BEIRUT – Syrian President Bashar Assad said in a rare interview broadcast Wednesday that he never ordered the brutal suppression of the uprising in his country and insisted only a “crazy person” would kill his own people.
Apparently trying to distance himself from violence that the U.N. says has killed 4,000 people since March, Assad laughed off a question about whether he feels any guilt.
“I did my best to protect the people,” he told ABC’s Barbara Walters during an interview at the presidential palace in the Syrian capital, Damascus. “You feel sorry for the life that has been lost, but you don’t feel guilty when you don’t kill people.”
“No government in the world (kills) its people unless it is led by a crazy person,” Assad added in the interview, which was conducted in English. Assad, who trained as an opthamologist in Britain, speaks the language fluently.
Assad, who commands Syria’s armed forces, has sealed off the country to most outsiders while clinging to the allegation that the uprising is the work of foreign extremists, not true reform-seekers aiming to open the authoritarian political system.
The United Nations and others dismiss that entirely, blaming the regime for widespread killings, rape and torture. Witnesses and activists inside Syria describe brutal repression, with government forces firing on unarmed protesters and conducting terrifying, house-to-house raids in which families are dragged from their homes.
“They’re not my forces,” Assad responded when asked if Syrian troops had cracked down too hard on protesters. “They are military forces (who) belong to the government. I don’t own them. I’m president. I don’t own the country.”
He said some Syrian troops may have behaved badly, but they faced punishment if so. He also said most of the people who died in the unrest were his own supporters and troops, slain by terrorists and gangsters – an allegation disputed by most outside observers.