- - Monday, May 11, 2015

Hanging is a particularly gruesome method of dispatching the wicked and the addicted, largely abandoned by the civilized world, though it’s true that electric chairs, gas chambers, poisoned hypodermic needles and even firing squads are hardly more civilized.

In Iran, though, the hangman is held as nobler than ever. The Islamic republic clings to the primitive practice of killing its own, while developing the advanced nuclear weapons for mass destruction. Brutality is revered, and all but the most naive can see the lethal absurdity of arming brutes with nukes.

The gallows have been working overtime in recent months; the body count is staggering. During a two-week period in April, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, a Paris-based dissident group, says 115 prisoners were executed. Some prisoners were hoisted high in the air at the end of a rope attached to a crane. Some dangled five across from a single horizontal beam, for maximum shock value. Others met their end when a table was simply kicked out from under their feet with their heads in a noose and their hands tied behind them.

Iran has vaulted into the Top Ten on the United Nations list of human rights abusers, drawing special condemnation for the explosion of demand for rope: “When the Iranian government refuses to even acknowledge the full extent of executions which have occurred, it shows a callous disregard for both human dignity and international human rights law,” says Ahmed Shaheed, the U.N.’s special “rapporteur” on human rights in Iran.

The U.N. counted 852 Iran executions in the year ended June 2014. So far this year, 340 prisoners have been put to death, including 7 women and 6 political prisoners. These are the official numbers — human rights observers say it’s probably more. A few were executed for customary capital offenses such as murder, but many, according to the U.N., were dispatched for drug-related offenses, which seldom carry such harsh penalties elsewhere.

These are the masters of inhumanity that President Obama and Western leaders are negotiating with over terms of a deal for Iran’s nuclear scientists. Secretary of State John Kerry has made clear that nuclear weapons and human rights are not to be discussed together at the bargaining table. That’s unfortunate, because they’re inextricably connected. A regime that savages its own has a character problem that inevitably repeats itself in its relations with other nations. How can Mr. Kerry expect the mullahs to honor a wide-ranging pact about nuclear arms when Iran demonstrates that it has no respect for human life?

Rather than put on their best behavior during the talks that are supposed to end June 30 with a deal, the Iranians are mocking those who expect good behavior. The mullahs are sending an unnecessary signal. Their brutality is world-renowned already. More brutality may be on the way. The clerics have decreed that the nation’s barbers may no longer give spiky, Western haircuts favored by the young. “Any shop that cuts hair in the devil-worshipping style will be harshly dealt with and their license revoked,” by decree of the Iranian barbers union. It’s not a capital offense. Yet.

There’s little in the Iranian regime’s hanging demeanor to suggest that a civilized power sits at the bargaining table. If a nuclear deal is reached, President Obama and the West must remember Ronald Reagan’s negotiating admonition: “Trust, but verify.” And you can hold the trust.

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