PARIS, Dec 17 (AFP) – Veteran French lawyer Jacques Verges – a 79 year-old iconoclast with half a century of experience defending unpopular causes – confirmed on Wednesday that he was willing to act for captured Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein when he comes to trial.
Speaking to AFP before leaving by plane for Jordan, Verges said he has already been asked to act for Iraq’s former vice-premier Tareq Aziz and that he was also ready to defend Saddam Hussein.
He said he was to meet members of Aziz’s family in Amman. Aziz gave himself up to the US army in April and is believed to be in detention at Baghdad airport.
Aziz’s eldest son, Ziad Aziz, confirmed in Amman that Verges had been hired to take on his father’s case. “I have asked Mr Verges, who is a longstanding friend, to defend my father.”
Ziad Aziz, who fled to Jordan in April along with his mother, brother, sister and their families, said that he would be at the airport in Amman to greet the controversial lawyer on his arrival Wednesday evening.
Ziad Aziz indicated that he did not believe Verges would visit Iraq in the near future to meet his new client or the former Iraqi dictator, saying a trip was not possible “in the current circumstances”.
He added that he had no letters from father, carried by International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), since October 22.
A quintessential devil’s advocate who has made a career of arguing what most choose not to hear, Verges defended Gestapo chief Klaus Barbie – whose 1987 trial brought France face-to-face with its ambiguous wartime past – and convicted terrorist Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, commonly known as Carlos.
More recently he became vice-president of the International Committee to Defend Slobodan Milosevic and represented the former Yugoslav leader in a suit before the European Court of Human Rights.
Born in Thailand in 1925 of a French father and a Vietnamese mother, Verges grew up on the French Indian Ocean island of Reunion, where his experiences of racist discrimination contributed to his fierce anti-colonialism.
During World War II he went to Britain to join the Free French of General Charles de Gaulle. But afterwards, when France resorted to force to retain its colonial empire, he joined the French Communist Party (PCF) and became a radical student leader at law school.
Among his associates in Paris in the late 1940s was the future Cambodian leader Pol Pot, later to be accused of genocidal mass murder as the head of the Khmer Rouge.
After leaving the PCF because of its failure to take a stand against the Algerian war, Verges made his name by defending men and women accused of acts of terrorism against France. In 1962 he married one of his clients, Djamila Bouhired, who had been jailed for planting bombs in cafes in Algiers.
In 1970 Verges disappeared for eight years and what he did during that period has never been explained. According to one theory, he was with Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. Verges himself says he “passed through to the other side of the mirror”.
“It was my time in the shadows,” he has said.
On his return he became the champion of extremists from both left and right. He was an advocate of Palestinian violence against the “imperialism” of Israel but he also defended neo-Nazi bombers and leapt at the chance to expose what he saw as establishment hypocrisy in the Barbie trial.
Most of his defendants lost their trials – including Barbie and Carlos – but Verges’s flair was in courtroom provocation, attacking the prosecution and maximising the publicity of his defendants’ cause.
Recently he has acted on behalf of a governor of the island of Corsica accused of arson, a leading member of President Jacques Chirac’s political party accused of illegal fund-raising and a Moroccan-born gardener – Omar Raddad – accused of murdering his employer.
Subject: France news