Jacques Verges passed away in Paris in a house where Voltaire once lived last week.
After securing the release of Algerian anti-colonialist militant Djamila Bouhired, he married her. They had two children and then he disappeared for eight years. No one knew where he went and to the day he died he never revealed his whereabouts. Verges' life story reads like a novel, but there is one chapter that he prefers to leave unopened: from 1970 until 1978, when he disappeared. He referred to this period as the dark side of his life.
Among the more persistent theories are suggestions that he fostered ties with Palestinian militants, that he passed through Congo – or that he lived in Khmer Rouge Cambodia.
Verges once said 'he passed through to the other side of the mirror.'
For whatever reason on his return he was a changed man. As an attorney he became the champion of extremists from both left and right.
He made headlines around the world thanks to a client list that included some of the most infamous names of modern times: Klaus Barbie, the Nazi 'Butcher of Lyon',
Carlos the Jackal who's still in a French prison,
His long-time friend, Cambodia's former communist head of state Khieu Samphan, a cohort of Pol Pot during the 1975-1979 Khmer rule,
Former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic who appeared before the UN war rimes tribunal in The Hague
Even the French Holocaust denier Roger Garaudy.
Most of his clients lost their cases but Verges' flair was in courtroom provocation, attacking the prosecution and maximizing the publicity of his defendants' cause. Once asked how he could defend Saddam Hussein, after he said he was prepared to represent the Iraqi dictator, Verges replied: "Defending Saddam is not a lost cause. It's defending (then US president George W.) Bush that is the lost cause."
Verges, a lover of thick Robusto cigars and author of some 20 books, starred in his own play in France, called Serial Defender.
In a newspaper interview in Germany years ago, Verges caused a storm when he said "I would have defended Hitler."
You could say everyone deserves the right to a defense in court, that someone needs to do the job of defending people like this, you could say Verges was a unique product of a unique time or a witness and participant in a history we'll never see again. But one can also ask what happened to Verges in those lost years.
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