Donald Trump expressed admiration for overthrown Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s skill at killing terrorists during a Tuesday campaign rally in Raleigh, North Carolina.
“Saddam Hussein was a bad guy. Right? He was a bad guy, really bad guy,” Trump offered as a disclaimer. “But you know what he did well? He killed terrorists. He did that so good. They didn’t read them the rights—they didn’t talk, they were a terrorist, it was over.”
Hussein ruled Iraq with an iron fist for over 30 years, suppressing political dissent, overseeing the massacre of specific religious groups, and building a sprawling security apparatus that employed torture against civilians. He also provided facilities and funding for terrorist groups fighting the governments of Iran and Turkey. Hussein is estimated to have killed tens of thousands of Iraqis during his time in power, according to Human Rights Watch.
Despite this dark record, Trump suggested that Hussein deserved praise for managing to keep terrorism at bay in Iraq and that his ouster helped to destabilize the region.
“Today, Iraq is Harvard for terrorism,” he told the crowd in Raleigh. “You want to be a terrorist, you go to Iraq. It’s like Harvard, okay? So sad. So sad, okay? So sad.”
Trump has suggested using extralegal means to combat the threat of terrorist groups like the Islamic State, saying he’d do “a hell of a lot worse” than waterboarding. He said the U.S. “has “no choice” but to be as “vicious” as those who would commit terrorist attacks against the country.
The presumptive GOP nominee has praised Hussein before, and also praised other authoritarian figures who have cracked down on dissent, including Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Shortly after Trump’s rally wrapped, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) said in an interview with Fox News that Hussein was a brutal ruler undeserving of such accolades.
“He was one of the 20th century’s most evil people,” Ryan said. “He was up there. He committed mass genocide against his own people using chemical weapons. Saddam Hussein was a bad guy.”