HARDLY ANYBODY was paying attention, but just before adjourning, the Senate gave its advice and consent to the United Nations Convention Against Torture.
As with the recently ratified Genocide Convention, this could not happen without a flurry over real or imagined injury to United States sovereignty, but by finally approving it, the Senate did credit to America's honor.
A resolution promoted by Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina was tacked on to the treaty, stipulating that "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and punishment" has to be read consistent with the Constitution -- meaning capital punishment won't be construed as torture.
It may be reasonably asked what difference the new convention makes.
To oppose torture is tantamount to upholding motherhood. There's not a country in the world that openly condones brutal treatment of prisoners. Yet it is tolerated, if not encouraged, in many of the 55 nations that have solemnly approved the torture convention.
What makes the difference is the legal leverage the treaty offers to victims of torture: They can embarrass and agitate, forcing offending regimes to respond to international opprobrium.
Beyond that, the convention enables victims to sue their tormentors, and makes it harder for those accused of torture to escape extradition proceedings.
By joining in support of the torture convention, the United States adds to the usefulness and importance of the evolving universal codes of civilized behavior.
Having done one good deed, the Senate could add another when it reconvenes, by prodding the administration to sign and submit for ratification the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child.
That, too, would be an expression of virtue that could also help the most helpless people.
--New York Times