Trump praises Saddam Hussein’s efficient killing of ‘terrorists,’ calls today’s Iraq ‘Harvard for terrorism’

Updated 5:03 PM EDT, Wed July 6, 2016
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Story highlights

"But you know what? He did well? He killed terrorists," Donald Trump said

(CNN) —  

Donald Trump on Tuesday once again expressed his preference for keeping dictators in power in the Middle East.

While acknowledging that Saddam Hussein “was a bad guy,” Trump praised the former Iraqi dictator’s efficient killing of “terrorists” – despite the fact that Iraq was listed as a state sponsor of terrorism during Hussein’s time in power.

Trump, who supported the Iraq War before the invasion and in the early months of the war, said the U.S. “shouldn’t have destabilized” Iraq before pivoting to praising Hussein.

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“He was a bad guy – really bad guy. 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 terrorists. Over. Today, Iraq is Harvard for terrorism,” Trump said.

The remarks came during a rally where he was introduced by Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who is a potential running mate for Trump.

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Asked Tuesday night on Fox News about the comments, House Speaker Paul Ryan appeared taken aback by Trump’s words.

“He was one of the 20th century’s most evil people,” Ryan said of the former Iraqi strongman.

The Clinton campaign jumped on the remarks, with senior campaign adviser Jake Sullivan saying “Trump’s praise for brutal strongmen seemingly knows no bounds.”

“Trump yet again lauded Saddam Hussein as a great killer of terrorists, noting with approval that he never bothered to read anyone their rights,” Sullivan said in a statement, after noting Trump has also praised North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

“In reality, Hussein’s regime was a sponsor of terrorism – one that paid families of suicide bombers who attacked Israelis, among other crimes,” he said. “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.”

The presumptive Republican nominee has previously said that Iraq and Libya – two countries that have become ISIS strongholds – would be better off if Hussein and Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi were still alive and in power in their respective countries.

Trump has also previously praised Hussein’s prowess at killing terrorists.

Hussein was notoriously effective at suppressing dissent in his country, but he frequently targeted civilians and minority groups while in power, which earned him widespread condemnation from the international community as one of the world’s worst human rights abusers.

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Hussein also financed and supported terrorism around the world.

CNN’s Theodore Schleifer and Dan Merica contributed to this report.