Critique: Assad’s Interview With Charlie Rose
It is possibly several speeches or interviews too late, but it’s always something that I wanted to do; to critique Bashar Assad’s narrative.
Watching him speak once again is loathsome enough for any Syrian affected by the ongoing crisis. But this time, I managed to collect some courage to read and replay his statements, to do the research and refute every single detail he lied about in his interview with Charlie Rose.
Like in his many other interviews, Assad shows his agreement with his regime’s propaganda. He contradicts himself on several occasions, and his stories sometimes don’t match what his lackeys have been declaring, but nevertheless, he said what he wanted to say, believing that it’s to be taken for granted, and trusting the audience’s lack of knowledge in Syrian affairs.
To Assad, every important question has a relative answer. One of his most repeated phrases in the interview is ‘it depends’, followed by several factors that do not make sense to anyone who knows what things are really like in Syria. To Assad, all the rebels are terrorists, there is no difference between those seeking freedom and democracy, those who fight for their basic rights, and those who fight for Al-Qaeda.
Since day one, even before peaceful anti-government demonstrations called for ousting Assad, he called protesters ‘infiltrators’ and ‘vandals’ when they were just demanding some reforms, and some respect. He refused to believe people would take to the streets just because they were done with his regime’s ways, and they wanted a live befitting of humans.
Assad’s mode of speech reminds me of how a barely-educated apartment owner in suburban Damascus would convince his neighbours that he is entitled to the rooftop because he lives on the top floor, even though it’s a common property. His expressions are not suited for a president of a nation, who disrepects Syrians because he is educated in UK and his wife is ‘a rose in the desert’. In reality, and desipite all of the westernization that Assad adopted, he speaks just like any other common Syrian citizen, but he does not know it. In short, he is tacky and inarticulate.
But he did look like he hadn’t slept in days, and his body language implied fear.
In this article, I will focus on refuting his allegation regarding the Chemical Weapon attack and the revolution, and back my statements with evidence. Some interjections may apply. I have tried my best to remain objective and tone down the anger in my speech, I succeeded sometimes, and possibly failed at other times, as it is extremely challenging to remain objective after two years and a half of frustration.
A video and a full transcript of Charlie Rose’s interview with president Assad is available here.
Assad: “As long as the United States doesn’t obey the international law and trample over the charter of the United Nations, we have to worry that any administration, not only this one, would do anything”
Putting the Chemical Weapons attack aside, I just wish he didn’t preach on ‘obeying international laws’. One simple example Assad’s regime breaches of international laws is the maltreatment of prisoners and detainees in the numerous detention centers and hidden cellars of horror. In July 2012, Human Rights Watch issued a report on the outrageous violations of international law and human rights against those detained by Assad’s forces, from unjustifiable detention, excessive torture, detaining children, and overcrowded cells to name a few. But hey, Assad did not ratify the Rome Statute, and the International Criminal Court has no jurisdiction in Syria, so I guess it’s ok for Assad to mock international laws and lament that the US is not complying with them.
Assad: “We’ve been living in different circumstances for the last two years and a half. And we’re prepared of– ourselves for every possibility.”
That’s correct, Assad’s regime has been preparing itself for a strike after a long period of repose. last week, I published an article on how the regime has been preparing itself for the upcoming US attack; mobilizing forces and taking refuge in schools and going on wide-arrests rampages in Damascus to use civilians as human shields. The Syrian National Coalition had also issued a statement about it. Moreover, the regime has been rallying its supporters to camp out on Mount Qassyon and ‘wait’ for the US strike, in a campaign they called ‘over our dead bodies’. Recalling how anti-regime sit-ins used to get dispersed (with live ammo), a camp such as ‘over our dead bodies’ can never be a spontaneous initiative. It must have been orchestrated by the regime. So yes, we can positively say that Assad is prepared.
Charlie Rose: “Do you consider chemical warfare equivalent to nuclear warfare?”
Assad: “I don’t know. We haven’t tried either”
Apart from the veracity of the statement, notice the flippant and irresponsible response. What I meant above by ‘tacky’.
