Moral Low Ground

US Government

Jordan: Torture, Arbitrary Detention, Honor Killings in America’s Ally Against Islamic State

President Barack Obama meets with King Abdullah II of Jordan in the White House; April 26, 2013. (White House photo)

President Barack Obama meets with King Abdullah II of Jordan in the White House; April 26, 2013. (White House photo)

US lawmakers from both parties are calling for increased aid to Jordan’s authoritarian monarchy following the horrific burning alive of a Jordanian pilot by Islamic State militants.

This is clearly a case of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” because the Jordanian regime is a prolific human rights violator, with torture, arbitrary detention, leniency toward perpetrators of honor killings, and severe restrictions on basic freedoms prevailing in the Hashemite kingdom.

Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) is leading calls for more US weapons and money for Jordan in its fight against IS. Graham said Jordan’s King Abdullah II is “very committed to delivering a message to ISIL but his capabilities are not there to defeat ISIL.”

“He’s running out of fuel and bombs. We will give him more bombs and more fuel — and they will put every fighter in the air they can,” Graham said on Wednesday, adding that ultimately, “it’s going to take a regional force beyond Jordan,” one which must include American boots on the ground.

Graham joined 25 other bipartisan members of the Senate Armed Services Committee in signing a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel calling on the Obama administration to immediately send weapons, including aircraft parts and night-vision equipment, to Jordan.

“This heinous event reveals a new low for ISIL and highlights the urgent need to support the efforts of Jordan in its fight to secure the integrity of its territory and the stability of the region against violent extremists,” the letter says.

Even some of the nation’s most liberal lawmakers want more US aid to Jordan. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said she was aware of the Senate letter and “certainly supports that.”

“I believe the administration should move quickly to give more capacity to the Jordanians,” Pelosi said on Thursday.

President Barack Obama recently pledged more than $1 billion in aid and a new loan guarantee to help Jordan fight IS.

Obama and the US lawmakers calling for increased aid to the Jordanian regime are surely aware of its atrocious human rights record. The State Department’s own 2013 human rights report on Jordan cites:

  • Citizens’ inability to change their government peacefully.
  • Mistreatment and torture by security and government officials with impunity.
  • Sexual abuse of detainees.
  • Restrictions on freedom of expression.
  • Restrictions on freedom of assembly and association.
  • Poor prison conditions.
  • Arbitrary arrest and denial of due process through administrative detention.
  • Infringement on citizens’ privacy rights.
  • Widespread violence against women.
  • Honor killings
  • Persistent abuse of children.
  • Widespread discrimination against women, religious minorities, religious converts, persons with disabilities, LGBT individuals and Palestinians.
  • Human trafficking.
  • High levels of domestic worker abuse.
  • Restricted labor rights.

“Impunity remained widespread, and the government did not take sufficiently strong steps to investigate, prosecute or punish officials who committed abuses,” the State Department noted.

The US report detailed numerous disturbing cases, including that of Sultan Al-Khatatbeh, who died of a brain hemorrhage while in custody at Jewideh Prison in March 2013. Four Public Security Directorate officers were charged with torturing Al-Khatatbeh to death, “the first time in Jordan’s history that PSD officers have been charged with torture.”

Human Rights Watch cites articles 98 and 340 of Jordan’s penal code, which provide for reduced sentences for those who commit honor killings, as an area of particular concern. A 2008 report by the National Council of Family Affairs in Jordan, a non-governmental organization associated with Jordan’s queen, estimated the number of annual honor killings in the kingdom at 700, although the real figure is likely even higher, since most honor killings go unreported. Penalties for murdering females who were perceived to have brought dishonor upon their families can be as light as six months imprisonment.

Despite its abysmal human rights record, Jordan, which has made peace with Israel and generally supports US objectives in the Middle East, enjoys a high level of American support. Over the past six decades, Washington has provided more than $9 billion in aid, including $600 million last year.

While the Jordanian regime is one of America’s closest regional allies, the people of Jordan largely dislike the United States. According to a 2014 Pew Research Center poll, only 12 percent of Jordanians have a favorable view of the US, up from just 1 percent in 2003, when American troops invaded and occupied neighboring Iraq.

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