- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 14, 2003

BAGHDAD — The family of Tariq Aziz has approached a celebrated French defense attorney nicknamed the “devil’s advocate” to defend the former Iraqi deputy prime minister before a proposed war crimes tribunal in Baghdad.

Mr. Aziz’s daughter, Zeinab, wants Jacques Verges, who has defended the international terrorist Carlos the Jackal and the Gestapo officer Klaus Barbie, to represent her father when he is tried for his role in Saddam Hussein’s regime.

Her move follows last week’s announcement the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council has established a war crimes tribunal to prosecute hundreds of former Saddam associates for genocide and crimes against humanity.

Council members vowed yesterday to see that Saddam, captured Saturday, is tried before the same tribunal.

In an interview with the Sunday Telegraph, Zeinab Aziz castigated the new tribunal as “victors’ justice” and said it would deny her 67-year-old father the chance of a fair hearing.

“What is his crime?” she asked. “Serving his country as well as he could? If he ever killed anybody, we would know about it. False information was spread about my father by people exiled from Iraq. These new trials are supposed to be just and free from vengeance, but it seems that some people will decide the verdict beforehand.”

Mr. Verges, a former French Resistance fighter who later campaigned against colonialism, is renowned in France for the vigor with which he defends clients with blackened reputations — including the former Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic. The lawyer once declared: “To defend Satan would be the proudest moment of my career.”

Mr. Verges was unavailable for comment over the weekend, but his staff did not deny he had been contacted about Mr. Aziz.

For more than two decades, Mr. Aziz was Saddam’s envoy to the world, cultivating an urbane image with a taste for fine wine and Cuban cigars.

His daughter said: “He was just a spokesman for Saddam, and was trying to serve the country when it was in a very bad situation. If he had refused to do his job, he would have been killed like anybody else.

“Some of the others did horrible things to the Iraqi people and they should be put on trial. But all the world knows the difference between my father and them.”

Although the British government has identified Mr. Aziz as a definite candidate for trial, many ordinary Iraqis believe he should be released. “Many people here think of Aziz as a decent man; he wasn’t like the others,” said Sabah Kadom, a security consultant.

Miss Aziz claimed that her family was also victimized by the regime. “We were as afraid of Saddam as anybody: My brother Ziad was put in jail when he fell out with Saddam’s family. My father was not the kind of person who asked for favors.”

The image of Mr. Aziz as a harmless functionary is disputed by Ann Clwyd, British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s special envoy on human rights to Iraq.

She says it is “essential” that he stand trial for involvement in crimes such as gassing the Kurds and the taking of British hostages during the first Gulf war.

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