Donald Trump lauded former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein on Tuesday for efficiently killing terrorists despite the U.S. listing Iraq as a state sponsor of terrorism during his rule.
Trump described Hussein as a "really bad guy" while hailing the former dictator for how "well" he dealt with terrorist groups.
"He killed terrorists. He did that so good," Trump said during a campaign rally in Raleigh, N.C. "They didn’t read them the rights. They didn’t talk. They were terrorists. Over. Today, Iraq is Harvard for terrorism. You want to be a terrorist, you go to Iraq."
Iraq under Hussein’s leadership was one of seven nations the State Department listed as a state sponsor of terrorism. The brutal dictator propped up extremist groups, including Abu Nidal and the Palestine Liberation Front, by providing headquarters, bases, training, arms, and other assistance to terrorists.
Hussein’s government in 2001 offered $25,000 to family members of Palestinian suicide bombers who conducted attacks against Israelis while maintaining a list of more than 40 volunteers who were part of the "Martyrdom Project," whose goals included "liberating" Jerusalem from the Jewish state, according to a Pentagon-sponsored report released in 2008.
The report details Hussein’s collaboration with an array of terrorist groups both inside and outside of Iraq while he was in power.
Trump, who supported the Iraq War during its inception, said again Tuesday that the U.S. "shouldn’t have destabilized" Iraq by toppling Hussein.
Hillary Clinton’s campaign quickly condemned the comments.
"Donald Trump’s praise for brutal strongmen seemingly knows no bounds," senior policy adviser Jake Sullivan said, noting Trump’s past praise for Russia’s Vladimir Putin and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.
"Trump’s cavalier compliments for brutal dictators, and the twisted lessons he seems to have learned from their history, again demonstrate how dangerous he would be as commander-in-chief and how unworthy he is of the office he seeks," Sullivan added.
During a campaign stop in December, Trump justified Hussein’s use of poison gas against Iraq’s Kurds while lauding the dictator’s handling of terrorists.
"Saddam Hussein throws a little gas, everyone goes crazy, ‘oh he’s using gas!’" Trump said in South Carolina, arguing that the dictator maintained stability in Iraq.
Hussein became notorious for his violent methods of repression to stay in power. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) said Tuesday night on Fox News that Hussein "was one of the 20th century’s most evil people" when asked about Trump’s comments.
Trump told CNN in March that Iraq would be better off with Hussein in power, echoing his statements Tuesday that the former Iraqi leader was effective at killing terrorists.
Trump previously rebuked U.S. involvement in the Middle East last year, saying that the world would be "100 percent" better if Hussein and former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi were still in power.