That was before Washington made the decision to overthrow Syria's legitimate government ("regime" in DC talk) as the first step in attacking Iran.
But Damascus was no worse a human rights abuser than Cairo, Amman, Rabat and Riyadh, all US vassals.
While looking at the current western hate campaigns against Syria and Iran, keep in mind the history of the modern Mideast. We are again seeing the 1914 era lies from London about Belgian babies speared on German bayonets.
Any Arab or Iranian leader who sought an independent policy or refused the tutelage of London and then Washington was de-legitimized, excoriated, and demonized. Remember the Iranian leader Mohammed Mossadegh overthrown in a CIA coup? The renowned Egyptian leader, Gamal Abdel Nasser, whom the British branded 'Hitler on the Nile?' Or the late, murdered Libyan Muammar Khadaffi, called "Mad Dog of the Mideast" by President Ronald Reagan? Imam Khomeini of Iran and President Ahmadinejad, both favored targets of western media invective, and both compared to the much overused Hitler. Saddam Hussein, the "Butcher of Baghdad," and that modern Dr Fu Manchu, Osama bin Laden, the all-time favorite Muslim arch villain.
Of course, there's nothing new in this nasty name-calling. During the Victorian Era, Britain's press demonized arch villains like "the Mad Mullah," the Mahdi, the Fakir of Ipi, and Nana Sahib of the 1857 Indian uprising against British imperial rule.
Bashar al-Assad was a mild-mannered ophthalmologist living in London with his British-born wife. When his rash elder brother Basil was killed in a car crash, Bashar was compelled to return to Syria and become the nominal political leader after the death of his very tough, ruthless father, Hafez al-Assad. Bashar's main role was mediating between powerful factions in Damascus and trying to modernize his nation.
In 2011, the US, Britain, Israel and Saudi Arabia ignited an uprising in Syria using often fanatical jihadists. The shy, retiring Bashar was forced to become war leader in a bloody civil conflict as his nation disintegrated.
President Trump, whose B-52 bombers are ravaging the Mideast, Afghanistan, Somalia and Yemen calls al-Assad a "monster." Some of his relatives are indeed ruthless. But very many Syrians think of Assad as their nation's only hope of returning to normalcy.