His reputation precedes him. Many of us know Bashar Al-Assad by repute as the ruthless dictator of Syria mercilessly bombing his own people in order to hold onto power. We have also heard that he was responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of his own people, many of whom were also tortured.
We know of this reputation thanks to our news media, and organisations like Amnesty International.
Something else we know, however – and not just as hearsay – is that Assad was shown to have the support of that overwhelming majority of Syrian people who re-elected him as their president in 2014.
Why would people vote for someone who was committing mass murder and human rights violations against them? They surely knew he was doing this? (We did, and, like Amnesty International, we were not even there! We knew thanks to BBC, CNN, Channel 4, Al Jazeera, and the other leading news outlets.)
Millions of people were displaced by the destruction of infrastructure and life in Syria, and most of those who had become refugees will not have voted in the election. Yet an inference I am ready to draw from the vote is that the people remaining – who will include friends, colleagues, family, and all kinds of associates of those displaced – evidently did not lay blame for the wreckage of life in their country on Assad. This is hard to square with the assumptions we have been led to accept.
If there was extra-judicial killing and torture in Syrian detention centres, then the 88.7% of Syrian people who re-elected their President evidently did not feel any brutal attentions were directed against them, or against anyone they were fond of. There must have been some very unpopular people among the other 11.3%. Fighters for Al Nusra/ Al Qaeda, ISIS/ The Muslim Brotherhood could fit the description of being unpopular.
If the Syrian security forces have in fact treated armed enemies of the secular state unlawfully, they should certainly be held to account for it, and so should their commander-in-chief if he authorised it.
I do not know if he did. I know that the likes of CNN have not accounted for any claims to know what exact orders Assad did or did not give to anyone.
On the other hand, they do have plenty of knowledge of who was providing support to the terrorist fighters, even if they tend to be reluctant to share it. Partly because a lot of what they get from key sources is off the record. However, leaks happen. John Kerry, the US Secretary of State during the period of the war on Syria has apparently been audio-taped giving an admirably clear overview of the situation.
So that is one more thing we know. Major international powers found Assad insufficiently biddable, and wanted him out of their way.
No matter, it seems, at what human cost?
What do we know about Bashar Al-Assad? Since I cannot speak for anyone else, I simply commend the question to you. (The internet is not short of interviews and other material to help learn more.)
But let there be no dispute about this moral principle: those who use their power to cause death and suffering to many thousands of innocent people should be called to account for the egregious harms they have done.
 Yet, in fact, for all the times this as been repeated, it has yet to be established on the basis of verified evidence, as I discussed in my previous blog, ‘How We Misled About Syria: Amnesty International’.
 Our news media and Amnesty International all but ignored this fact. I only learned it lately. I suspect it is not widely known outside Syria. There may even be readers who are hearing it here for the first time! To check some news items that did record the event see the sources in note  in my previous blog.
 The position of the Syrian Kurds in relation to Assad’s government is worth mentioning in this context. Their leader Saleh Muslim is quoted as saying that while they would prefer a different leader, the bigger issue is that “if the regime collapses because of the salafis [fundamentalist Islamic militants] it would be a disaster for everyone.” http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/syria-civil-war-kurdish-leader-says-collapse-of-assad-regime-would-be-a-disaster-despite-its-10515922.html