French lawyer Jacques Verges has made a name for himself defending some of the world's most notorious figures, including Carlos the Jackal and Slobodan Milosevic. His next client is Saddam Hussein.
Verges' client list reads like a rogues' gallery.
Jacques Verges has made a career of courting controversy. With a long list of notorious clients running the gamut from dictators, despots, Nazi war criminals and terrorists, the
79-year-old Paris-based lawyer once even famously admitted that he would have liked to have defended Adolf Hitler.
In the eyes of many, Verges is now enlarging his rogues gallery by defending former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein (photo), who the Americans captured last December. The case is widely expected to be the crowing of Verges' controversial legal career.
Verges says the request to defend Hussein came from the former dictator's nephew, Ali Barzan al-Takriti. The lawyer will also defend former Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz.
It still remains unclear what charges Saddam will face and where the trial will take place, but Verges is already preparing the groundwork. He says he plans to highlight America's role in the nerve gas attacks in Kurdish villages in northern Iraq in the 1980s during the trial, emphasizing the fact that the U.S. sold the deadly chemicals to Iraq during President Ronald Reagan's term.
Verges, who has been in the headlines for defending Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie, Venezuelan terrorist Carlos the Jackal, confessed serial killer Charles Sobhraj and former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic, among others, says he has no qualms about making the case for leaders with obvious blood on their hands.
"The graver the accusations are, the more the accused has the right to a defense," Verges told Germany's Financial Times Deutschland on Monday.
A passion for revolutionary causes
Born in Thailand to a French father and a Vietnamese mother, Verges grew up on the French island of La Réunion, located in the Indian Ocean, where he developed fiercely anti-colonial views. When German troops occupied France during the Second World War, Verges left La Réunion to join the exile group led by General Charles de Gaulle and fight the Nazis.
He later became a communist while studying law at the Sorbonne University in Paris. It was there he became involved with a left-wing student group fighting for the liberation of the French colonies in Indochina and North Africa. During his time at the Sorbonne, Verges also became close friends with the communications engineering student who later became the Cambodian despot Pol Pot.
At the height of the Algerian war of independence in the late 1950s, Verges, a young lawyer by now, began to defend Algerians accused of planting bombs in cafes in Paris and Algiers. He took up the case of 20-year-old Algerian bomber Djamila Bouhired. Verges got her death sentence repealed, secured her release, married her and converted to Islam.
In the 1960s, Verges, who had by now acquired a formidable reputation as a fearless and provocative lawyer, was temporarily banned from practicing by the French authorities, who thought he posed a security threat. Verges then went to Morocco, where he worked as a government aide and masterminded weapons deliveries for revolutionary groups to Angola, Mozambique and South Africa. He founded a revolutionary magazine, visited Chinese leader Mao Zedong, and defended the first Palestinian airplane hijackers.
Barbie's defense riles France
After a disappearance of some years, Verges reappeared in 1978 and threw himself into legal work. But the man who had until now become a champion for left-wing extremists began to defend people of all political hues provided the case was controversial enough.
In the 1980s, Verges sparked a wave of anger in France when he agreed to take on Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie (photo) as his client. As Gestapo chief in Lyon during the Second World War, Barbie had ordered the deportation of thousands of Jewish children to the Auschwitz concentration camp as well as masterminded torture and shootings.
"Defending until the last"
At 79, Verges has shown few signs of slowing down. The star lawyer still employs unusually old-fashioned methods of working -- he owns neither a car nor a mobile phone and doesn't work with a computer.
With a penchant for collecting valuable chess sets and lavish gifts from grateful clients, France's most famous and controversial lawyer is clear that the legal profession is his life's calling.
"A real writer must write until the last second," he said, "and a passionate lawyer must defend until the last moment."