Assad: “Mass killing is mass killing. Sometimes you– you may kill tens of thousands or hundred of thousand with very primitive–armaments”
Primitive armaments are something Assad and his men are very familiar with. From very primitive arms like knives and swords, to scud missiles that tear down apartment buildings in one go. In fact, Assad forces should be given a reward of achievement for being the first to drop homemade explosive barrels from helicopters on civilian areas. So yeah, thanks to Assad, Syrians know all about primitive and non-primitive armaments, and all of their effects.
Assad: “It’s not about what they believe in. It’s about what the reality that we have. And this reality, we own it, we don’t have to discuss–”
Example of Assad’s incoherent narrative. This manner of speech is repeated throughout the interview every time Assad felt he was cornered to admit he owns or has used Chemical Weapons. His implicit response is sounds like - Charlie, you take it as I give it to you; we may or may not have a stockpile of Chemical Weapons. The world should not pay attention to our stockpile of Chemical Weapons because it’s none of their business if we do or if we want to kill Syrians with it. And you should all believe me and everything I tell you. Now move on!
Assad: “–where the– where the alleged chemical attack was happened, as it alleged. We’re not sure that anything happened”
Assad here is just contradicting what his propaganda machine has been reporting; at first, Syrian official media dismissed the whole attack had happened and dubbed it as ‘staged’ to distract the UN envoy from its original mission.
Later though, Syria’s UN Ambassador Bashar Jaafari accused Saudi Arabia of committing the Chemical attack in Ghouta because the Syrian Army found some barrels in the District of Joubar with the phrase ‘Made in Saudi’ written on it. Furthermore, last week, Assad’s advisor, Buthaina Shaaban, admitted that a Chemical Attack did happen, but the victims, were children and men brought in from Lattakian villages to Ghouta, and Chemical Weapons were used against them. How hundreds of people were transported from the mountains of Lattakia to Ghouta under the Syrian regime’s nose is beyond me. Several regime officials did admit an attack took place. But they still contradict each other on how it happened. If you are only listening to regime’s media, you still have no idea what happened, or what the regime thinks has happened.
Assad: “Our soldiers in another area were attacked chemically. Our soldiers. They went to the hospital– as casualties because of chemical weapons. But in the area where they said the government used chemical weapons, we only had video and we only have pictures and allegations.”
So Assad basically contradicts himself two seconds after denying a Chemical attack to place. But Assad is possibly here referring to Khan Al-Asal Attack that happened in March, which was the main purpose of the UN inspection team’s visit to Syria, a visit that was continuously delayed by the Syrian regime. Assad then continues:
“We’re not there. Our forces– our police, our institutions don’t exist. How can you talk about what happened if you don’t have evidences? (….) We are the government that deal with reality–”
The narrative just does not make sense. Assad forces were attacked, they were hospitalized, but their stories and cases were not documented as evidence. So questions remain here, what was the UN inspection team going to investigate and who was it going to interview? What documents was it going to study, especially that the attack took place over six months ago? And how can the regime overlook something as important as this?
On Secretary Kerry’s evidence that rockets were fired from areas controlled by the regime, Assad says: “He presented his confidence and he presented his convictions. It’s not– it’s not about confidence, it’s about evidence. (…) the Russians have completely opposite evidence that the missiles were thrown from area where the rebels controlled”
It is always a matter of relativity with Mr. Assad. He believes it if it came from Russia and Iran, but coming from the US or even from civilians inside Syria, it is a big fat lie.
On the glooming death scene in Syria “That the case every day in Syria. That’s why we have to stop the killing. That’s why we have to stop the killing.”
I just wish he said ‘That’s why I have to stop killing.. That’s why I have to, as president, find a way out of this death cycle’. But Assad doesn’t see himself as part of the problem or a major cause of the crisis in the country. He sees himself as a saviour. A saviour with an army, with a local armed militia (National Defence Forces aka Shabbiha), with support from a militia from a neighbouring country (Hezbollah), with the support of one of the most subversive nations in the region (Iran), and with the support of a superpower (Russia). So, how does the killing stop in Assad’s world if his side is overflowing with aggressiveness?
ON UN inspectors not visiting Ghouta right after the attack took place, Assad says: “They were– there was a conflict, there was fighting. They were– shooting. That’s it. We didn’t– prevent them from going anywhere. We– we– we asked them to come, why to– why to delay them?”
