There is an old saying in the Arab world: An individual must be very naïve if he believes in the concept of ‘voluntary admissions’ by political prisoners—admissions which are extracted following a bout of torturous interrogation by the dreaded Mukhabarat (Secret Police).

In the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, there’s a rumor about Mukhabarat investigators once cutting off a suspect’s testicles in order to loosen up his tongue.

On paper, Jordan is a constitutional monarchy with a supposedly representative government, a title which has long given it the status of being the most democratic country in the Arab world.  This could not be further from the truth.

To begin, the reigning monarch is the chief executive and commander-in-chief of the armed forces, and appoints a government through which he exercises his authority. This authority allows him to sign and execute all laws, appoint and dismiss all judges by decree, declare war, approve amendments to the constitution, and ensure that all cabinet decisions, court judgments and even the national currency is issued in his name. The sovereign Jordanian parliament can of course veto his power by a two-thirds majority; but when the King appoints the electoral commission and its entire staff, the freedom to elect an assembly with such a majority is indeed very unlikely.

Despite waves of economic and political protests against the system over the years, not to mention the current Arab street revolts threatening each and every ruler, it does not intrigue many analysts when questioning why the King continues to substantially wield so much power and coercion to let him rule, even without the rich oil and gas resources of many of his contemporaries. The answer is simple: The Mukhabarat.

The General Intelligence Department (GID) is Jordan’s equivalent of the KGB, its incumbent chief reports directly to none other than His Majesty himself. Like its sadistic counterparts, its very name is synonymous with a heathen, an incarnation of evil—at least as far as the streets of Amman are concerned. In the 1970s and 1980s the GID headquarters was reportedly known as the “fingernail factory”[1], alluding to the pulling out of suspects fingernails as an “enhanced interrogation” technique.

True or not, a 2006 report by Amnesty International[2] reported that the GID was the primary instrument of abuse of political prisoners and for the obtaining of forced “confessions”. The same report cited methods of torture and ill-treatment suffered by detainees in Jordanian places of detention and included “falaqa” —whereby the soles of the victims feet are repeatedly beaten with a stick; beatings with sticks, cables, plastic pipes, ropes or whips; and “shabeh” (“the phantom”), whereby the victim is suspended for up to several hours by his handcuffed wrists, and then beaten.

The irony was that the GID’s practices had even spread into the prison system, where even prison guards indulge in flogging defenseless prisoners with knotted electric cables, beating them with hoses and truncheons or kick them with them with fists or boots.[3]

In 2011, Amnesty International reported that political prisoners were still sometimes subjected to torture and ill-treatment by security forces without impunity, detention without trial was widespread, and it also highlighted long-standing concerns that the Jordanian authorities failed to investigate or prosecute the perpetrators of this torture.[4]

But that is no surprise since these are the King’s best men. They prowl every street corner of the country in an attempt to penetrate the fraternity of the monarch’s enemies. Once they succeed in burrowing into their lair, they go for a slow kill. The idea is to break the enemy, and break him in such a way that he tells all.

Tales from the few survivors from these chambers of death are shocking. The putting out of cigarettes on a suspects hands and the beating with sticks on his body,[5] the forcing of suspects to stand on one leg with arms raised over their heads for up to 8 hour periods whilst simultaneously being subjected to beating and 18 hour deprivations of food,[6] are just some of the practices employed against political suspects over the years. The secrets of Jordan’s torture chambers have been open for some time, and it is the steady stream of information that trickles out which has led human rights groups to condemn Jordan’s Mukhabarat in the strongest possible terms.

The world of Jordanian Mukhabarat is almost one onto itself, one that is above the law. The Kings reliance on them to prop up his regime means they vet every appointment of a politician, ambassador, editor and even University Professor. Like every other police-state in the region they are tasked with using electronic surveillance to eavesdrop on thousands of their own citizens—almost resembling they heyday of the Soviet KGB.

The result is not just a fearful society that is cowered into lending support to the King, but also the opening of the Mukhabart becoming a state-within-state, replete with financial holdings, foreign investments and a direct hotline to major leaders across the globe. Even Western intelligence agencies bypass Jordan’s government and deal directly with the Mukhabarat in order to be directly furnished with top rate intelligence in a world at war with terrorists. Yet some of their terrorism-related assessments have been found to be something akin to a dog’s breakfast of unsupported and politically motivated accusations.

But that’s the truth of Western governments. If Pol Pot were to crawl out of his grave and declare his intention to help us get rid of this new enemy, we would welcome him. But those that deal with Jordan’s Mukhabarat should be forewarned that such people will always grow rogues on our hands unless they find themselves under a necessity to be honest.

The only way the world will know the true extent of how many people perished in these underground dungeons of the Mukhabarat, how many people were incarcerated here for long periods, and the exact numbers of those which felt the brunt of its sadism, is when the regime falls.  Only then, like Iraq, can investigators comb the corridors of these dungeons and freely interrogate those who administered them in order to determine a nasty world of barbarism sanctioned by a regime that presents itself as liberal and democratic.


[1] Christopher Dickey and John Barry “The Dictator Protection Plan: Praetorian Guards, Family Retainers, and Torture: How Despots Stay in Power.” Newsweek Magazine, February 20th, 2011.

[2] Amnesty International Press Release. Document- Jordan: Systematic Torture of Political Suspects. 24.07.2006. file:///C:/Documents%20and%20Settings/sigis1/Desktop/Document%20-%20Jordan%20%20Systematic%20torture%20of%20political%20suspects%20%20%20Amnesty%20International.htm

[3] Human Rights Watch. Torture and Impunity in Jordan’s Prisons: Reforms Fail to Tackle Widespread Abuse. 2008. P.2.

[4] Amnesty International, Annual Report 2011, The State of the World’s Human Rights. file:///C:/Documents%20and%20Settings/sigis1/Desktop/Amnesty%20International%20%20%20Working%20to%20Protect%20Human%20Rights.htm