YOU know human rights abuses are getting out of hand in Iran when even the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, that nation's supreme leader, orders the closing of a detention center housing hundreds of election protesters because it "lacked the standards" to house them.
Reports of abused and murdered Iranians arrested during demonstrations against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's suspicious landslide re-election last month are nothing short of grisly. Among them were allegations that some prisoners were forced to lick soiled toilet bowls while others had their fingernails ripped out.
Many of the bodies returned to grieving families in recent days show tell-tale signs of severe bruising and assault. The dead are witnesses to a level of brutality reminiscent of the Shah's final days. According to the hospital officials who briefed human rights workers, more than 100 protesters have been murdered while in state custody since the election. Even by the standards of a 14th-century theocratic state, this is deplorable.
After calling for the protesters to be punished to the full extent of Islamic law for questioning the legitimacy of his election in June, Mr. Ahmadinejad is now calling upon the judiciary to show them "Islamic mercy." It is a hollow gesture because the judiciary had already promised to expedite the cases of the 150 or so detainees remaining from the original 2,500 held during the protest. Mr. Ahmadinejad's attempt to defuse the crisis and avert even more public anger looks like desperate clumsiness.
The growing disorder has eroded the Iranian president's standing with conservative parliamentarians and clergy, too. Recently, the son of a prominent conservative died in prison after a severe beating.
President Ahmadinejad shouldn't be surprised that the police state he is helping create has evolved beyond his control. It is harder than it looks to keep tyranny under wraps, even for someone with Mr. Ahmadinejad's appetite for repression.
The eyes of the world have been on Iran since the crackdown began. Even as anger among the community of nations grows, it pales in comparison to the anger Iranians feel about their leaders.
The appalling abuses will only strengthen the resolve of more Iranians to be free of this regime.