That is not true. The UN inspectors reported that they were only given access to go to Ghouta on Sunday, August 25th, four days after the massacre had taken place. Furthermore, in his press conference on August 27th, the Syrian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Walid Mualllem, stated that on Thursday August 22nd, the UN Investigators requested access to Ghouta and it was not granted to them for the day for no obvious reason, nor for the 23rd and 24th because it was a weekend, ergo granting them access only on Monday. There was some ongoing fighting, and the UN continuously requested safe passages to Ghouta, but that was not the reason the UN inspectors couldn’t go to Ghouta until Monday the 25th.
Assad: “They say we– we used the chemical weapons the same day– the team– or the investigation team came to Syria. Is it logical? It’s not logical. Even if he– if a country or army wanted to use such– weapons, he should have waited a few days till the investigation finished its work. It’s not logical. The whole story doesn’t even hold together.”
But when were events happening in Syria ever logical?
- On December 23rd, 2011, dozens were killed in a huge blast in the heart of Damascus, several days after the arrival of the Arab League observer had arrived to the city.
- On May 25th, 2012, in the town of Houla near Homs, an estimate of 108 people were killed by regime’s shabbiha backed by Assad’s military forces. It happened during the presence of a UN mission that was monitoring a cease fire that Assad regime had promised to commit to, but never did.
- On June 6th, 2012, a massacre was committed by Assad’s militia in the town of Qubair near Hama, of which more than 70 people had died, most of were children. It also happened while the UN mission was in Syria monitoring the ceasefire mentioned above.
These ‘coincidences’ have turned some Syrians into cynics anticipating a bloody event involving many deaths every time a foreign envoy is in Damascus Syria.
On the rebels, Assad says: “They have rockets and they’ve been s– throwing rockets on Damascus for a month.”
Yes sure, if you call mortar shells rockets. (I am not going to back this one with a link). I don’t know why they always seem to miss his house in the heart of Damascus…
Assad: “The sarin gas that they’ve been talking about for the last two weeks is very primitive gas.”
Sarin gas Mr. President, is one of the most dangerous manmade toxin in the world. Making Sarin is a very dangerous and complicated process, and launching it requires a high level of military advancement and sophistication that the rebels don’t have. This is high school chemistry, which I studied 18 years ago.
On the acknowledged bombardment of Ghouta soon after the attack, Assad says: “How could bombardment cover the evidence? The–technically, it doesn’t work. How? This is stupid, to be frank. This is very stupid.”
The president of a country admitting he had bombarded a residential area, then calling the same statement ‘stupid’ in an interview… no comment.
Assad: “What red line?”
Assad: “Who drew it?”
Anyone with a shred of common sense and a little bit of humanity. So, it wouldn’t be him.
Assad: “Obama can draw a line for himself and for his country. Not for other countries.”
Inarticulate again – Assad believes because he is a president of a country, he is an equal to Obama (who happens to be the leader of an influential superpower). Therefore, Obama must mind his own business and not interfere to maintain world stability that all UN nations have agreed to when the United Nations was established post World War II.
Not defending US or Obama, but trying to see the world from Assad’s perspective.
Assad: We have our red lines, like our sovereignty and our independence.
We can talk forever about how Assad sees Syria’s presumed sovereignty, i.e. the Iranian Revolutionary Guards serving in Syria, and Lebanese Hezbollah militia, (presence of both has been denied later in the interview by Assad) Or Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, making a statement on behalf of the Syrian government every other chance he gets as if Syria was a part of Russia.
Assad: “Well, if I want to talk the world drew– red lines, the United States use Iranian depleted ur– uranium in Iraq, Israel used f– white phosphorus in Gaza. And nobody said anything. What about the red lines? We don’t see red lines. It’s political red lines.”
What he means is, other nation’s past violations and failure to hold Israel accountable for using white phosphorus means that Assad should get away with using Chemical Weapons on Syrians. It’s somewhat logical in a very twisted way, but for someone who claims to be leading the axis of resistance (against Israel), equating his action with the action of Israel is just very odd. I was always taught in Ba’ath schools that we are morally higher and more responsible than Israelis and we should never stoop to their levels. Assad’s statement here is no different from a guilty kid saying, “Well, they started it” to avoid punishment.
Charlie Rose: “The question then is would you give up chemical weapons if it would prevent the president from authorizing a strike? If that is a deal you would accept?”
