The use of torture isn't just immoral -- it's illegal, banned by laws that are already on the books and by treaties championed by the likes of Ronald Reagan.

WASHINGTON — The Senate voted Tuesday to ban the use of torture, moving to ensure that the government does not return to interrogation techniques like waterboarding.

In a vote of 78 to 21, senators approved an amendment to a defense authorization bill that would restrict all government entities, not just the military, to using only the interrogation techniques described in the Army Field Manual.

The amendment would enshrine in law an executive order that President Obama signed in 2009 permitting only noncoercive interrogation methods.

"I believe past interrogation policies compromised our values, stained our national honor and did little practical good," said Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who was a sponsor of the measure. "This amendment provides greater assurances that never again will the United States follow that dark path of sacrificing our values for our short-term security needs."

The main reason I'm highlighting this is that it's a classic man-bites-dog story...Congress, or at least one house of Congress so far, did something good! This will ensure that the CIA and other operatives won't be able to use torture techniques, regardless of who's elected the 45th president next year. And a lot of credit for what happened belongs to McCain, who unfortunately knows torture from his days as a POW in Hanoi, and who may take tortured stances on other important issues, but not this one. Just imagine...a politician taking a more moral posture because he experienced something personally! If only some of our leaders spent some time on food stamps, or dealing with the criminal justice system, huh?

But is it all good? Of course not. For one thing, it's a disquieting commentary on the modern American zeitgeist that -- in order to pass this -- the first rule of the torture bill was, "Do not talk about torture bill." That may be a nod to political reality, but not to courage. Then there's this: 21 U.S. senators are on record supporting the use of torture, as well as a gaggle of GOP presidential hopefuls. Speaking of courage, Sen. Marco Rubio said he would have been a 22nd "no" vote, but he was too busy running for president. Said Rubio: "I do not support telegraphing to the enemy what interrogation techniques we will or won't use."

It all shows how far we still have to go if America wants to live up to our inflated self-perception that we're an exceptional nation when it comes to human rights. Free speech advocate Trevor Timm applauded the vote but says we're still looking at this situation all wrong:

One would've thought pre-9/11 that it would be hard to write the current law prohibiting torture any more clearly. Nothing should have allowed the Bush administration to get away with secretly interpreting laws out of existence or given the CIA authority to act with impunity. The only reason a host of current and former CIA officials aren't already in jail is because of cowardice on the Obama administration, which refused to prosecute Bush administration officials who authorized the torture program, those who destroyed evidence of it after the fact or even those who went beyond the brutal torture techniques that the administration shamefully did authorize.

Since the Senate' report reinvigorated the torture debate six months ago, Obama officials have continued to try their hardest to make the controversy go away by stifling Freedom of Information Act requests for the full report and, in many cases, refusing to even read it. And Bush-era law-breakers were even given the courtesy of having their names redacted from the report, sparing them of public shaming or criticism, despite clear public interest to the contrary.

Instead of treating torture as the criminal matter that it is, the Obama administration effectively turned it into a policy debate, a fight over whether torture "worked". It didn't of course, as mountains of evidence has proved, but it's mind-boggling we're even having that debate considering that torture is a clear-cut war crime. It's like debating the legality of child slavery while opening your argument with: "well, it is good for the economy."

Maybe someday we'll actually prosecute the crime of torture...maybe the 22nd Century. For now, we have 78 senators saying torture is bad. Out of 100. Celebrate good times, c'mon!