There’s a reason the History Channel has produced hundreds of documentaries about Hitler but only a few about Dwight D. Eisenhower. Bad guys (and gals) are eternally fascinating. Behind the Bastards dives in past the Cliffs Notes of the worst humans in history and exposes the bizarre realities of their lives. Listeners will learn about the young adult novels that helped Hitler form his monstrous ideology, the founder of Blackwater’s insane quest to build his own Air Force, the bizarre lives of the sons and daughters of dictators and Saddam Hussein’s side career as a trashy romance novelist.
Tue, 28 May 2019 10:00
Part One: Bashar al Assad: The Eye Doctor Who Murdered a Nation
Hello, I'm Erica Kelly from the podcast Southern Fried True crime, and if you want to go from podcast fan to podcast host, do what I did and check out spreaker from iheart. I was working in accounting and hating it. Then after just 18 months of podcasting with Spreaker, I was able to quit my day job. Follow your podcasting dreams, let's break or handle the hosting, creation, distribution, and monetization of your podcast. Go to spreaker.com. That's spreaker.com. If you could completely remove one phrase from your vocabulary, which phrase would you choose? I don't know. Correct answer. No, I meant I don't know which phrase, and the best way to banish I don't know from your life is by cramming your brain full of stuff you should know. Join your host, Josh and Chuck on the Super Popular podcast packed with fascinating discussions on science, history, pop culture and more episodes that ask, was the lost city of Atlantis Real? I don't know. Is birth order important? I don't know. How does pizza work? Well, I do know. Bit about that see? You can know even more, because stuff you should know has over 1500 immensely interesting episodes for your brain to feast on. So what do you say? I don't want to miss the stuff you should know. Podcast you're learning already. Listen to stuff you should know on the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts. Hey there, it's Ebony Monet, your Co host for the San Diego Zoo's Amazing Wildlife podcast, in this special episode. You're speaking with Doctor Jane Goodall about the fascinating journey that led to her social discoveries on chimpanzees. For four, oh, months, the chimps ran away from me. I mean, they take one look at this peculiar white ape and disappear into the vegetation. Listen to amazing wildlife on the iHeartRadio app or wherever you get your podcasts. What's committing my war crimes? I'm Robert Evans, host behind the ******** the show where we tell you everything you don't know about the very worst people in all of history. I guess today is Anna Posniak. Anna, how are you doing? Hello. That's my that's my impression of the ******* we're talking about today. Oh, good. That was a solid one. Yeah, we're talking about Bashar al-Assad. Did you like my? Did you like my themed? Introduction. Yeah, I did actually. That was really wonderful. Thank you. Thank you. A lot of war crimes stands in the audience today now and. Yeah. Oh yeah, man, lot of. Big fans of war crimes? Uh, not really sure where this joke is supposed to go. I guess I could see why you'd be a fan of a war crime. All right, go on. Weirdly enough, we're talking about a guy who has a lot of fans in spite of his war crimes. So what, Eddie? How do you feel about Bashar al-Assad? You know, if you ever listen? Ethnically ambiguous. The podcast I host, I talk a lot about how I feel like this all won. It all comes down to bad parenting and having a small penis that you are ashamed of. So you take it out on murdering everyone in your country. Yeah, yeah, that seems like a credible explanation. For his war crimes, small penis, bad dead. We'll see if you change your mind at all as we as we go through the episode and talk about his background. I think this is probably the hardest episode of the show for me to write, because I get really angry whenever I read about or think about Bashar al-Assad. And I got angry enough that I just, like, got on Twitter and provoked a fight with a bunch of tankies, which are, which are people on the left who defend any war criminal who's not American. And it's. It's they're very frustrating people. So that's a weird, like subsection of people on the left. Like, why? Why would you want to die on that hill? They love Twitter, though. A lot of them, a lot of them on Twitter, so. I guess I'll, I'll, I'll start reading from my little scripty scripting dude here. Oh, this is scripted. I thought you just kind of like he just freebase it off the door, man, I've got. I just write some lines down on my hand and then talk, for I have very small handwriting so you can fit about an hour per hand. You know, very like, really memento. But on ******** it is because I wake up every morning forgetting everything about every bad person in history. Like, I couldn't tell you a single thing about Hitler. Just the names in my head for some reason. It's a total mystery, but you know, yeah, that's what we are. Too familiar. But go ahead. I'm also trying to figure out who killed my wife. Might have been Hitler. That's Memento, right? Dude, where's my wife? You know, classic Hitler line. In the summer of 2015, I found myself crossing the Serbian Hungarian border on foot and walking along what was then known as the Refugee Trail. And that year more than a million people, mostly Syrians, fled the blood and chaos of war, if in the hope of a better life. Over the course of several long days, I helped hand out food and water and advice on where to find holes in the Hungarian border fence. Through it all, I interviewed at least a couple of 100 Syrian citizens, men and women, young and old, anybody who spoke English. They told me horrible stories of barrel bombs killing multiple members of their family in the same day. Of torture in regime prisons, of chemical weapons attacks, and the horror of picking up pieces of their neighbors and hauling them away in bags. After a bombing. I did the thing it's my job to do, and I wrote about it. And then I went home and I wrote about other things, completely unaware that inside of my own country, a sizable number of Americans on the left and the right, we're already hard at work rewriting the story of the Syrian civil war into a tale where the dictator Bashar al-Assad was somehow the hero, or at least not the very worst guy involved in the whole thing. Some of my listeners may have and probably have heard. Variations of that story, especially if you're on the far left. So if you're a fan of my show and you're you're you think Bashar al Assad's an OK dude, which is a thing. For some reason I just asked that you you listen through this till the end and maybe, maybe learn a couple of things about this fella. This I'm honestly very still stuck on the fact that anyone would think he's a good guy. Hmm. That's really crazy to me. And yeah, I'm gonna need more info on that. Yeah, it's A and I think it's more common to be a little bit fair that instead of saying he's a good guy, they'll say that, like, he's not nearly as bad as the Islamists or whoever. And it's like, yeah, I mean, ISIS is pretty bad, but they they didn't kill nearly as many people as Bashar al-Assad. Like, I mean, yeah, just from what I remember talking about on our own show, it's like, which I'm sure you'll get into. But just like buildings full of body parts. Yeah, just unexplained missing people. There's a whole genre of pictures from the Syrian civil war that's just bags that are are very small, that are like, this is a person, like, this is what's left after. Yeah. Anyway, Bashar al-Assad was born on September 11th, 1965, so we're off to a great start with a a great birthdate. He was the quintessential middle child, the third of five children. His father, a dude named Hafez al-Assad, was a commander in the Syrian Air Force and a powerful man in the Baathist political party that had come to power in Syria in 1963. Now the both lists are a Pan Arab Quasi Socialist Party, although trying to equate baathism directly with any Western political ideology is a little bit of a fools game in my opinion. Bashar's mother Anisa came from a prominent Syrian family, so Bashar grew up with power, wealth and influence. Never, never didn't know that, but he also grew up as a member of a persecuted minority. The Assads are an Alawite family, which is a the alloys are a sect of Shia Islam. That a lot of other Muslims consider heretical. For reasons that I don't fully understand, Alawites make up about 10% of the Syrian population. They were traditionally very poor and oppressed, and Bashar's dad Ifez is one of those dictators who grew up very, very poor and had to like, claw for everything he got in life. Kind of like Saddam Hussein. Based on my understanding, his family got into power through a coup d'etat, right? They over, yeah, I mean. Sort of. It was a little more gradual than that. So by the time but when Bashar was born, Hafez was not in power. But Hafez was a prominent man, and the Baathists were in power. And because the Alawites, you know, it's the same thing in the United States. Members of minority communities, blacks and Hispanics, but also like gay and trans people, serve in the military at a much higher rate than the general population because it's a route to not only better economic conditions, but also to like a societal acceptance for traditionally persecuted groups. And it was the same with the Ala whites in Pre Botha Syria, so will. The Alawites were only about 10% of the Syrian population. They were really overrepresented in the military. And so that is part of how the Baathist coup was successful in 63 and Hafez wasn't in charge at that point. But during the coup he wound up in a very high position, something, you know he's negotiated with pretty much everybody who has a Wikipedia page in the in the 20th century like. Hafez seized