Assad: “Again, you always imply that we have chemical weapons.”
Funny how things turn up in the end.
Assad: “Hezbollah fighters on the border of (…) only on the border with Lebanon where the– terrorists attacked them, on the border with– with Lebanon. This is where Hezbollah retaliated. And this is where we have cooperation (…) But they don’t exist all over Syria. They cannot exist all over Syria anyway for– for– for de– for many reasons.”
Again, the sovereignty argument. What about Abu El-Fadhl Al-Abbas Brigade in Damascus that claims to be ‘defending’ the Shrine of Sayyeda Zainab? It is a shrine that had existed in a Sunni-dominated district for hundreds of years that no one needed to defend, until now.
It’s worth mentioning that allowing this brigade to operate in Syria has strengthened the allegation that the conflict in the country is Sunni-Shiite driven. And contrast to what Assad mentions, it wasn’t Saudi Arabia who implicitly converted the Syrian fight for freedom into a Sunni-Shiite war, but it was the president who allowed a brigade like Abu El-Fadhl Al-Abbas (and many other shiite brigades and individuals) to operate inside Syria.
Assad: “Every friend of Syria [Russia] looking– is looking for peaceful solution.”
Sure. That’s why a few days after the US decision to the attack Syria has been revealed; Russia resumed shipping ‘conventional weapons’ to the Syrian regime.
Assad: “We were disappointed by their [the US] behavior recently because we expected this administration different from Bush’s– administration. They are operating the same– doctrine with different accessories.”
At least Assad gets to expect and be surprised at different US administrations. The Syrian people have been stuck with the same administration and vicious doctrine for more than 43 years.
Assad: “We expect from the [US] administration to say we have to go back to the security council at the United Nations.”
Assad would love this option, especially that Russia and China will be waiting with their vetoes
Assad: “Syria (…) was occupied for more than four decades. And the nature of the frontier in Syria implies that most of the army is in inhabited area.“
That’s a lie. The land that has been occupied for forty years by Israel is the Golan Heights, which happen to be in the south of Syria . The Golan heights have been depopulated since the six-day war of 1967, and only around 40 Syrian towns and villages, including Quneitra, are now under the Syrian government’s control.
Nevertheless, Assad here is justifying military presence in various inhibited cities across Syria because of the Israeli occupation of Golan Heights, while the occupied region itself is being resided by Israeli settlers and with all military actions on the borders halted because of the disengagement agreement between Syria and Israel. If Assad the father had agreed to have a disengagement agreement with Israel, why do Syrian citizens have to bear the burden of harbouring the Syrian military and security centers and HQ’s in populated areas? Why isn’t Assad jr. responsible enough to mobilize its army’s bases and centers outside the cities? Obviously, to scapegoat them like he’s doing now, and to maintain the ‘big brother’ ideology engraved in the country. All Syrians know why those military centers two blocks from their houses, they’re there to make sure everybody knows ‘who’s the boss’.
Charlie Rose: “Will it be attacks against American bases in the Middle East if there is an air strike?Assad: “You should expect everything.”
If life had taught us anything in the past couple of years, it taught us that when it comes to such threats, Assad does not lie. On October 29th 2011, and in his interview with the Sunday Telegraph, Assad threatened that there will be ‘tens of Afghanistans’ if his reign is disrupted. Shortly after, the first Jiadist group of Al-Nusra was declared in Syria, with an expressed allegiance to Qaeda. Several months after, another Jihadist group declared its presence in North of Syria, in what they called ‘The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’. The tens of Afghanistans are happening, and whether by conspiracy or not, it was Assad who first threatened to unleash what the world is most afraid of, the extremists.
Moral of the story, yes, we expect everything from someone with no morals or any sense of ethics like Assad.
Charlie Rose: “Let’s talk about the war today. 100,000 people dead. A million refugees. A country being destroyed. Do you take some responsibility for that?”
Assad: “That depends on the decision that I took from the first day I took the decision as president to defend my country….”
Assad does not realize that taking responsibility of a situation is not a relative matter. A responsible leader of any organization is held fully accountable for any positive AND any negative decision and incident that happens in his/her establishment. If that leader is unable to take responsibility, s/he should be impeached. That’s Management 101.
