How Bashar al-Assad Rationalizes ‘Doing Harm’

“Sometimes [doctors] have to extract the bad member that could kill the patient.”

Syrian President Bashar Assad leaves the Elysee Palace following his meeting with his French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy, in Paris, Friday Nov. 13, 2009. Assad says that Mideast peace will be the main issue in his talks with President Nicolas Sarkozy and that "France must act." (AP Photo/Remy de la Mauviniere)
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Brian Resnick
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Brian Resnick
Sept. 18, 2013, 4:21 p.m.

It was a strange set-up for an in­ter­view. Ru­mors had cir­cu­lated for a couple of days that former Demo­crat­ic Rep. Den­nis Ku­cinich had scored an in­ter­view with Syr­i­an Pres­id­ent Bashar al-As­sad. Fox only pro­moted the in­ter­view hours be­fore it aired, and it came with a string of qual­i­fic­a­tions from an­chor Bret Baier. “Ku­cinich was not there in the ca­pa­city of a journ­al­ist, nor was he rep­res­ent­ing Fox News in that role,” he said. Fox News re­port­er Greg Palkot joined him, however, and asked half the ques­tions.

As­sad gave a string of an­swers that are sure to rile Pres­id­ent Obama and those who share the asse­ment of U.S. in­tel­li­gence.

As­sad ad­mit­ted that yes, Syr­ia has chem­ic­al weapons. “It’s not a secret any­more,” As­sad said. He also re­layed he will agree to hand them over, but made some strange warn­ings that do­ing so “would be very det­ri­ment­al to the en­vir­on­ment.” But yet, he con­tin­ued to deny that they were used by the gov­ern­ment.

He also said Syr­ia wasn’t en­gaged in a civil war but in a war against ji­hadists fun­ded by out­siders. He said that few­er ci­vil­ians have been killed than what has been re­por­ted. Palkot asked the pres­id­ent if he en­gaged in the mass killings of his own people. As­sad denied that ac­cus­a­tion, say­ing that in the vil­lages he bombed, the ci­vil­ians had fled or were serving as hu­man shields. “Wheth­er the ter­ror­ists enter an area, the ci­vil­ians would leave, un­less they use them as a hu­man shield,” he said. “So in the case of the Syr­i­an army at­tack area, where there is no ci­vil­ians liv­ing in it most of the cases you can hardly find ci­vil­ians.”

So he denied most of the hor­rible al­leg­a­tions slung against him. But he lent some in­sight in­to how he ra­tion­al­izes such acts.

Ku­cinich asked him:

Not every­one who is watch­ing this in­ter­view today knows that you are a doc­tor. You are an MD. And you have done this be­fore you were pres­id­ent. As you know, doc­tors take an oath nev­er to do harm to any­one. That’s a dir­ect quote from the Hip­po­crat­ic oath. Does a doc­tor give that up when he takes polit­ic­al of­fice?

As­sad re­spon­ded with a meta­phor that could jus­ti­fy any sort of ag­gre­sion, if it’s for that great his­tor­ic­al steam­roller, “the great­er good.” He said that some­times you have to cut off a limb to save the pa­tient:

First of all doc­tor takes the right de­cision to pro­tect the life of the pa­tient. You can’t say they do not do harm phys­ic­ally. Some­times they have to ex­tract the bad mem­ber that could kill the pa­tient. Ex­tract eyes, could ex­tract leg and so on. But you don’t say he is a bad doc­tor. It’s still a hu­man­it­ari­an job, whatever they do. The same for politi­cian but in a lar­ger scale. Doc­tors deal with one pa­tient. Wheth­er your de­cision help the life of the Syr­i­ans or not in such a situ­ation. Nobody likes the vi­ol­ence. We are against the vi­ol­ence. But what will we do when the ter­ror­ists at­tack your coun­try? And kill the people. Would you say that I’m against vi­ol­ence or you de­fend? You have army. You have po­lice. They have to do their job. This is the con­sti­tu­tion. This is the — the role of any gov­ern­ment. What did they do in Los Angeles in the 1990s when you have [ri­ots]? Send your army? You did. So, this is the mis­sion of the gov­ern­ment the most im­port­ant thing is when you make the de­cision wheth­er it harms or not which would help the ma­jor­ity of the people. It’s bet­ter if you take the de­cision that could help every­one but some­times, in cer­tain cir­cum­stances, in dif­fi­cult cir­cum­stances, you can­not. So you have to take the less harm­ful.

Well, 100,000 people and 4 mil­lion refugees is an aw­fully big limb to re­move. What’s left of the body?

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