power gradually, and the chaos that came after the disastrous 1967 Arab Israeli War and then after a failed attempt to encourage a coup in Jordan in 1970, Hafez's coup at home is generally considered to have been bloodless. It's euphemistically known as the corrective movement so. That's how Hafez comes to power. As like, we tried a bunch of stuff that didn't work. I'm going to make **** work. I'm going to, I'm going to, I'm going to fix this stuff, don't you worry. Yeah. So now Hafez is in power, Bashar's like 5 years old at this point, so pretty pretty we. Yeah, a lot of common with such confidence. I would never get it. Well, with her fez, I get the confidence a little bit more because he's this dude who really did grow up like dirt poor and had to like fight for political power and stuff. So you get why a guy like that guy like that doesn't survive unless he's got that kind of just like gut level confidence. But he's the only one in this story who worked for anything, right? Seems that way. Yeah. Now prior to his says, Syria had suffered under a revolving door of unstable and effective regimes. Beset by constant military and domestic defeats and Bungles, Hafez promised to change all that. But first he promised himself that he would die as the supreme ruler of Syria. To do this he established an intricately interwoven net of 15 security agencies, all of them tasked one way or another with monitoring and crushing dissent, both within the government and within the populace. We'll be referring to this tangled web of secret and not so secret police as the mukhabarat, which I hope I'm pronouncing close to correct. That's the Arabic word for it. Intelligence. It's used generally in a number of Arabic nations to refer to repressive police, state agencies. It's also the specific name of the Military Intelligence Directorate of Syria. But for the purpose of this episode, we'll be using the mukhabarat as a a broader term for just like the secret police, you know, that's that's the people in Iraq called Saddam's police by the same thing. It's still one of those terms that like if you know any Iraqis like since chills up people's spines just like hearing that word. Yeah, it's it's yeah, it's a it's a bad word. I'd go so far as to say never heard of. Mukhabarat yeah, I'm pretty sure I'm getting it more or less close to right, but, you know, it's hard to say Arabic stuff the only thing. Yeah. Anyway, I first came to power when you have a show was about five years old, so virtually his whole life has been as the son of a man who, for all intents and purposes, was king of Syria. I found a good Financial Times article that discusses a book called The New Lion of Damascus, which was a vaguely pro Assad book written before the Civil War by an academic named David Lesch, who will be hearing from later. In the book quote, the Syrian leader describes his upbringing as normal, insisting he played soccer with neighborhood children. Ping pong, with his father and his friend's mothers, came home to chat and cook meals with his mother and Issa. We had two very caring parents, and our happiness derived from having these two caring parents, Assad tells Lesh. But to what extent was Bashar telling the truth, and what did normality mean to him? There was nothing normal about their life, quips a family friend. The children rarely saw their father, and they were always protected by bodyguards. Abdel Halim Kadam, the former vice president who? Nine and left Syria in 2005, says the Assad children grew up in an atmosphere where they were targets but also felt as if they owned the country. So got a few conflicting views there about how the Assads grew up. I know which one I find credible. Which one? The one where he and his brothers and sisters felt like they owned the country and never saw their dad. Let me tell you. Yeah, shocking that a dictator. You know, you don't run into a lot of dictators who were super hands on parents. Yeah, a great way to get your dictator father's attention is to. Kill everyone. Which is one of the weird things. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, Assad grew up to kill everyone. They're not the kind of dictator kids like, I'll say this for Hafez. Like, they're not the word. Well, it's hard to say because, like you part of me wants to say that the worst case scenario for a dictator's kids is like Saddam's son, who was just, like, ****** and murdering for years. But, like, you know, he probably never killed more than maybe a couple of 1000 people, like, because he just preferred to rape and murder. People with his own hands, whereas Assad killed a lot more people. So I guess so like, who's chiller? You know, like, yeah, who's chiller? Who's the cooler? Dude? Dude, yeah. Yeah. Do we go with, like, Uday Hussein or Bashar al-Assad? Like, you know, it's really up in the air at this point. Because, like, I doubt, I doubt Bashar al Assad's ever raped anybody at gunpoint, which Uday Hussein did for, like, breakfast. Yeah, but honestly, I get Bashar was a little bit more, like, a little more uppity. I can imagine him being very high maintenance. He's like, Oh no, I need to wash my hands. Like, I imagine just being very like. Like, he just cry, babying about every little aspect of his life, needing to be exactly how he needs it to be. So does that, yeah. Does that make him like? A worse person than Uday who would like at least if Uday is gonna murder some people, he's gonna pick up an AK47 and like shoot them in the face like from 3 feet away because he doesn't give a **** like. Yeah, right. We team Uday or we team Bashar. Yeah, yeah. Or I mean, I think I'm are we teamed Saddam's parenting or Team Hafez's parenting? Battle of the dictator, dads, yeah. So Assad was a Bashar al-Assad was a child of the Cold War. He grew up knowing that he and his people were, you know, one fairly small player in a game board dominated by the US and the USSR. He also saw two Arab Israeli wars as a child, both of which were disastrous for the Arab side of that equation. All this had an impact on the growing Assad, but the most significant historical event of his childhood was probably his father's bombing of the city of Hama now. This happened in 1982, at the end of a long and grinding Sunni. Rebellion as a way of ending the fighting. With an exclamation point, Hafez pounded the city flat with artillery for days and then sit bulldozers in to flatten the rubble and anyone buried underneath it. Roughly 20,000 human beings were murdered in just a couple of incredibly bloody days. The Hama massacre was, until recently, the single deadliest assault by an Arab ruler on his own people in modern history, beating even the Halabja massacre of Saddam Hussein. Indian writer who witnessed some of the massacre titled his coverage Assad goes beyond the point of no return, which would not be the last time a reported and just a couple of incredibly bloody days. The Hama massacre was, until recently the single deadliest assault by an Arab ruler on his own people in modern history, beating even the Halabja massacre of Saddam Hussein. Indian writer who witnessed some of the massacre titled his coverage Assad goes beyond the point of no return, which would not be the last time a reporter mistakenly believed that an Assad had gone beyond the point of no return. Yeah. Bummer. How? Like that headline could be used 600 more times. Yeah. Yeah. There's been, what, 300 chemical weapons strikes in the Assad regime? You could really put that after each one. This has got to be a troll. C Control V OK, yeah, copy paste that. He's. I do feel like as journalists, we have to retire. Point of no return, because it's the same thing with Trump. He keep doing something and be like, oh, this. There's no coming back from this. And it's like, stop saying that. You don't know. Nobody knows. It's almost tempting. Go further. Like what? No. Yeah. I feel like the only time that's ever been justified is when ******* Hitler shot himself. Then that's it? Yeah, he would. That's the point of no return. Yeah. OK. Fair, fair use for that title. God, what a way to go out to be like, oh, I'll just let you shield myself. It's like, Oh my God, man. Come out here and show your face. At least Saddam went out like AG screaming at everybody before they hung him. You know, I guess I'm on, I'm definitely on Team Saddam as opposed to team Hitler. But I feel like nobody but Nazis is ever on team Hitler. So, you know, that's a tough one. I don't know if I'll touch that one. It's it's really a bad one to weigh into. You know what? Who's team? Yeah, yeah, yeah, I I would, you know, if I had a time machine picking up these people right before their suicides or executions and then having them fight to the death in a steel cage would be pretty good TV. It should be all of them. And then just throw a dragon in there, too. That's just look like that. Like a Comodo dragon, too. One of those ones that just like bites. With its rotting teeth and so you slowly die over the course of days? Yeah, that's a good way. That's just Saddam bleeding out from a Komodo dragon bite for three days. So people take bets. Tweet at us if you have a time machine. Yeah, if you have a tape tweeted us or just come visit us in your time machine. Assuming it also can travel through space as well as time, yeah, no judgment on what area you came from. Your personal business. I mean probably some judgment like if if you if if you listening to this like built a time machine and like 1859 instead of like. Doing something about slavery? Little bit of judgment, yeah. Don't bring your judgment plague up in here, though. Yeah, don't bring your plague up in here. Yeah, or bed bugs. Neither of those. No cholera, please. No thanks on the cholera. Yeah, we already got plenty of measles. Like, I actually have cholera. And like, I found that very offensive for you to ask me not to bring my cholera into the situation. Color of pride, yeah, what