Even if you’re not following news about Syria’s civil war, watch this for a rare glimpse at how an Orwellian mindset copes with “unhelpful” facts. When she asks about kids being tortured and he says, “I don’t believe you,” is that a glib dismissive lie or has he actually somehow convinced himself that this isn’t happening? A State Department spokesman watched it this morning and wondered whether Assad might be legitimately crazy. And the craziest part is that it sounds like he was the one who was gung ho to chat:

Walters said she had met Assad twice before, which cut down any fear she may have had of him. While in the Middle East several years ago, she said Assad’s wife called and asked Walters for an off-the-record meeting with the couple in Damascus. Walters also traveled to Syria three years ago, hoping for an interview, but it didn’t happen.

She thought this interview wouldn’t happen, either, after Assad canceled one get-together two weeks ago, presumably because it was to happen around the time the Arab League was condemning Syria. Then word came that Assad was willing to talk.

Assad hand-picked Walters for the interview.

“I can’t tell you why he requested me,” she said. “I can only tell you that I have met him twice before.”

Presumably he asked for her because they’d met before and because she’s known these days for gauzy celebrity profiles. She’d have been a laughingstock for the ages, though, if she’d avoided questions about the regime’s brutality and anyone familiar with western audiences could have told him that, but maybe he’s so accustomed to state media that he couldn’t quite conceive how this would end up making him look. That is to say, I think he agreed to this as a PR gesture, because he thought it would somehow improve his image in the west and might drum up opposition to potential plans for a no-fly zone or some other form of intervention. Makes me wonder if Syria’s military leadership isn’t seeing him more and more as a pure liability to be discarded, a la Mubarak, before things get much worse. The continuing protests against the junta in Egypt may be discouraging them from doing that right now, but this Asia Times piece is probably right that the Saudis are working behind the scenes to try to make it happen. One way or another, this may well be Assad’s last interview with a westerner.

Here’s the AP’s story on the UN report referenced by Walters alleging that hundreds of Syrian kids have been tortured or killed since the rebellion began. One soldier claimed he defected to the opposition after he saw a comrade shoot a two-year-old to make sure she wouldn’t grow up to become a protester.

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