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Terror's Advocate
May 9, 2008 3:36 AM   Subscribe

If you’ve been arrested by the police and the lawyer you choose to call is Jacques Vergès then you’ve probably done something bad. Very bad. There’s a film out about his extraordinary career and his strange 8 year disappearance.
posted by Brian Lux (33 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
People ask if I would defend Hitler. I'd even defend Bush, but only if he agrees to plead guilty.
posted by farishta at 3:46 AM on May 9, 2008 [4 favorites]


This is interesting, and could be used as an example of why I distrust lawyers.
posted by Vindaloo at 6:09 AM on May 9, 2008


Y'know, it always gets me when people get down on lawyers. Yeah, some are sleazebags, but so are some plumbers.

Point is, in an adversarial justice system, a zealous defence is essential to ensuring that--as often as possible--only the right people end up in jail. Just looking at cases from here in Canada--Guy Paul Morin, David Milgaard, etc etc--if there hadn't been a zealous defence lawyer fighting the good fight, innocent men and women would still be in jail. Defence lawyers--okay, okay, non-sleazy defence lawyers--are on the side of the angels.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 6:34 AM on May 9, 2008 [2 favorites]


Vergès' most (in)famous clients have been terrorists, Nazis and deposed dictators (or their henchmen) and he's always been very talkative about defending them (or marrying them...), on the rhetorical basis that whatever his clients had done, someone else (colonial powers, Israel, imperialists, allied forces in WWII etc.) had done worse and got away with it. However his real bread and butter come from current dictators - he sued Amnesty International on behalf of a few of them - and that's something he doesn't talk much about. They pay for the fine wine and cigars after all.
I saw him at a book signing a couple of years ago. It was a very public event, with perhaps 50 authors, many of them TV celebrities that had long lines of people waiting for an autograph. Vergès was standing all alone at his table, his trademark "evil" charm turned off, glaring haughtily across the room and otherwise looking formidably fit for a wine-drinking, cigar-smoking 81-year old. I couldn't bring myself to talk to him though, even in such banal circumstances he was a scary piece of work.
posted by elgilito at 6:40 AM on May 9, 2008 [2 favorites]


I agree with dirtynumbangelboy. We only pay lawyers because we want them to express our version of the truth because if we represented ourselves we'd look stupid or like an obssessive nut. However, if Jacques Vergès was my lawyer I'd guess my case was probably doomed.
posted by Brian Lux at 6:51 AM on May 9, 2008


Coincidently, I got this movie from Netflix last week and after watching it, rated it one star. It's nothing more than a self-serving propaganda piece for a guy who was basically a spokester for 1970's terrorists and present-day asshats. I guess there's a fine line between being an idealist and an apologist, with a little lawyering in between.
posted by jsavimbi at 7:00 AM on May 9, 2008


Oh don't get me wrong, it seems pretty clear that this guy isn't someone you'd want over for a nice dinner. (An interesting dinner, on the other hand...)

I guess what I'm saying is that even though he may well be an apologist for every tinpot dictator and crazy-eyed idealist with a stick of dynamite, the job function he serves is very, very important, and it's essential that a zealous defence is available to everyone, regardless of what they've done.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 7:20 AM on May 9, 2008


the job function he serves

Did you watch the film? I think you're laboring along the line that he's a lawyer who just happens to have terrorists as clients, along with the occasional tabloid case (Barbie, Sobhraj) and the actual bill-paying clients he picks up in Africa.

My view is that he's a terrorist who happens to be a lawyer. Whether he materially participated in the crimes or not is irrelevant. He headed up their legal wing and was smart enough not to get caught at it.
posted by jsavimbi at 7:37 AM on May 9, 2008


No I haven't. You're also quite deliberately missing my point, which is sort of par for the course around here, I guess.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 7:51 AM on May 9, 2008


You can't ask that only the obviously innocent be defended. That would turn our trial-based justice system into a farce.
posted by dosterm at 8:30 AM on May 9, 2008


You're also quite deliberately missing my point, which is sort of par for the course around here, I guess.


From someone who finds your comments worth reading -dirtynumbangelboy- a plea! Don't start this derail again!!

Re-clarify your point.
posted by Jody Tresidder at 8:30 AM on May 9, 2008


Not that it isn't a farce sometimes already, but that's for other reasons.
posted by dosterm at 8:30 AM on May 9, 2008


Vindaloo: This is interesting, and could be used as an example of why I distrust lawyers.

