(WASHINGTON) -- Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's denial of responsibility for ordering a brutal crackdown against Syrian protesters in recent months drew strong rebukes from international organizations and the State Department on Wednesday.
In an exclusive interview with ABC's Barbara Walters, Assad conceded only that some members of his armed forces went too far in their actions, but not at his command.
"Every 'brute reaction' was by an individual, not by an institution, that's what you have to know," Assad told Walters. "There is a difference between having a policy to crack down and between having some mistakes committed by some officials. There is a big difference."
"But you have to give the order," Walters responded in the interview.
"On no one's command," Assad said. "There was no command to kill or be brutal."
Human rights organization Amnesty International on Wednesday disputed the notion that Assad is not responsible for the crackdown by Syrian forces, saying in a statement: "Under Article 103 of the Syrian Constitution [Assad] is supreme commander of the armed forces and should not pretend that he has no responsibility for them and their abuses. If he was serious about wanting the security forces not to shoot at protesters or otherwise commit abuses and crimes he should have been saying so clearly and publicly on Syrian TV to his people and the security forces themselves -- and then taking steps to investigate what he calls their 'mistakes' -- what others perceive to be crimes against humanity -- and to prosecute the perpetrators."
United Nations Secretary-General spokesperson Martin Nesirky agreed, saying: "The Head of State of any country, including Syria, has ultimate responsibility for the protection of the population. And I think that that's quite clear."
The U.N. recently estimated that the death toll in Syria has exceeded 4,000 people.
The State Department also reacted strongly on Wednesday to Assad's interview with Walters, saying the Syrian president appeared, "completely disconnected with reality."
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