color ribbon is that? I mean, it's it's a brown one, right? Yeah. That's great. So the Habba massacre helped to ensure Hafez al-Assad nearly twenty more years of uninterrupted rule. It would not be until 2011 that the Syrian state would next face serious resistance. Bashir was 16 years old when his father flattened Hama. The lesson would have been clear to him, but he was not at this point, being groomed to rule. That pleasure went to his younger brother Rifaat, who was the heir apparent. Young Bashar's favorite parent was clearly his mother, Anisa one Western politician. Described him as a mama's boy more than a Papas boy. Now, there's a lot of debate as to whether or not Assad's mom has been one of the secretly dominant forces in his regime, but it's pretty agreed upon that he was a mama's boy up until her probable death in 2016. He was said to call her multiple times a week, which was actually something of a running joke in Syrian society. Syrian Internet satirist? Call him bisho or baby Bashar. Or at least they did before he had them all murdered. For real. That was hilarious. Until they all died, and now it's their body parts exist in small bags. Yeah, yeah, and now they are filling small sacks. Yeah, when Bashir was 19, his dad had a heart attack and Refat tried to seize power. Unfortunately for Rifat, Hafez recovered and sent his eldest boy into permanent exile for his crimes. Bashar's older brother Basil, became their father's next successor. Now Bassel al-Assad seems to have been an interesting dude. I found one. Psychology Today article, which is written by a couple of PHD's and makes the case that Bassols bullying was a major influence on young Bashar. I don't consider that article super credible because it's written like **** and it doesn't gel with what people who are close to the family report, but their doctors so all include their opinion on here. Now, Young Bashar does seem to have had issues with his brother Ayman, Abdel Nour, who knew Bashar when he was a young adult, told Financial Times. Growing up, Bashar was overshadowed by Basil. That seemed to be a complex. He didn't have the charisma of Basil, who was sporty, was liked by girls, and was the head of the Syrian Computer Society. Ayman claims young Bashar was shy. He used to. He used to speak softly with a low voice. He never asked about institutions or government affairs. Yeah, yeah. Bashar was a too much of a nerd to be president of the Computer Society. Like, it's kind of unfair that his, like, sexy athletic brothers also gets to be the computer guy, because that's one thing everyone agrees on is is Bassel was also, like, the smartest of the Assad boys. See, he seems like he really got it all, you know? It's so interesting. Like families like that, that like. Empower. Like they're so easy. Like there's no empathy. That's so easy for them to just drop people out of their family. It's like, how dare you try and seize power. You ain't ever coming back here again. It's like it's your son. You know, I mean she'll out, Muammar Gaddafi would agree with you because Gaddafi had a kid who tried to overthrow him, who he exiled for a while and then invited back in, so-called him for a while. I don't know. I feel like if my son tried to overthrow me and take over the house, I would exile him. Yeah, I would. I would. I would exile my son. Yeah. I would exile him forever. Exiling is so agro. It's it's pretty aggro, but I've always wished to exile someone. That's so, I mean, you and I are going to have an issue at some point because it's always been a dream of mine to exile somebody. I'm not surprised by that whatsoever. I really, I'm a big, big fan of exiling it's it's an art more than a science, but you know, I love it. I love the I love the craft. Bashar himself would later claim that his father didn't talk about work at all with his kids. There was a complete separation between politics and family relations in our house. My parents were very keen to make us live. As normal lives as we can. So I don't believe that at all. Yeah, I mean, you were the son of the of the king of Syria. And it yeah, it it it it does seem like most of of the people who knew them at that time said like they. I mean, it's one of those things. Maybe they think they were normal because they don't have any basis for comparison, because they grew up the heirs to the throne of Syria. But yeah, I see you, Sophie, Sophie signaling that it's time for an ad break. And I see her. I was just trying to finish my sentence. This is this is Sophie's, in a way, exiling me. Yeah, except for a break. Well, I'm actually going to be exiling all of our listeners to an ad break. So enjoy, enjoy your exile into the the green and bountiful land of capitalist products and services. Products. Mint Mobile offers premium wireless starting at just 15 bucks a month. And now for the plot twist. Nope, there isn't one. Mint Mobile just has premium wireless from 15 bucks a month. 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You maybe even heard the rumors, your friends and loved ones. But are any of the stories about government conspiracies and cover ups actually true? The answer is surprisingly or unsurprisingly, yes. For more than a decade, we here at stuff they don't want you to know have been seeking answers to these questions, sometimes their answers that people would rather us not explore. Now we're sharing this research with you. For the first time ever in a book format, you can preorder stuff they don't want you to know. Now it's the new book from us, the creators of the podcast and video series. You can turn back now or read the stuff they don't want you to know. Available for pre-order now, it's stuff you should read books.com or wherever you find your favorite books. We're back. We're back. We're talking about Bashar al-Assad B to the AB shoe that it was. BU BU yeah, little baby Bashar. If I was him, that would be my, like, Twitter handle at baby shark. It's kind of cute. B. It would be amazing to get into Twitter fights about Bashar al-Assad with Bashar al-Assad, baby Bashar, you ******* loser. Load block. Ohh boy, he would definitely be a blocker. Yeah, yeah. Now, the chair did not grow up wanting to be a dictator, or at least he gave no impression of having that desire. According to an article in the Atlantic based on interviews with people who knew him at the time, quote, Bashar did not seek out recognition or popularity. He had no interest in being in the middle of politics as his brother did in his school days. He was perceived by the Syrian society as a shy, reserved, weak, hesitant child who did not inherit any of his father or brothers, intelligence and leadership. So, whoa, that's like just reminding me of the Godfather, like Al Pacino's character, how he's going to be involved and it's like Mafia business. And then, like, next thing you know, he's like slapping Michelle Pfeiffer around. It's like, yeah, a lot of people have actually compared him to Michael Corleone. Some people compare him to Fredo. But yeah, yeah. Well, I mean, because he kind of was, he was the, he was the, like, air. Like, he wasn't really like, he was the heir to a lot of money and stuff, but he was not the air. Like, he was never considered for power. Like he was literally his dad's like. Last choice, essentially. And so he didn't really it it. Yeah, we'll get into that a little bit more later, but that is a really apt comparison now. Bassel, meanwhile, was exactly the kind of kid you'd expect to be a dictator son. He was an avid parachutist. He was an infamous ladies man and a huge facet of nightlife in Damascus. Great. I think so, yeah, pictures. I've seen him. He was a reasonably decent looking dude. He was a fit, athletic and charismatic pictures of basil playing sports. And looking fly as hell with slathered over many a wall in Syria. Bassel owned a stable of sweet sports cars and tore us around town on a regular basis. He had a person. Oh yeah, he loved driving real fast, which we'll talk about a little bit more in a second. He had a personality cult that rivaled his fathers, Majid Rafizadeh Rafizadeh, the author of that Atlantic article and a guy who grew up in Syria around this time, recalled. When I was a student in high school, I would walk the busy streets of Damascus, Aleppo or Latakia and find the walls and windows. Shops and buildings peppered with posters and photographs of basil. His images even were even plastered across cars, but there was not a trace of Bashar's presence. So it's all about basil in these days. All about Basil, it's interesting that having a good set of like a good set of hair is like so key to being a dictator. Because Bashar's not a good looking dude. Not a good looking dude. Like if you if you have any, like, latent bully instincts, you look at a picture of the kid and you kind of want to give him a swirly. Especially when he had that that little pencil thin mustache. Just such a nerd looking kid. Which is weird, because Basil was apparently better at computers too. Yeah, now, for what it's worth, it seems like Bassel al-Assad was one of the better case scenarios for a dictator son. He wasn't a mass ****** and murderer, or at least not based on what I've read. I haven't read any allegations like that. It's entirely possible that he was doing a bunch of terrible **** but it's not like, it's certainly not like Uday Hussein where you hear these stories about him machine gunning people at parties and stuff. And he seemed to be more honest in interviews. Like in 1988, Bassel gave an interview that I I think he was telling the truth. Quote we saw Father at home, but he was so busy that three days could go by without us exchanging a word. With him, we never had breakfast or dinner together, and I don't remember ever having lunch together as a family. Or maybe we did once or twice. When state affairs were involved as a family, we used to spend a day or two in Latakia