Geopolitical jockeying over Syria's future has resulted in reporters mostly focusing on leaders in Washington, Moscow, Tehran and Ankara, among other consequential capitals.

Meanwhile, back in Damascus, the cause of his country's catastrophe, Syrian President Bashar Assad, has faced less scrutiny recently.

But the enduring evil of his rule was laid bare in a searing story in last Sunday's New York Times. Headlined "Inside Syria's Torture Prisons," it detailed the "system of arbitrary arrests and torture prisons that have been pivotal to [Assad's] success." The depravity, the Times reported, is on an "industrial" scale. But individuals told the story, too, including Muhannad Ghabbash, who somehow survived 19 months at the hands of torturers, including one who called himself "Hitler."

Overall, hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians were thrown "into filthy dungeons where thousands were tortured or killed," the story reported, and according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights, nearly 128,000 never emerged from a hellish process a U.N. investigation called "extermination." And even though the overall war is winding down, this "extermination" system ramped up by 25% last year, according to the Syrian Network, suggesting Assad is not only unchecked but emboldened.

That's because his illegitimate regime was rescued by Russia and Iran, among others, a fact that shouldn't be lost in antiseptic analyses, like ones that say Russian President Vladimir Putin put his nation back on the map as a major Mideast power. The more complete narrative is that Putin is complicit in what the world should consider war crimes by Assad.

And instead of accounts that Iran has successfully spread its influence across the region's Shia Crescent, the more complete narrative is that the theocracy has profaned the Islamic values it claims as its governing legitimacy.

These facts do not mean that the U.S. should eschew diplomacy with Russia or Iran or any other nation, no matter how nihilistic: Negotiated solutions are superior over armed conflict.

But it should do so by acknowledging the nature of these governments, and these leaders, and pressing them directly on behalf of those who can still be saved in Syria.

And it should finally and firmly end the damaging debate about U.S. use of torture, which, as the horrifying reporting from Syria reflects, is profoundly immoral.