Just as harsh U.S. interrogation techniques were being discredited at a Senate hearing this week, the reported suicide of a former CIA detainee in Libya recalled one of the most spectacular and far-reaching failures of torture-like tactics.
The detainee who died in a Libyan prison - Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi - helped provide a supposed link between Iraq and al-Qaeda operatives, a claim the Bush administration seized upon to help justify the 2003 Iraq invasion.
But it later was revealed that Libi concocted the story after being beaten and trapped for 17 hours in a coffin-like box by Egyptian interrogators doing the CIA's dirty work. He eventually recanted the story, bolstering the evidence that torture often leads to bogus confessions.
The Senate received similar evidence of the unreliability of torture tactics on Wednesday, when former FBI agent Ali Soufan described how CIA strong-arm tactics were "ineffective, slow, and unreliable" and even forced one al-Qaeda leader to stop talking.
So, it's not only an affront to American ideals and international humanitarian standards to utilize the medieval torture techniques approved by Bush Justice Department officials (including John Yoo, who now writes a freelance column for The Inquirer). It's also ineffective and counterproductive.
President Obama's ban on waterboarding - or the simulated drowning of detainees - and other extreme interrogation techniques is a better tactical stance, as well as moral.
In pledging to explore "our country's descent into torture," Senate judiciary subcommittee chairman Sheldon Whitehouse (D., R.I.) also offered a welcome antidote to the almost weekly advocacy for harsh interrogations by former Vice President Dick Cheney.
Cheney - making the jarring switch from operating in the shadows (at an undisclosed location) while in public office, to cable TV quote machine now that he's a private citizen - contends that still-secret government documents will show waterboarding and other torture methods worked to thwart planned attacks.
Cheney received some support on that from Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair, but the director insists the same information could be gleaned without reverting to 13th-century tactics.
There's also ample evidence from experts that torture can produce false confessions from prisoners who will tell captors whatever they want to hear in order to halt a painful interrogation.
There is much more to learn about mistreatment of detainees, so it's unfortunate that the president on Wednesday reversed his promise to make public photos depicting detainee abuse by U.S. personnel overseas. For example, a full accounting is still needed on the detainees like Libi who vanished into secret prisons under rendition policies.
More sunlight on this dark chapter in the nation's history is the best way to understand what happened and not repeat its mistakes.