in the summer, but then too, he used to work in the office and we didn't get to see much of him like. That seems totally, totally likely. Yeah. That seems like a credible representation of like, growing up as a kid whose dad was a workaholic, which, you know, Bashar will never admit to. So I don't know, Bassel seems like it seems like he was as decent a dude as it's possible to be and be the son of a brutal dictator who murders 20,000 people to make a point. I guess that's how I'll describe him. But I never knew the guy. Like any dictator kid. Our sources. No, no, no, no. We we never, never, never were passed. Weirdly enough, I was pen pals with a jiff. Al Islam, Gaddafi's son. We used to. We used to play Sudoku over the mail. But, you know, that is so you. No, I've never heard anything doctor Robert Evans than what you've just said. I don't. I don't. I don't. I don't truck with Sudoku. I'm not Keanu Reeves. OK? OK. Like any dictator kid, our sources and how Bashar grew up are incomplete at best. The official party line, at least, is that the Assad children had a modest upbringing. It's emphasized that Bashar's mother thought this was the right way to raise children, however modest their upbringing. Bashar and his siblings lived in almost total privacy. Pictures and reports of their lives were kept fairly mump, with the obvious exceptions. Every thought and then Bassel. All the Assad kids went to College in Syria, which is something of an oddity among an Arab dictators children. It's more common for them to like go to school in Europe or whatever. But a Hafez was insistent that they do their college and in in country. So Bashar went to medical school as a young man. According to Ed Schulenburg, Bashar's former supervisor at the Western Eye Hospital in London, Bashar decided to become an ophthalmologist and eye doctor after reading a book quote he read a book about blindness in the treatment of. Kindness and I think the psychology about being blind many years ago and it impressed him so much that he thought he wanted to become an eye surgeon. Now Bashar al-Assad himself claimed, quote, I like the idea of working in the humanitarian sector, so medicine was the best thing to take up. The question that I asked my father was I would like to be a doctor. What do you think? He told me it doesn't matter what you do. The most important thing is if you succeed or not. So whatever you do, just make sure that you succeed. Holy ****. What a way to turn your child into a ******* dictator. Yeah, yeah. It doesn't matter what you do. Just succeed at it. If you're going to be an eye doctor, you better be the ******* best eye doctor on in Syria. I don't even. I don't want to. I don't want there to be any blind people in the world for an eye doctor. Like, are you kidding? Like out of here? Now some experts on Syria and the Assad suspect that Bashar may have had a different motivation. Dr Ayele Zisser of Tel Aviv University believes that Bashar's medical ambitions were actually pushed on him by his father. Quote. One can only assume that Assad, who himself wanted to be a doctor when he was young, pushed him in that direction. So I don't know, like, there's three different totally credible. Like, all all of those sound very believable to me. I mean, growing up in a Middle Eastern family, you don't got to tell me that I was supposed to be a doctor because my father said it pretty quickly that I need to go to Med school. And I was like, I can't look at blood. And he was like, you're going to need to get over that. I mean, you should, you should tell your dad what I tell my parents, which is that podcasting is the medicine of the 21st century. You know? That's so true. And it's funny because, like, I'm such a dictator of this office now. You know, like just you are. You are. You are. Like, go on before I kill you. Hmm. You do say that a lot. We're getting T-shirts printed up. Go on before I kill you. I'm a podcast dictator. That's fun. I like that. It's a fun theme for a podcast. Now, whatever the truth about why he got into it, Bashar al-Assad seems to have had a real passion for being an eye doctor, and from everything I've read, it seems like he was legitimately good at it. This is not one of those stories where a dictator's kid becomes like the head of the port system, like Gaddafi's kid, and has like, no idea how to do anything. Bashar moved to London and practiced medicine, like he wasn't under Daddy's arm when he was in London. He was working at a real hospital and doing real medical work, and he, from everything I've read, seems to have been really good at it and seems to have loved it. So yeah, he was a pretty solid eye doctor. He adapted fully to life in the Western world. You want to guess what his favorite musician is? Leonard Skynyrd. Phil Collins. Oh, that is such. That is a clear sign. You know what? Nothing annoys me more than him. Was it like, what band was Phil Collins in again? ****. Oh boy. Now we're gonna the band that Peter Gabriel originally was in, I think so. I know he's one of the musicians that my mom listens to, like. And your mom is the mini classic dictator type. Yeah, yeah, yeah. She is the genesis of Genesis. There we go. This. A band so bad we forgot it. Bad people who liked it became bad people. I hate to say this, but his second favorite, or at least one of his other favorite bands, is a legitimately great band, The Electric Light Orchestra, which which does break my heart a little bit. Well, I mean everyone likes yellow like that. Everybody likes ELO. But now I have this picture in my head up Bashar ordering the carpet bombing of of of Aleppo while listening to Mr Blue Sky. And it it it kills me a little bit inside. But I know it happened. I'm going to disregard that thought, yeah. Now, the young doctor fell in love with London, and he says that seeing the West helped him to open his horizons. He's a lot of positive stuff to say about travel, which I guess is appropriate because he inadvertently caused millions of Syrians to travel and see Europe themselves. A little bit of a not really a joke, just a horrible thing that happened. Anyway, one day on a foggy morning in January 1994, Basil al-Assad was tearing *** through Damascus in his sports car, and I said he liked driving fast in his sports car. On the way to the airport, his car skidded off the road and he crashed at high speed, dying instantly. Now. Yeah, that's the end of basil now, whenever the heir apparent of a dictator, especially a dictator whose first heir apparent had tried to overthrow him, is killed mysteriously in a car crash. It's natural to be suspicious, but all the credible sources I found seem to agree that this was really just one of those freak accidents that happens from time to time and changes the world forever. Sounds like the son of a king in a regime thought he was invincible. So does sound like that himself killed because he oh, what do you know? Not invincible, no. Turns out that if you crash a sports car with a ****** safety rating. At like 100 miles an hour, the same thing happens to everybody. Hmm. No. The only one of us that's invulnerable is Keith Richards, and he should have known that. He should have known that. Now, that same January day in 1994, Bashar al-Assad got a phone call in his London flat. He was told that his brother had died and that he was now the successor to Hafez al-Assad, and that he would have to return home to take up the family business. There's a lot of debate as to why Hafez didn't pick Bashar's other brother, Maher to rule instead, since Maher was a lot like Basil and Bashar had expressed 0 interest in ever holding power. But for whatever reason, Hafez picked Bashar. Wait, at this point, Maher, the the daughter? No, mahers his other brother, and he's in charge of, like, the Syrian Republican guard. So he's been like one of the bloodiest military leaders of the the Syrian civil war. But there's kind of a mystery among people who knew the family as to a lot of them had expected that, you know, Hafez was going to pick Maher to to run the country, but he he went with Bashar. For some reason. We don't. We don't really have a clear idea why. At this point it seemed to many Syrians and in much of the outside world almost like this might be the plot of like an unusually gritty Disney movie. Like, you can kind of see the upbeat version of this where like a brutal dictator picks a shy, bashful eye doctor son to rule in his stead, and the kid has to fly back from his life in London and learn how to rule. You make a really fun movie with that premise where he realizes that like, he only ever wanted to be a doctor and he gives his country back to its people and establishes a democracy, and he and his dad fight at first, but then his dad comes to love freedom, and probably rides a skateboard. At the end, I'm imagining this is a 90s movie. It's like the goofy movie. Yeah, it's like the goofy movie, but with like a brutal dictator. Yeah, it's like a cross between the goofy movie and that really bad Michael Caine movie about a dictator who hides out in like a 10 year old girl's house. What what is that? Yeah, it's this. It's it's a fun premise. This, like girl becomes a pen pal with a brutal dictator of like a Caribbean nation played by Michael Caine and he gets overthrown and he like flees and winds up hiding in her like tool shed, I think. Oh dear dictator, dear dictator. It it should have been a good movie, but it was just kind of bad. Ohm's like you hear Michael Caine playing like a dictator who's best friends with a little girl. That seems like it could be a really good movie, but it was just, it was not. It was not a good movie, and I'm sorry. Because now people are going to want, people are gonna watch dear dictator, and they're not going to find it very good because it's not very good and I'm that's too bad about that. Yeah, it really is. Now, according to Financial Times in the real world