Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has said he does not feel guilty about up to 4,000 deaths in his country that occurred during security forces' crackdown on protests.
Speaking to the ABC network, Assad denied ordering his forces to kill protesters:
"I don't own them. I am president, I don't own the country so they are not my forces. [...]
"No government in the world kills its people, unless it's led by a crazy person."
"Some officials" made "some mistakes," Assad said, assuring that they had been disciplined for their actions.
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Most of the casualties were government supporters, soldiers and police, according to Assad, who blamed the conflict on armed terrorists and criminals who he claimed had infiltrated peaceful protests.
Asked by interviewer Barbara Walters whether he regretted the violence, the president insisted he had done his best to "protect the people":
"I cannot feel guilty when you do your best. You feel sorry for the lives that have been lost. But you don't feel guilty when you don't kill people. So it's not about guilty."
Assad also denied that some of the worst reported violence had happened. Asked about the case of Hamza al-Khateeb, a 13-year-old boy arrested at a protest whose corpse was later photographed shot, burned and castrated, Assad said he had met the boy's father and been assured that his son had not been tortured.
"We have to be here to see," he said. "We don't see this."
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He also dismissed a UN panel's conclusions that gross human rights violations have been committed in Syria "with the approval or complicity of the state," asking, "Who said that the United Nations is a credible institution?"
Assad, though defiant, is clearly concerned with what America thinks of him, said the BBC's Jim Muir:
By giving the interview in the first place, he was clearly concerned to reach out to American public opinion and policy-makers to correct the wrong impressions he believes they are being given about what is happening in Syria.
Washington was left unconvinced, however. US State Department spokesman Mark Toner dismissed Assad's argument that he did not control the security forces as "ludicrous," while White House spokesman Jay Carney said the claims were difficult to believe:
"The United States and many, many other nations around the world who have come together to condemn the atrocious violence in Syria perpetrated by the Assad regime know exactly what's happening and who is responsible.
"I don't think anybody who watched that interview would find Mr. Assad's answers credible."
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