Assad’s decision on the first day was to defend himself, not his country, by facing rightful demands and peaceful demonstrations with live ammo and vicious thugs. It was his decision since day one after he called the Syrian demonstrators, his own countrymen, ‘infiltrators inciting sectarian hate’ in his very first speech in the Syrian Parliament. That was his decision.
Assad: “Actually, the terrorists have been killing our people since the beginning of this crisis two years ago, two years and a half.”
Not really, demonstrations were all peaceful by the testimony of tens of observers. And even when the Free Syrian Army was formed, its purpose was to protect the civilians in the protests and defend them in case they were attacked by Assad’s army or thugs.
*Edit: It was pointed out to me by @Some1Ajdab that during his speech at the Syrian Parliament on June 4th 2012, Assad admitted that all of the protests were peaceful until the end of Ramadan (end of August 2011) and that was only when people started taking up arms.
On the civil war becoming a conflict of Sunni versus Shia, Charlie Rose asks: “In the minds of the Iranians?”
Assad: “No, no. They actually, what they are doing, this– the opposite. They tried to open channels with (…) many other Islamic– entities in the– in this region in order to– to talk about Islamic society, not Sunni and Shia societies.”
So is that why there were vast campaigns in the 2000’s lead by Iranians to have Syrians convert into Shiia? Are those the ‘channels for Islamic society’ Assad is referring to?
On Assad’s narrative regarding the support of the people, and on rejecting the claim that the country is run like a family business:
Assad does not believe in the view held all over the world that he only became president because his daddy was president, because he saw the ‘millions’ cheering for him in the Damascene squares, in 2000, 2007, and 2011, and the ~99.9% referrundum (not elections) success rates that he won in 2000 and 2007. Syrians can tell stories on how those uninterrupted support rallies took place since the days of Hafez Assad; threats of being fired, threats of failing schools, and even threats of harming own families. Of course, not every single person in those rallies was present because of the threats, some of them were genuinely supporting Assad for various reasons, but the majority was not happy, and Assad either doesn’t know that, or, as I presume, pretends not to know it.
When Assad mentioned that the majority of those who were against him at the start of the uprising have now turned to support him against the ‘terrorists’, I thought he was joking. In Syria, in the past two years, there was no poll or questionnaires organized by any media outlet, to scout Syrians’ opinions on who they support and who they don’t. Even exploring opinions through traditional ways, like randomly asking people in the streets, is not feasible. The Assad dynasty has placed a detention center or a military intelligence office in every other street across Syrian cities. Syrians know well what their answers should be when they are asked about their opinions; otherwise, those centers will be waiting for them. But then again, his assumption could be valid, on the premise that his forces killed 100,000 people, there are over 200,000 activists and freedom fighters in detention, two million refugees… the number of Syrians who support him inside Syria has grown proportionately because those who are against him are either dead, incarcerated, or displaced, the rest keeping a low profile since the world decided to fail them.
“My people love me” That’s what Qaddafi said in his last recorded interview. Assad’s response “I have the support of the people” is nothing but a paraphrase of Qaddafi. Both dictators refused to see reality; both dictators tore their countries down to rubbles.
Finally, as a Syrian citizen, who has been against the Assad regime for as long as she can remember, and who is against all forms of Islamic radicalization or demonization the Syrian revolution is currently going through, I believe that Bashar Assad, the president of Syria, is responsible for the evil that has befallen my country and fellow Syrians.
This interview is packed with evidence by confession that Assad is a liar and is responsible for the majority of the atrocities committed in Syria since the uprising began (including allowing Al-Qaeda to penetrate Syrian land to establish itself a foothold, and allowing foreign militia like Hezbollah and Iranian Republican Guard to operate in Syria). It is just beyond me why no one has yet held him accountable or directly confronted him with his actions. Assad talks about democracy like he knows it, like he wants it to be practiced upon him if he was just another citizen. But when observing his actions, statements, and speech as president, one can’t help but conclude how totalitarian he is, and how lowly he thinks of his people. He talks about US opinion polls like a legitimate tool of opinion survey, while down a couple of blocks from his house in Damascus, detention centers are rigorously run by his thugs to make sure that there is only one opinion in town: Assad, and Assad only.
Follow me on Twitter @Editorayeh
Many thanks to @NuffSilence for his help in editing this piece.