The Devil's Advocate

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Jacques Verges, nicknamed "the Devil's advocate" for his clever defense arguments, is the 80-year-old lawyer who volunteered to defend Saddam Hussein. Among his former clients are some notorious war criminals, including Klaus Barbie, the Gestapo chief in France during World War II, and Carlos the Jackal, a terrorist responsible for the raid on the OPEC headquarters in 1975. Saddam Hussein's record boasts the invasion of two neighboring states, the massacre of thousands of his own citizens, and the use of weapons of mass destruction. Nevertheless, to Verges, the severity of the accusations does not deter his willingness to defend the former Iraqi dictator. Born in Thailand in 1925 to a French father and Vietnamese mother, Verges was raised on the French colonial island of Reunion. In 1942, he enlisted with the French Free Forces under Charles de Gaulle. After the war, he studied law at Sorbonne and joined the French Communist Party.

Returning to France after leading a communist youth group in Prague for four years, Verges took on the most controversial cases, defending many accused of terrorism against the French government during a period when the French were suppressing a rebellion in Algiers in an attempt to maintain their colonial hold. His reason for defending these clients was that Verges believes that the armed struggle of the Algerians was no different from that of the French resistance against the Nazis. He also broke with the French Communist Party during that time because of its political move towards the French Fourth Republic, the name for the French regime at the time.



Verges became nationally known after his defense of Djamila Bouhired, an anti-French Algerian guerilla whom he married after she was released from prison. Verges was also sentenced to 60 days in prison and had his license to practice law revoked in 1960 for breaking anti-state activity laws. Nevertheless, after his prison sentence, he continued to defend those who were accused of committing acts of terrorism against the French government and eventually began to represent Palestinians charged with terrorism against Israel.

Although Verges does not win frequently, he continues to defend criminals accused of heinous crimes because of this principle: Everyone has the right to equal treatment before the law. The reaction to the crimes that his clients have committed is often one of lynch mob hysteria, and Verges sees his place in between the "mob" and his client. "You know, I am against lynching, and lynching is a tendency of the people," says Verges. "And my pride is, when a lynching is in preparation, to stand between the so-called criminal and the lynchers." Doing so has not made him very popular, and he has been criticized for not siding with the victims. In an interview on 60 Minutes, he was asked if he saw a problem with defending a man who has been accused by many of his own people of killing nearly 300,000 people.

"That is a number which surprise me. Well, I know that 500,000 children died in Iraq because of the embargo," replied Verges. The tactic that Verges uses often is to accuse the accusers by pointing out their indirect involvement in the crimes of his clients or that they have committed crimes of equal weight in the past. In the case of Saddam Hussein, he will most likely direct attention to the United States, which he sees as an imperialist state, and its involvement in supplying weapons for and encouraging Iraq's invasion of Iran.


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