and not the the fake world of the Disney movie that I invented about this, but the real one, in which hundreds of thousands of human beings have been killed in the most brutal ways possible, Hafez al-Assad basically tried to remake his nerdy Dr Son into the spitting image of his dead brother Bassel quote. Assad underwent a crash course in military and political affairs in a successful image making exercise that would make him palatable to Syrian society. He inherited Basil's friends, Basil's office in Mount Qasioun overlooking Damascus and even the Syrian Computer Society. A critical tool that would help him create an image is a man who could bring progress to a country that seems stuck in the 1970s. Bashar disappeared from view. We only started seeing him again in 1996, and he had changed. Even his voice had changed, recalls Abdel Nour. He was more confident, more muscular in his appearance. So yeah, like made him get go away and get a gym membership. Yeah, it's like the it's the male version of that makeover scene where like the curly haired girl who becomes a Princess gets her hair straightened and stuff and they made him take his push us off and they're like, you're gorgeous now you're really going to kill running this country. Literally. Kill, kill. You're gonna have to kill everybody. Kill more than anyone in this century. I wonder if they're like, dude Bashar. I heard the country said you weren't cute and he was like, oh God, yeah, maybe because he's not cute. Yeah. But I mean, of course he has good hair. It's not really. It's got that. It's like, I mean, who knows how real it is? Maybe he lost some of it and it's hair plugs. Now, that statement alone is probably going to get me killed by Bashar al-Assad. But like, Oh yeah, no, he's got a strike cruiser heading to your house right now. Like I heard she said I had hair plugs and she's dead. I mean, it's, yeah, he has a full set of hair. I'm assuming is real, so that's usually that's enough. Yeah, it's it's. I just don't notice his hair. Like it's one of those things we'll say on this podcast if A if a brutal dictator is hot like Saddam Hussein, good looking young man. ******* Joseph Stalin. Good looking young guy. Hitler. Always super weird looking. But you know Hitler, dude, you have to, you have to be honest about the hotness of terrible people. Otherwise, what are your standards? And you know, Bashar al-Assad is a not in the hot or not category. I'm sorry, it's just. That's that's the hill I'll die on. He's not a good set of hair, but a face that looks like an *** crack. Yeah, face that looks like an *** crack. *** crack face being another one of his popular nicknames. As the 1990s neared their end, Hafez al-Assad was increasingly sick and clearly nearing death. He began filling Damascus and other cities with posters of Bashar al-Assad labeled hope, which is not unlike an Obama campaign poster. Is that Shepard Fairey got the idea? Yes, Shepard. Shepard Fairey is a famed Hafez al-Assad Stan really a big fan of his marketing prowess. While Hafez battled leukemia, diabetes and a ****** heart, he trained his son and stalked the heads of his security and intelligence agencies with men he could trust. Bahjat Suleiman, one of his head spies, was a guy who was picked to sell Bashar as the hope of Syria. He did this by making deals with businessmen who wanted more opportunities for financial gain than the national socialist structure would allow. According to Rula Coeff of the Financial Times, Bashar al-Assad became a vociferous critic of bureaucratic corruption, and those he recommended were placed in key positions in government. It was during this. That I first met him in Damascus, a few months before his father died. He was casual and inquisitive, particularly interested in whether living abroad had diluted my Arab roots. He spoke about the scourge of corruption and serious economic stagnation and was sympathetic to the cause of an outspoken businessman who was being harassed by the regime for his political and anti corruption views. It was impossible to know whether he was sincere so. I don't know, late 90s, bassat. He's saying the right things, you know, which one of Gaddafi's kids was sort of doing the same thing where he would he got famous for like I think it was sci-fi actually, where he got famous for like criticizing the Gaddafi regime to the international press while he was the heir to the regime. And some people thought he was a real reformer, but like it's become increasingly obvious through time. Like no, he was just. He knew his dad was going to die eventually and wanted to be set up to be in charge and, like, playing the long game. Playing the long game, yeah. And it seems like, I don't know if he if Bashar started out being like, oh, I could be a good leader and then just went full psycho, or if he was. Just full psycho like I I don't get it because it sounds like nobody doesn't. Decent person but then like. You know, just in the Michael Corleone way of like, what? What tipped him over the edge? Like, was it just his father being like this, how it needs to be? You need to be strong and not weak. Like you need to stand up to your people and I don't know, like, cut their heads off if they don't listen to you. Like, I don't. I mean, I guess that's why it's so secretive. We don't know. But like, I yeah. So bad. Yeah. Nobody nobody really knows the answer to that question. I mean one of my theories is just that like there's a lot of people walking around who could be The Who could murder millions if you put them in the position where their continued comfort was was dependent upon them maintaining and power of a regime like this. You know, I actually now that I realize that like I've always said, I should never be in power because I would take a like a. A bribe? Within seconds. I'm like, yeah, sure. What do you know? Just nobody should be in power. That's that's really the lesson of guys like Bashar al-Assad. Because if he just stated ophthalmologist probably would have just helped people have better eyes. Yeah, probably would have done that for decades and it would have been fine. Power is a hell of a drug, man. It's the worst. And I'm, I'm a big pro drug guy, but not power. That's the only drug that I think the DEA ought to go after. Yeah, that's me. I'm always like, if that's what the DEA was for, I would be pro DEA. If if they were just, like busting guys who are power tripping. Like, sorry, Sir. No, you're clearly way too high on your own supply. Yeah, literally a group in the D that's like the power tripping, dude, because we're coming for you the day after Trump gets elected. They arrest all of America like you guys are. You guys are dealing power to a vulnerable man. Like, he clearly can't handle this. Presidents arrested for just power trip and way too hard. No, no, no. I mean, you'd have to bust us all for dealing. You know, we we sold him. Power. If you want to get high as ****. Consider getting high as **** on the products and services that support this program. And or show that was a good that was a good segue, right? Sophie loved it. Beautiful, all right. Products. Mint Mobile offers premium wireless starting at just 15 bucks a month. And now for the plot twist. Nope, there isn't one. Mint Mobile just has premium wireless from 15 bucks a month. There's no trapping you into a two year contract. You're opening the bill to find all these nuts fees. There's no luring you in with free subscriptions or streaming services that you'll forget to cancel and then be charged full price for none of that. 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In this special episode, we sit down with Doctor Jane Goodall to hear her inspiring thoughts on how we can create a better future for humans, animals and the environment. Anything, particularly young children out into nature so that they can experience it and take time off from this virtual world of being always on your cell phones and so on. And get the feel of nature so that you come to be fascinated, then you come to want to understand it, and then you come to love it, and at that point you want to protect it. And then we'll come to the sort of healthy world that I envision as a good future for us. And the rest of life on this planet. Listen to amazing wildlife on the iHeartRadio app or wherever you get your podcasts. So by now we imagine that you've seen the theories on Tik T.O.K. You maybe even heard the rumors, your friends and loved ones. But are any of the stories about government conspiracies and cover ups actually true? The answer is surprisingly or unsurprisingly, yes. For more than a decade, we here at stuff they don't want you to know have been seeking answers to these questions, sometimes their answers that people would rather us not explore. Now we're sharing this research with you for the first time ever in a book format, you can pre-order stuff they don't want you to know now. It's the new book from us, the creators of the podcast and video series. You can turn back now or read the stuff they don't want you to know. Available for pre-order now, it's stuff you should read books.com or wherever you find your favorite books. We're back skis. I say skis now sometimes because I'm a cool. I'm a cool dude because you love to ski, man. I've heard. No, I actually don't think anyone should ski. Dude, Robert, come on, man. You don't have to hide it. Kicks on you come on guys. No, everyone send in Photoshop photos of Robert skiing. You know, it's funny you say that, because when I have a bad day, the only thing that calms me down is watching hours of ski fails on you. You just type that in on YouTube and it's people getting horribly injured. But there's ski fails and base jumping fails are like. I spent I wonder if most of those people are dead. We're all like maybe sucker and then we just don't find with it. No, because like like I spent all week this week watching God knows how many