Barbara Walters' interview with Bashar al-Assad last night had the Syrian leader denying repeatedly that anything afoul was happening in his country, questioning the legitimacy of the Western media and United Nations along the way. "There were no restrictions, there were no guidelines," says Walters before the interview aired on ABC last night, the first he's given in the West since the violence began. "We were free to ask any question." And ask away she did. But at nearly every turn, Assad denied that he or the government he heads were involved in any violent wrongdoing. Of course, those alleged violent wrongdoings of Syria have been the focus of the international community for some time, with the Arab League sanctioning the nation and the U.S. pulling (and eventually returning) its ambassador.
So what did Assad deny? Walters pressed Assad on some specific incidents of violence, but the Syrian leader shooed away each. Did he government torture a 13-year-old anti-Assad graffiti artist to death? "No, no, no. It's not news. I met with his father, the father of that child and he said that he wasn't tortured as he appeared in the media." Did his forces beat and hospitalize a dissenting cartoonist? "Many people criticize me. Did they kill all of them? Who killed who? Most of the people being killed are supporters the government, not the vice versa." Did he command anybody to be hurt? "No no no. By no one's command. There was no command to kill or to be brutal." What about reports of the military going from house to house and children being arrested? "To be frank with you, Barbara, I don’t live here. You have to be hear to see ... It all depends on what you hear in the United States." But there were pictures? "But how did you verify those pictures? That's why you're talking about false allegation and distortion of reality." What about the UN report alleging that the Syrian government tortured citizens? "I would say send out the complete documents and concrete evidences, and we'll see if that's true or not ... Who said the United Nations is a credible institution."
But it was one of Walters' last questions that elicited the money quote from Assad: "What's the biggest misconception my country has here?" Assad responded, "We don't kill our people. No government in the world kills its people unless it's led by crazy person."
Update: The Obama administration for one is offering its rejoinder to Assad's claims that his government isn't oppressing its citizens. "The increase in death and body counts this month highlights that the Syrian government relies increasingly on its security and military apparatus as its only solution in the face of increasing isolation at home and overseas," a White House spokesperson told Politico. "Make no mistake, the increase in armed resistance is Assad’s fault and Assad’s fault alone."