Devil or wily lawyer - Cannes film looks at Jacques Verges
May 19, 2007 - 10:20:30 AM
Cannes May 19, - The screening of Barbet Schroeder's film Terror's Advocate at the 60th Cannes Film Festival left viewers pondering whether the highly-controversial subject of this documentary was the devil incarnate.
In the film Schroeder explores the mystery of defence attorney Jacques Verges in a series of penetrating interviews with his former clients including former Cambodian ruler Pol Pot, top dog of the Khmer Rouge and responsible for the deaths of 1.5 million Cambodians, and international terrorist Ilyich Ramirez Sanchez better known as Carlos The Jackal.
Is Verges a brilliant legal mind crusading against colonialism or is he simply an amoral fast-talker who can come up with amazing justifications for monsters like Klaus Barbie, the Gestapo chief responsible for the deaths of more than 4,000 Jews in World War II?
Asked at one point if he would defend Adolf Hitler, Verges replied that he would even defend US President George W. Bush.
Born of a Vietnamese mother and a French father, Verges said watching the humiliation of people of colour was a defining moment of his childhood. He became an anti-colonialist and found in the courtroom the best stage for voicing his resistance.
His legal career began with Algeria's war of independence, with which he sympathised, and the defence of Djamila Bouhired, an activist who embodied the Algerian struggle against France. She was sentenced to death for two bomb attacks on cafes.
Luckily for her, Verges secured her release.
At the peak of his career and after marrying Bouhired, he vanished for eight years only to return in 1987 as a defender of terrorists Magdelena Kopp of the Red Army Faction terrorist group. He was the first European arrested and condemned for pro-Palestinian terrorist activities.
But where had Verges been? According to rumour, he was an advisor to Pol Pot, whom he met as a student at the Sorbonne while several other sources interviewed, suggested Verges acted as an agent for Moscow in the former communist East Germany. Neither rumour has been confirmed.
When Maurice Sine, a friend and political cartoonist also interviewed in the film, asked why he was willing to defend Barbie, Verges said that as his trial essentially focussed on crimes against humanity, it offered a means of drawing attention to France's crimes against humanity in Algeria.
It was his legal duty to do all in his power to defend all his clients, Verges added.
The Oscar-nominated Schroeder, who lives in the US, has directed numerous including the 1987 Barfly starring Mickey Rourke, and Single White Female in 1992 and Murder by Numbers in 2002.
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