Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari is now facing the most critical decision of his life and that will either make or break his political career.

In the aftermath of the reported atrocities against Iraqi inmates at a secret prison in Baghdad he has two options.

To win back his credibility, in the eyes of many Iraqis at least, he should insist on exposing the whole truth and on punishing the perpetrators, no matter what their political affiliation or rank.

This will take tremendous courage, as it will place him in direct confrontation with partners in his own Shiite coalition, many of who helped him ascend to power.

His other option is to simply put the interest of his coalition before those of the country, and simply condone the atrocities in return for the coveted premiership, to be decided after the January elections.

So far, Jaafari has indicated he will pursue the first option, insisting that he will only be satisfied when the complete truth is revealed and the violators are brought to justice.

And that is exactly what Iraqis need: full transparency. This requires that the prime minister make public the outcome of the investigation he has ordered and lay bare the full extent of the secret detention centers that the interior ministry has been running.

Jaafari claims that he had no knowledge of these notorious jails, which remind many Iraqis of the dark days under their former tormentor, Saddam Hussein.

He now knows that his Interior Ministry violates the basic human rights of prisoners by starving and torturing them, and it is indeed time for him to act.

Some might say it's too late, but better late than never. We believe Jafaari should have acted decisively when human rights groups pointed to these atrocities in their reports.

The prisoners and that U.S. troops that found them on Sunday have corroborated these reports. Both speak of beatings with cables, hangings from wrists, the use of electric shocks to sensitive parts of the body and burning with cigarettes.

These atrocities and many others that have been attributed to U.S. troops have confirmed the worst fears of Iraqis: that there is no noticeable difference between the reign of terror under Saddam Hussein and the one that they are now passing through.

Iraqis now wonder: where is the democracy that the U.S. vowed to create when its tanks rumbled through Baghdad?

The U.S. itself says that more than 21,000 Iraqis now languish in its Iraq prisons, without trial, without access to lawyers or visits by their relatives. And this surge in the prisoner population in Iraq has forced the U.S. to build more and more jails across the country.

The U.S. invasion has brought us nothing but these jails, lack of freedom, and lack of transparency and usurpation of basic rights.