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One of My Principles is to Have No Principles

CATEGORY: War Criminals, Prosecution, Law

DIVISION: Modern Evil

EDITORIAL: While one man's evil is another man's sacrament, the moderators in between can only rely on law. In that light, defending dictators, terrorists and war criminals becomes a straight forward job with the added benefit of enormous media profile. And let's face it - you'll very quickly attract the filthiest, richest bastards on the planet. With war never ending, you'll never be out of work.


"There Is No Such Thing as Absolute Evil"

He has met Mao Zedong, Pol Pot and Che Guevara. He defended 'Carlos the Jackal' and Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie. Jacques Vergès, 83, is probably the world's most notorious attorney. His latest client is Khieu Samphan, the former head of state of Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, who is on trial for war crimes.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Vergès, are you attracted to evil?

Jacques Vergès: Nature is wild, unpredictable and senselessly gruesome. What distinguishes human beings from animals is the ability to speak on behalf of evil. Crime is a symbol of our freedom.

SPIEGEL: That's a cynical worldview.

Vergès: A realistic one.

SPIEGEL: You have defended some of the worst mass murderers in recent history, and you have been called the "devil's advocate." Why do you feel so drawn to clients like Carlos and Klaus Barbie?

Vergès: I believe that everyone, no matter what he may have done, has the right to a fair trial. The public is always quick to assign the label of "monster." But monsters do not exist, just as there is no such thing as absolute evil. My clients are human beings, people with two eyes, two hands, a gender and emotions. That's what makes them so sinister.

SPIEGEL: What do you mean?

Vergès: What was so shocking about Hitler the "monster" was that he loved his dog so much and kissed the hands of his secretaries -- as we know from the literature of the Third Reich and the film "Der Untergang" ("Downfall"). The interesting thing about my clients is discovering what brings them to do these horrific things. My ambition is to illuminate the path that led them to commit these acts. A good trial is like a Shakespeare play, a work of art.

SPIEGEL: You are currently on stage at the Madeleine Theater in Paris, as the main character in a one-person play you wrote.

Vergès: It's about me, of course, about the lawyer's profession and the nature of trials. In every trial, a drama unfolds in front of the public, a duel between the defense and the prosecution. Both tell stories that are not necessarily true, but possible. One is declared the victor in the end, but this doesn't necessarily have anything to do with justice.

SPIEGEL: Are there any people whose defense you would not take on out of principle?

Vergès: One of my principles is to have no principles. That's why I would not turn down anyone.

SPIEGEL: Let's say, Adolf Hitler…

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