration who devised harsh interrogation policies that some see as torture.

He also suggested that if there is any sort of investigation into these past policies and practices, he would be more inclined to support an independent commission outside the typical congressional hearing process. […]

Calling the Bush-era memos providing legal justifications for enhanced interrogation methods “reflected us losing our moral bearings,” the president said that he did not think it was “appropriate” to prosecute those CIA officers who “carried out some of these operations within the four corners of the legal opinions or guidance that had been provided by the White House.”

But in clear change from language he and members of his administration have used in the past, the president said that “with respect to those who formulated those legal decisions, I would say that is going to be more of a decision for the Attorney General within the parameters of various laws and I don’t want to prejudge that.”

Obama added that he believes it would be “more sensible” if there were some kind of independent commission on this, “outside of the typical hearing” process.

The president reiterated his sense that “we should be looking forward and not backwards,” but given that this was the first time Obama publicly expressed at least tacit support for a probe into the activities of high-ranking Bush administration officials, this can be seen as a step in the right direction.

Think Progress, which has video of the president’s remarks this morning, added that Obama’s comments seem to effectively put “the ball in Holder’s court.” And if the A.G. follows the vision he outlined during his confirmation hearings, Holder may conclude he has no choice but to pursue this matter.

Update: Here’s a transcript of Obama’s comments this morning.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.