videos of barrel bombs detonating in Syrian cities and like horrible things happening to people who did nothing. If you if you're going out there to go base jumping, you know you might **** ** and kill yourself. So, like, I feel like it's fine for me to watch videos of people hurting themselves if if they're putting themselves in that situation. I wouldn't watch videos of people getting hit by cars and laugh. That's horrible. Yeah, but if you're going into that situation and and that, like, that's something like you crashing and hurting yourself is an integral part of the sport, then it's fine for me to laugh at it, you know? That's their risk. I wouldn't. I wouldn't laugh at somebody getting hurt playing golf because that's not part of the sport. If you get hit in the face of the club playing golf, that's just a horrible accident. But it is it is a little bit funny, right? My my principles aren't ironclad. We're all a little bit of a monster. This is why I shouldn't be a dictator, because I would make people ski just to watch them hurt themselves. That would be funny. You're like, all right, set up the skis. Set up the skis. Harry the bananas and snow. Yes, yes. Just put a tree in the middle of the path. It's fine. It was clear from the beginning that the young despot in waiting was insecure. One of his friends, while Bashar is being groomed, later, said, quote, in his early years he was learning on the job and he wasn't confident. He spoke about some of his father's aides as enemies, and he didn't have his own advisers. The security people would tell him it would be a threat to him because they wanted to control him. So Bashar's kind of a paranoid, scared guy. There's one story. I heard from a guy who interviewed him who like took out his microphone and share. Like flinched away from him because he, like the microphone looked just enough like a gun that he like freaked out because he was just so high strung and paranoid. So you you'll hear that a lot. That he was like incredibly high strung and paranoid and like scared all the time. It does really seem like he didn't want the job, at least at first, just because the risk of getting murdered was so high he'd rather be back in London listening to ELO and cut and open eyes. Jesus Christ, that's the feeling you get. Hafez al-Assad died on June 10th, 2000. His son assumed power shortly thereafter. This was actually forbidden by the Syrian Constitution, which required presidents to be at least 40. But the Constitution was quickly amended to allow 34 year olds to serve, which was Bashar's age. That's handy. Very nice. Family runs everything, yeah? Yeah. Why even have a constitution if you like? Come on, Hafez. Don't don't play that ********. Bashar gave an inaugural speech. That was everything you'd want to hear from the new dictator who was replacing the old dictator. He said it was time to modernize Syria, to open up the economy to new businesses and new ideas, and to institute a raft of political reforms that would allow political parties and previously unheard of levels of dissent. Maybe even something that vaguely approached freedom of speech. His. Digital speech promised democracy, transparency and touted the desperate need for constructive criticism and creative thinking. And to back that up. It even included criticisms of Hafez al-assad's regime. The international media obligingly ate this up. I found an article published the day after his inauguration by mid East Realities. It was titled Bashar al-Assad. They say he's a gentle man. OK, OK, sounds like prop prop propaganda. Prop prop propaganda quote. He's a 35 year old media shy ophthalmologist who loves Phil Collins, speaks fluent English and is in no rush to get married and expresses a keen interest in Israeli high tech. Although he was never the favorite son, Bashar Assad next week will be declared heir to his father, Hafez. Is this his Tinder profile? Sounds a little bit like team. Like like ******* Perez Hilton. Yeah. What occurred next has been dubbed by some as the Damascus Spring, which is accurate and that it did not last very long. Political prisoners were freed, European advisers were brought in to help reform the government. Young technology minded Syrians who happen to be friends with Bashar were brought into exciting new positions within the regime. For the first time, Syria's new ruler allowed his people to access the Internet such as it existed at the turn of the Millennium. New political parties were allowed to form and liberal intellectuals were allowed to form political discussion groups and even published some literature. The months immediately after Assad's inauguration were proved to be the absolute high point of Syrian civil liberties, according to Joshua Landis of the University of Oklahoma's Middle East Studies Center quote. Of course, it didn't take more than a few weeks before people were demanding regime change because the regime was so corrupt. It stunk. The whole thing stunk. So any kind of critique had to lead to regime change. Basically, if you start picking at the problems in Syrian society, all of them come back to the fact that an incredibly corrupt criminal regime. And the charge so like, you really can't allow criticism. It's just back to the Tinder profile thing. If Bashar was on Tinder, he would probably have every woman murdered who swiped no on him. Yeah, I mean, absolutely. Could you? I think that would be punishable by death. Yeah, I could. I could imagine. I can imagine about half of the men on Tinder being dictators if you follow that. She rates dogs account on Twitter, where it's just like women getting threatened with murder by guys they turned down after it. A bad date. Like, ******* boy. I believe that exists, but I feel like for my own sanity, I should not check it out. You don't need to, but I think there's a lot of people out there, a lot of men, some women, I'm sure too, but a lot of men who if they had an Air Force, would would absolutely bomb. A lot of people. That's why no one should have an Air Force except for that that that Air Force pilot who drew the sky deck above Washington. That guy. That guy gets an Air Force. He knows what to do with them. He's chill. Yeah. About six months into the Damascus Spring, in January of 2001, Serious Information Minister declared the idea of civil society to be an American term President Assad warned the reformist movement, quote when the consequences of inaction affect the stability of the homeland, there are two possibilities. Either the perpetrator. The foreign agent acting on behalf of an outside power, or else he is a simple person acting unintentionally. But in both cases a service is being done to the country's enemies and consequently both are dealt with in a similar fashion, irrespective of their intentions or motives. So anyone who is attacking the regime in any way is either a foreigner trying to bring us down or a dumb person. But I have to deal with both foreign spies and dumb people the same way. Attention to that reasoning. Yeah, that reasoning will come back a little bit later in this table. Now, a couple of months later, Bashar imprisoned 10 members of a serious, extremely milktoast political opposition. A lot of these like the people he'd freed at the start of the Damascus Spring. This started a trend of serious President re imprisoning all the people he'd freed. One year after assuming power, he approved a new press law which gave the government total control over everything printed in Syria, from magazines to pamphlets. Many experts now say the whole idea of the Damascus Spring was never more than a PR move to gain international support for the regime in its early days. Others say it was undertaken earnestly, but resistance from old hardliners within the Syrian government forced Bashar to back off on his youthful dreams. It's hard to say where the truth lies, but there was evidence from the earliest days of Bashar's presidency that he was going to be just as brutal as his dearly departed dad. One of his first moves was to send his security forces into the city of Latakia, which was a stronghold for his exiled brother Rifaat, who for some reason was allowed to remain the vice president despite being kicked out of the country forever. Bashar had many of her fat supporters disappeared. He also deposed the Prime Minister, Mahmoud Al Zuabi, and charged him with corruption, which was probably true, but no truer for Mahmoud than for any other high-ranking Syrian official. Mahmoud committed suicide in his cell within weeks of Bashar's inauguration, so you know. Starting things off with some murder. OK, yeah, might as if it's foreshadowing, almost as if it's foreshadowing. But I don't. I don't foreshadow. Subtext is for cowards. The Damascus Spring was short lived, but this American September of 2001 would go on to have a much longer lasting impact on Bashar's regime. Like all Arab leaders in the wake of 911, he was forced to make some difficult decisions. Bashar had to thread the needle of working with the US just enough to not get regime changed himself while also standing up to America enough to maintain support at home. And most importantly, doing his part to ensure that Iraq was enough of a debacle that Bush wouldn't have the political capital to **** with the Syrian regime. Bashar al-Assad was by all accounts, very successful in this. In 2004, the Bush administration started to slam him hard for allowing his country to basically act as a highway for foreign fighters to enter Iraq. This was somewhat overblown because only 5 to 10% of Iraqi insurgents were foreign fighters, but those foreign fighters tended to be the ones who actually killed the most people. They were the most of the suicide bombers in the. Really dedicated fighters so. Some reason to be ****** at that. He definitely let a lot of people through. By the time W came down really hard on Syria, he had his hands so full with the