The Islamic Republic of Iran's human rights record is among the earth's worst. Iran's horrific treatment of its own citizens, however, has long been obscured by headlines of the ongoing nuclear negotiations, from which human right issues have been excluded.
Lost in the daily detailed reporting about nuclear talks is the regime's increased rate of executions of its own citizens during the negotiations. Iran now has overtaken China as having the highest per capita rate for inflicting capital punishment.
While the Islamic Republic dons a reasonable and sophisticated face to the world as it negotiates with P5+1 powers in Switzerland, the authoritarian theocracy's intelligence services continue to arrest journalists, Bahai and Sunni religious minorities as well as ethnic minorities like Kurds from Kordestan Province and Arabs from Khuzestan Province.
The regime runs such a vast network of prisons and detention centers, many of them still secret, that it has taken on the dimension of a state within a state. This "Prison Archipelago," similar in relative size and brutality as the network once run by the Soviet KGB, is the primary instrument of terror that keeps the Iranian ruling class in power.
To grasp the magnitude of this domestic terror apparatus, one has only to consult the semi-annual reports on the human rights record of Iran published by United Nations Special Rapporteur Ahmad Shaheed. While Westerners are treated to the smiling countenance of Iran's President Hassan Rouhani and the sophisticated, reasonable, Westernized image of Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran's citizens must contend with the visage of the real Iran: the face of the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps (IRGC) storm-trooper.
The IRGC and the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) run their own network of prisons, detention centers and separate wards within certain jails. Ward 209, for instance, of Iran's infamous Evin Prison in Tehran, is run by the MOIS. Prison 59, also known as Detention Center #59, in Tehran, is run by the IRGC.
In facilities under their control, both the IRGC and the MOIS are permitted to execute prisoners without trial or effectively any judicial proceeding. Hundreds of extra-judicial executions have been carried out by the regime at Mashhad's Vakilabad Prison. Although many of those executed at Vakilabad are reported to be drug offenders and smugglers, some are ethnic Baluch irredentists and Sunni Muslims living in Sistan-Baluchistan Province, in Iran's Far East. Moreover, occasionally, regular prison guards initiate raids in which prisoners are beaten and sometimes killed -- especially those inmates who have managed to embarrass the regime by secretly passing information to the Western media concerning human rights violations. 
In contrast to the media's "soft image" portrayal of Hassan Rouhani since his election to Iran's presidency in June 2013, the rate of executions in Iran has increased dramatically. Moreover, among those executed last year were human rights campaigners, political activists, and religious and ethnic minorities.
Eyewitness accounts, many of them testimonies by former "citizens" of the prison archipelago state, have attested to the use of widespread torture in Iran's prisons. One type of torture noted by a former victim of the technique is called "the chicken" (jujeh kabob): an individual's arms are bent back and tied to his ankles while being suspended in mid-air. Karaj's Gohardasht Prison has a suite of cells called Section 1, referred to by veterans of Iran's Prison Archipelago as "Khane Sag" or the "Dog House," where prisoners are usually subjected to constant torture, sometimes resulting in death. 
Gohardasht Prison, Karaj, Iran. (Image source: Ensie & Matthias/Flickr)
Rape of female prisoners increased after the arrests young people who protested the results of the 2009 presidential elections, which returned former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to office for a second term. Rape in Iranian prisons is also visited upon young males, a practice referred to as "under-bedding." Homosexual males in Iranian prisons are referred to as "vach" a slang word that connotes sexual slavery.
In the archipelago, the prisons are overcrowded, with many inmates forced to sleep on the floors of hallways outside the filthy cells. Detention centers, meant only to hold people for a few days while they are processed to prisons, often have only a couple of toilets for hundreds of detainees. Moreover, access to medical care is usually denied, leading to many unnecessary deaths of prisoners whose offenses may have only been minor. Conditions were so bad in Ghezel Hasr Prison in Karaj -- with cells holding four times their capacity -- that inmates staged a revolt in March 2011, resulting in as many as 50 deaths.
Iran's Prison Archipelago reflects the core of the true nature of the Islamic Republic -- not the Javad Zarif tableau that Kerry & Co. and the compliant media would evidently have us imagine,
If Congress wants to insert itself more effectively in defining what U.S. policy should be toward the Islamic Republic, it might borrow a page from the era that produced the Jackson-Vanik legislative initiative of 1975, which promised economic trade benefits to the USSR that were linked to the Soviets allowing their captive citizens to leave the country. This legislation helped liberation of hundreds of thousands of Russian Jews.
Iranian-Americans possess the potential to mobilize to achieve the same result for thousands of political prisoners in Iran, while educating American citizens about the real nature of the Islamic Republic.
Moreover, the Islamic Republic of Iran -- until it completely changes its behavior, should not be permitted to pursue nuclear research that could lead to the development of a nuclear weapon or the capability to deliver one. The deal made with Iran will give it permission to import or develop Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) with the ability to deliver a nuclear weapon to other continents, including to the United States.
Such an outcome would leave in tatters any worthy legacy of the current U.S. administration and of the politicians who support the deal.
Dr. Lawrence A. Franklin was the Iran Desk Officer for Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld. He also served on active duty with the U.S. Army and as a Colonel in the Air Force Reserve, where he was a Military Attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Israel.
 "Rights Disregarded: Prisons in the Islamic Republic of Iran," 18 March 2015 Iran Human Rights Documentation Center.p.1.
 March 2015 Report on the Situation on Human Rights in Iran by the United Nations Special Rapporteur Ahmad Rasheed. See Rasheed's exhaustively detailed reports on Human Rights in Iran published every six months as commissioned by the UN Secretary General.
 Ward 209, Former Inmate Report that it is run by VEVAK-the MOIS. See also report of journalists and bloggers Faribah Pajoh and Nafiseh Zareh Kohan, both of whom were arrested in August 2009 and who have been subsequently released.
 The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, Reporting on Executions in Vakilabad Prison. See testimony of former inmates, such as that of Ahmad Ghabel. Executions carried out in Vakilabad Prison have been primarily for drug-related crimes.
 Sistan-Baluchistan Province is where Sunni Religious and Baluch ethnic minorities are most concentrated in Iran. But it is also the center of drug smuggling routes into Iran from Afghanistan's vast expanse of opium poppy fields.
 "Letters from Iran's Hellish Prisons" by Jason Shams, 19 September 2010. On 17 April 2014, guards at Evin Prison in an event described as "Black Thursday," Evin Prison guards attacked prisoners in Ward 350.
 See Amnesty International Statistics for 2013 and 2014.
 Report of Secretary-General on the Situation of Human Rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Human Rights Council 11 March 2014.
 PBS/News Hour 10 June 2012 "Center for Investigative Journalism."
 Surviving Rape in Iranian Prisons, Paper published by Iran's Human Rights Violation Documentation Center. http://www.iranhrde.org/english/pulications/reports/3401-surviving-rape-in-iran-s-prisons.html#.U59ifZRdV8E.
 Advance Unedited Version of the 11 March 2014 Report of the Secretary General on the Situation of Human Rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran. P.6. Rights Disregarded: Prisons in the Islamic Republic of Iran.
 Rahana Human Rights News Agency 17 March 2011. Report on Massacre of Inmates in Zaidan-e-Ghezel Hesar.