Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told veteran journalist Barbara Walters in an exclusive ABC News interview that aired Wednesday, "We don't kill our people. No government in the world [would] kill its people unless it's led by a crazy person."
Assad utterly denied any responsibility for the deaths thousands of Syrians who have allegedly been killed -- including many who reportedly were tortured in detention by government forces.
The brutal government crackdown carried out against civilian protesters across the country since March, he said, has been carried out by "individuals" -- not his government.
"They are not 'my' forces," Assad told Walters in an interviewed broadcast over the ABC television network. "They are military forces that belong to the government. I don't own them; I am president. I don't own the country," he smiled.
"You have to give the command," Walters persisted in apparent disbelief.
"No no no," he responded. "No one's command. No command to kill or to be brutal," Assad replied in a soft voice.
"Children were arrested..." she went on.
"When?" he interrupted softly.
"I saw those pictures," Walters insisted.
"To be frank with you, Barbara, I don't know how we can know all this. We have to hear, to see. We don't see this. So we cannot depend on what you hear in the United States."
As the interview continued, so did Assad's calm demeanor, his quiet, gentle unwillingness to be brought into any discussion of a possibility that he had any involvement whatsoever in the bloody murders of his people over the past nine months.
A pointed comment that the United Nations Human Rights Council had charged him with crimes against humanity, deciding that he had indeed been responsible for the actions of his troops, prompted a bald-faced denial that he had seen the charges, followed by a giggle.
I would say, 'Send us the documents, and the evidences that you have, and the allegations, and we will see if it is true or not.' You have a lot of allegations there," Assad told Walters, insisting that the U.N. had sent his office "nothing at all... As long as we don't see the documents and the evidences we cannot say 'yes,' " he maintained.
Told that the U.N. is a "credible institution," Assad simply chuckled. "Who said the United Nations is a credible institution?"
Appearing stunned, Walters challenged him, "You don't think the United Nations is credible."
With a tight smile, Assad told her he didn't.
"You have an ambassador to the United Nations," she reminded.
"Yes. It's a game we play," he said. "But not a game you can believe in." He threw his head back and laughed -- but the smile didn't reach his eyes.
To counter American misconceptions about his country, Assad told Walters, "We don't kill our people. Nobody kill -- no government in the world kill its people unless it's led by a crazy person."
In comments following the interview, the veteran journalist told a colleague that she was struck by the massive "disconnect" between conditions in Damascus and elsewhere in the country. "In Damascus, it's business as usual. One hour away, people are being killed," she commented.
Yesterday, close to 50 people were killed in one of the deadliest days in Syria's emerging civil war.