disastrous occupation of Iraq that there was really **** all he could do to Bashar al-Assad, which made Assad feel safe saying things like this quote, some see me as bad, some see me as good. We don't actually care what terms they use. It is not right to apply this term to Syria. I mean, look at the relationship that Syria has with the rest of the world. If you have good relations with most of the world, you are not a rogue state just because the United States. As you are. You know, given the timing, not totally unfair. But anyway, Bashar's regime did, of course, allow Salafist insurgents to pass through the country. These Sunni extremists gradually built up a base of support in parts of Syria. More than a decade later, they would wind up forming the foundation of the terrorist group ISIS. At the time, letting them fester seemed like a smart way for Bashar to attack America while maintaining plausible deniability. Assad was also willing to work with the United States, though, particularly when it came to exercising one of his regimes. Great strengths. Its ability to torture the **** out of people. See, in the wake of World War Two, an s s man, Alois Brunner, immigrated to Syria in an effort to escape being hung for his many, many, many war crimes. Now, Brunner was the number one aide and the very best man of Adolf Eichmann, the single dude most responsible for executing the Holocaust. Brunner himself was wanted for his direct complicity in the murder of 130,000 Jews. Bashar's father, Hafez al-Assad. Welcome to Bruner into the Syrian intelligence establishment with open arms. Now. They later fell out, and Brunner did fortunately die horribly in a Syrian prison. But for years he was an integral part in building up serious intelligence infrastructure, and most importantly, he taught the Syrian government how to torture people. So that's cool. Literal Nazi helping, helping build the bones of your torture department now, where this gets even more ****** **. Is because the Syrian intelligence agencies learned bruner's lessons about how to torture people well enough that the CIA eventually came to them for help. A lot has been written about the CIA's own terrible torture programs, but most people don't know that we outsourced awful lot, probably even the majority of the torturing we did to other nations. Syria was considered the very best of these, Robert Baer, a former CIA agent who worked extensively in the Middle East, later told the Guardian. Quote. If you want a serious interrogation, you send a prisoner to Jordan if you want them tortured. You send them to Syria. If you want someone to disappear, never to see them again, you send them to Egypt. So Syria is the CIA's like these guys. Like, we can torture, like not trying to be humble here. We can torture some dudes, but these guys, they're the Kareem. Like the CIA's the Kareem Abdul Jabbar of torture. But like, Syria is the Michael Jordan. That's so ******* crazy. Why would you ever say that **** out loud? Wait, Robert Baer? Yeah. He's he's he's been very critical of a lot of aspects of the intelligence. Like, I think he's trying to be a decent person and tell people about things they need to know about. I thought he was. It felt like he was like bragging and like, let me tell you, well, you know, I think he's very sort of cogently and honestly talking to the Guardian about, like, this is how the torture program works. You go to Syria if you want people to like, I'm glad he said it. Someone needs to like, I'm not going to say everything Robert Baer has done in his career. Has been fine and aboveboard, but I'm glad that information's out there. That's terrifying. Ohh, it gets worse. the US would regularly send people at apprehended to Syria with lists of questions for the interrogators to work through while they brutally tortured our captives. One of these people was Maher Arar, a Syrian and Canadian citizen's on his way home to Canada after a vacation in Syria. In 2002, Maher was detained by US authorities at JFK airport under charges of being Brown. Meyer was not a terrorist, but the US intelligence agencies thought he might be, so they sent him over to Syria. Here's how a US judge later summarized. What happened to him quote during his first 12 days in Syrian detention, Arar was interrogated for 18 hours per day and was physically and psychologically tortured. He was beaten on his palms, hips, and lower back with a 2 inch thick electric cable. His captors also used their fists to beat him on his stomach, his face in the back of his neck. He was subjected to excruciating pain and pleaded with his captors to stop, but they would not. He was placed in a room where he could hear the screams of other detainees being tortured and was told that he too would be placed in a spine breaking chair. Hung upside down in attire for beatings and subjected to electric shocks to lessen his exposure to the torture, Arar falsely confessed, among other things, to having trained with terrorists in Afghanistan, even though he had never been to Afghanistan and had never been involved in terrorist activity. Cool. So cool. We that. That's one of those things. It it's both like if you on the US, if you're like a patriotic American who gets like 2 up your own *** about how bad these Arab dictators are. Like our government was happy to use them to torture people. But also like if you're a leftist getting too uppity about Bashar al-Assad being an anti imperialist, he was fined to torture people for the CIA. **** all of them. Like, **** all of them. Well, I mean just getting picked up for being brown is just. You know, yeah, the ****. Yeah, it's it's all very frustrating. Over the early aughts, Bashar gradually grew into his role as Supreme ruler of Syria. He allowed the US to force his yeah, there we go, there's our boy. He allowed the US to force his soldiers out of their years long occupation of Lebanon, something he felt he should have received more international gratitude for doing. In 2006, Hezbollah, a group heavily supported by the Syrian government, went to war with Israel. It did not go well, but Hezbollah survived, which was widely seen as a victory. Uh. Bashar saw this as proof that his regime was now safe. If America and Israel could not take out Hezbollah, they surely would not be able to remove him from power. This wound up being a completely accurate guess. David Lesch, a professor of Middle East history who met with Bashar dozens of times during this. Recalls his evolution quote. In May 2007, amid Bashar's reelection in a referendum to another seven-year term, I noticed something in him that I had not detected before. Self satisfaction. Maybe this is inevitable in a NEO patrimonial authoritarian. State and maybe he was getting his due after such a tough ride. But Bashar has been a very unpretentious leader, even self deprecating. Despite being surrounded by very dangerous circumstances, he never seemed to take himself too seriously. Why indeed? One time I asked him to talk about his greatest accomplishments to date and he responded that perhaps we should spend more time on his biggest failures. He is not a commanding figure at first glance. Soft spoken, gregarious with a childlike laugh, he does not fit the typical profile of a dictator. This was even the case when he ran unopposed in a referendum visiting a polling station. They observed that each voter had to check the yes or no box in public amid a band playing and people singing pro Bashar tunes. It would be an intrepid voter who would check no, especially with security personnel, no doubt. Watching closely the Bashar posters draped over almost every standing structure and out of every window and the I love Bashar in English and Arabic pens, pendants and billboards belied his issuing of such cultish popular behavior to date. Bashar understood that the 97% vote to reelect him was not an accurate barometer of his real standing in the country. He said it was more important to look at turn out. Rates for voters as those who did not vote were more than likely to have voted no, according to Syrian estimates. The voter turn out rate was 75%, still a very favorable response for Bashar. I'm so stuck on how they just described him. Yeah, self deprecating. You know, less is an interesting figure because he wrote a very pro Bashar book before the Civil War and then after the Civil War wrote some really anti Bashar stuff, like came around to be like, OK, this guy's a monster. And and has been one of the more useful figures in trying to analyze the question you asked earlier. Like, was he always a monster? Like, how did this this, like happen? Like what was the switch? It sounds like the way that guy described him. He's like a real Jekyll and Hyde character. Like there's literally. There's literally a study called Bashar al-Assad, Jekyll and Hyde or something like that. Like, yeah, like, you know, like it's it's what you're saying is like really valid because a lot of people have had these same sort of realizations. There's another childlike giggle. It's like, what the ****? Yeah, here. But there's enough stories about him that paint him in that light for me to think, OK, well, they're probably not. They they have no reason to lie because, like, Lesh has, you know, been pretty, pretty decent about like, yeah, I got him wrong and stuff. Like, either it was a facade he deliberately put up or a guy like that is perfectly capable of killing half a million people, right? Yeah. You know it. You kinda pick which one you want to believe, but one of the two seems to be the case now. Bashar al-Assad was optimistic about his ability to keep a sodding during the Obama administration, US foreign policy and public will had turned hard away from intervention. The new president had promised to withdraw troops from Iraq. Senator John Kerry was sent to Damascus to meet with Bashar and restart Syrian Israeli peace negotiations over the next few years. Kerry and Assad hung out a lot, speaking regularly on the telephone. