Assad, whose regime has been condemned by the West, the Arab League and former allies, dismissed suggestions that he step down and scoffed at sanctions being imposed on Syria.No one has any reason to trust anything coming from Assad's regime either. Assad has repeatedly claimed that he's instituted reforms, only to accelerate the crackdown against protesters.
His defiant stance was on display in an exclusive interview with ABC News' Barbara Walters who confronted the Syrian dictator in Damascus with stories and evidence of civilians being tortured and killed, some of them children.
"People went from house to house. Children were arrested. I saw those pictures," Walters said to Assad.
"To be frank with you, Barbara, I don't believe you," Assad said.
Walters asked Assad about the case of Hamza al-Khateeb, a 13-year-old boy detained by Syrian forces after a protest whose lifeless body was returned to his parents shot, burned and castrated. The boy's death galvanized protesters, and photos on the internet inflamed world opinion.
Assad denied the boy had been tortured. "No, no, no. It's not news," he insisted. "I met with his father, the father of that child and he said that he wasn't tortured as he appeared in the media."
The tide of pro-democracy protests sweeping the Arab world reached Syria in mid-March and news of violent clashes between protesters and government agents have leaked out of this tightly controlled dictatorship and on to the Internet. The bodies of the dead, some of them children, have been found bearing the marks of torture.
According to a United Nations report released last week, more than 4,000 people have been killed and the country is embroiled in an undeclared civil war, an assessment Assad dismissed with the question, "Who said that the United Nations is a credible institution?"
The intensification of the crackdown has led some military forces to desert and join forces with the opposition to take up arms against Assad's regime; and in this way Assad could claim that the overwhelming majority of those killed are members of the military (he's just lumping together all those who went AWOL with the protesters, and those members of the military that are still loyal), but there's a huge discrepancy between the number he claims to have been killed in the ongoing protests against the regime and the number that the UN and human rights groups have ascribed to the violence.
Moreover, the composition of the death toll is markedly different; civilians are repeatedly targeted by the regime and the military continues operations against major cities in Syria, including Hama and Homs, inflicting casualties on civilian populations.
Assad would love to shift blame on to terror groups, but he has no one to blame but himself and his regime for the situation; he's playing from his father's Hama Rules playbook, but faces a modern communications network that allows opposition groups to get their message out despite restrictions by the regime. Assad can't control the message coming out of Syria, so he's forced to counter the claims by calling them lies.