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie also became friends with the Assads. This was revealed. Your face. What? Ohhh yeah, you didn't call that one, did you? What the ****? Oh, you are about to get. What the ****? Here? This next bit is quite, quite the ride. Wait, what year is this? This is 2000. Like 11. That is the **** brangelina, dude. They deserve to know. I hope Bashar broke them up. I hope so too. I hope so too. And I hope that he provided no emotional support when they were were going through that. Correct now, brangelina's friendship with the Assads was revealed in a February 2011 Vogue article titled arose in the Desert about Asma al-Assad, Bashar's wife. Oh, the ******* prose you're about to hear. And oh, it's bad quote. When Angelina Jolie came with Brad Pitt for the United Nations in 2009, she was impressed by the First Lady's efforts to encourage empowerment among Iraqi and Palestinian. Refugees. But alarmed by the Assad's idea of safety, my husband was driving us all to lunch, says Asma al-Assad. And out of the corner of my eye could see Brad Pitt was fidgeting. I turned around and asked, is anything wrong? Where's your security? Asked Pitt. So I started teasing him. See that old woman on the street? That's one of them. And that old guy crossing the road? That's the other one. They both laugh. The president joins in on the Punch line. Brad Pitt wanted to send his security guards here to come and get some training. Isn't that isn't that funny? I you know, these people can all **** themselves. I I hate everybody. And that story, that's the worst thing in that old lady. It's like, are you ******* kidding me? You're going to murder all these people, suit? Like, all of these people will be dead from barrel bombs in like a year and a half. Now, the whole article was filled with fawning praise for serious First lady. In case that excerpt doesn't give you a clear idea of the tone, here's the opening paragraph. *******. Strep in on a quote, asthma also. Asma al-Assad is glamorous, young and very chic, the freshest and most magnetic of first ladies. Her style is not the coutre and bling dazzle of Middle Eastern power, but the deliberate lack of adornment. She's a rare combination, a thin, long limbed beauty with a trained analytic mind who dresses with cunning understatement. Paris match calls her the element of light. In a country full of shadow zones, she is the First Lady of Syria. How you doing there? I know that is is this article hideous online? No, no, it is not. They should. I think they should have left it up so they could be eternally shamed. There are copies of it, and I will link you to the the Wayback Machine Archive because people should read it and throw shame on vogue for the rest of time. That is such a dangerous description of a human being who is, who is basically involved in some monstrosity that is the journalistic equivalent of getting blackout drunk and then driving a truck down the main thoroughfare of town like that. That's. Like, I'm morally equivalent to drunk driving, I hope. Honestly, if I saw Brad Pitt and he look like **** and he was like, yeah, I'm just not going through a good time, I'd be like, yeah, you should never go through a good time ever again. House Bashar al-Assad, you ***** ** **** ******* couple. Yeah. Yeah, gross. And it gets grosser. The Vogue article praised Syria for being the safest country in the Middle East. In August 2011, the Hill reports reported that lobbying firm Brown Lloyd James had been paid $5000 a month by the Syrian regime to publish and manage that Vogue article. So that makes sense. That makes sense. The Puff piece ended with a few paragraphs about the Assad celebrating Christmas in Damascus. I think you'll find this very heartwarming, Anna. Great quote. 200 children dressed variously as elves, reindeers or candy canes share the stage with members of the national orchestra who are done up as elves. The show becomes a full on Song Fest with the Elves and Reindeer and candy canes giving all their Hallelujah and joy to the world. The Carol slide into a more Serpentine rhythm, an Arabic rap group takes over, and then it's back to Broadway mode. The president whispers. All of these styles belong to our culture. This is how you fight extremism through art. Brass bells are handed out. Now we're all singing. Jingle Bell Rock, 1300 audience members shaking their bells, singing, crying and laughing. This is the diversity you want to see in the Middle East, says the president, ringing his bell. This is how you can have peace. I'm sorry, OK, let's dissect first, he says. All these styles are from Syria. Well, I mean, Syria has like, it's got Christians and it has, you know, Arabs rapping and stuff. Like, I think he was trying to say that, like, all of these religions are part of our culture. And like, you know, he was being like rapping. We made that Broadway from Syria. If if he had actually opened up Syria and not murdered hundreds of thousands of people, it would be a heartwarming story. But, you know, on January 27th, 2012, less than one year in exactly 1 Christmas after the publication of that Vogue article. The Syrian regime forces shot 102 people dead in protests across the country. They shot 98 more people dead on January 28th. On February 4th, 2012, almost exactly a year after that Vogue article, Bashar al-Assad ordered his artillery to fire indiscriminately at the city of Homs, killing more than 400 civilians in a single bloody day. Now we're getting a little bit ahead of ourselves. On Part 2, we'll talk about the Arab Spring and how Bashar's regime went from playing it openness to murdering hundreds of thousands of people. For now. I want to note that Vogue eventually pulled their profile of Asma al-Assad in an interview with The Atlantic, the stories editor, a guy named Chris Knudson, said. Quote. We felt that a personal interview with Syria's first lady would hold strong interest for our readers. We thought we could open up that very closed world a little bit. Are you ******* kidding me? Yeah, you **** *** man. Yeah, I have an idea. **** ** ****. Sorry. I don't. You know, but **** you. **** you. The closest thing that article gets to, like acknowledging the horribly dark side of the Syrian regime, is by saying that there are shadow zones in Syria. But it only mentions shadow zones to talk about how pretty osmel Assad is, so doesn't really count. Yeah, it's like, wow, she's so gorgeous around all these body parts. Yeah, she looks so pretty next to these mukhabarat police torturing people. God, look at her compared to like that. Like severed head. Isn't she gorgeous? You look good next to this pile of limbs. Oh my God. Everyone involved in that article should take a strong, hard look at themselves in the mirror. Yeah, yeah, they really ought to. Now. Anna, you feel like plugging your plugable. I feel like dying, you know, you could find me. Anna Posniak on Twitter A and NAHOSN i.e. HI will be tweeting nonstop. And Angelina and Brad asking to explain themselves. And you can also listen to my podcast with Shereen Younes. We host podcasts they're called ethnically ambiguous. Check it out. It's all Middle Eastern news and politics. And hey, you know, maybe we'll, we'll get in depth on how to get Angelina and Brad on the show and corner them. Yeah, man, that could be our new podcast. Is just cornering Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie and making them feel bad. I do wonder if he ever got his bodyguards out there to train and if they're all psycho killers now. Yeah. Yeah, I hope so. I hope. I hope for Brad's sake he did because we are going to be throwing some rotten food at him. That is the plan. So I'm Robert Evans. You can find me on Twitter at I write. OK. You can find this podcast on a twin Instagrams the. The both the social meeds at at ******** pod. You can find us on the web at behindthebastards.com. I have another podcast called it could happen here, which is about what if? A civil war? But in America? And it's also a real bummer, like this podcast. So if you like being bummed out, maybe you like it. Let me let me guess. Angelina is running like a Confederate army now. Yes, yes, yes. Angelina Jolie, head of the Neo Confederate forces. Her like, yeah, it's the obvious play. It's the obvious one. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Could you imagine a tabloid headline being like Angelina in charge of the Canadian Army? We're like tabloids. Such lies. Like, also T-shirts T public behind the ********. Design me a go on or I'll kill you. Sure. Yeah, yeah. We need a podcast. Podcast Dictator podcast dictator shirt, Daniel, play me off. I'm not hearing anybody playing me off. I don't know, just fill in your own music in your head and go do something besides listen to this podcast because it's over. Hello, I'm Erica Kelly from the podcast Southern Fried True crime, and if you want to go from podcast fan to podcast host, do what I did and check out spreaker from iheart. I was working in accounting and hating it. Then after just 18 months of podcasting with Spreaker, I was able to quit my day job. Follow your podcasting dreams, let's break or handle the hosting, creation, distribution, and monetization of your podcast. Go to spreaker.com. That's spreaker.com. If you could completely remove one phrase from your vocabulary, which phrase would you choose? I don't know. Correct answer. No, I meant I don't know which phrase, and the best way to banish I don't know from your life is by cramming your brain full of stuff you should know. Join your host, Josh and Chuck on the Super Popular podcast packed with fascinating discussions on science, history, pop culture and more episodes that ask, was the lost city of Atlantis Real? I don't know. Is birth order important? I don't know. 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