This is interesting, and could be used as an example of why I distrust comments from people who clearly haven't read the links.
posted by Viomeda at 8:40 AM on May 9, 2008


Fascinating man. I'd heard of him and the movie before, but without any real background. I didn't realize that he was involved in the French-Algerian war. That's more interesting that a simple (self-promoting) principled lawyer who believe all defendants deserve a proper defense. I'm not much of a Schroeder fan, tho ... at all. ;)
posted by mrgrimm at 8:43 AM on May 9, 2008


Particularly the "very bad" link is, well, very good. Thanks for this, Brian Lux. I found his life very interesting, and he sounds like the sort of man I'd like to know. I was impressed by this very decent, and unfortunately very rare at the time, reaction to the Algerian situation right after the war:

I was still in the Resistance and I was terribly shocked. I didn't understand how they [the Resistance] could fight Hitler then turn around and do that. Two years later there was a similar repression in Madagascar. The Nuremburg trials were taking place at the time. I simply could not understand how nations could hold these trials so that the sort of thing the Germans did would never happen again. It was clear that the victorious colonial nations were doing exactly what the Germans had done in France.

I wouldn't quite go so far as saying it was exactly what the Germans had done in France - the European left has always made the mistake of seeing the world in terms of fascism - but it was very bad. Very, very bad. And, moreover, it was right for Verges to take France to task for letting this be during the trial of Klaus Barbie.

One might notice from all this the interesting thing about law: one can defend a clearly terrible person in a way that is beneficial to society. There is no higher achievement for a lawyer; in fact, this kind of legal excellence is rarely understood by the rest of us, since we're used to seeing these things simply and assuming that defending monsters is an inherently evil thing to do.
posted by Viomeda at 8:47 AM on May 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


I use him whenever I get arrested for a moving violation.

Of course, my kind of traffic infractions are the sort of thing that generally get people thrown in front of the Hague, so him being there makes sense.
posted by quin at 8:52 AM on May 9, 2008


To take up a bit of the torch here on a point that's somehow getting misunderstood:

This pervasive societal backlash against defense lawyers points to a tendency we all have towards judgment before trial. A sort of group condemnation through media. This is natural, because we all know Osama bin Laden is guilty. Who needs a trial, when it's obviously just a waste of time? What kind of sick person would defend these monsters?

The problem with directing anger towards those who defend the supposedly undefendable is that there are demonstrable situations in which the prevailing judgment of society has been unjust. Institutionalized persecution of the innocent has been a problem since we started trying out this "government" thing.

Our defense against this is a rigidly followed justice system in which everyone, no matter how terrible we prejudge them to be, deserves what dirtynumbangelboy calls a "zealous" defense. Why zealous? Otherwise, the government could assign you a lawyer who doesn't give a shit about you.

These are amazing provisions. Having this notion of justice means that we defend even our most loathed members of society. It means everyone can hate you and want you dead but they still must prove that you committed a crime in order to touch you at all. It means the government cannot come to your home at night and kill you. You cannot simply be judged for acting against society's current will. You have to be judged against our written law.

These defense lawyers do the dirty work to ensure that this system endures. They may be terrible people with no redeeming qualities other than being the only people who want to defend Osama bin Laden. But as a society, we have to defend even him. Why? Because before that defense, we could have been wrong. We don't know guilt until it is proven in the trial. If you take that away, the rest of it is meaningless.
posted by dosterm at 9:02 AM on May 9, 2008 [10 favorites]


No I haven't. You're also quite deliberately missing my point, which is sort of par for the course around here, I guess.

Yes, you're advocating that everyone deserves the best lawyer available, one who will ensure that the innocent don't receive unjust treatment and punishment. I, for one, did not miss that point.

What I was trying to point out to you, in relation to the content of the post, was that the individual in question, Verges, was not simply a lawyer who clientèle included some notorious figures. He was an equal partner in those terrorist organizations that he defended in the courtroom and he used the legal system and the press to further the aims of said groups.

His real client wasn't the individual accused in court, it was communism in its attempt to subvert the West. I'm not sure that I'd want to be represented in court by a person who stood to gain from my imprisonment.

I suggest giving the movie a watch.
posted by jsavimbi at 9:35 AM on May 9, 2008


I don't think I can get any clearer than what I have already said. jsavimbi, try reading it again, ok?
Oh don't get me wrong, it seems pretty clear that this guy isn't someone you'd want over for a nice dinner. (An interesting dinner, on the other hand...)

I guess what I'm saying is that even though he may well be an apologist for every tinpot dictator and crazy-eyed idealist with a stick of dynamite, the job function he serves is very, very important, and it's essential that a zealous defence is available to everyone, regardless of what they've done.
Yeah, so he's a douche. He may well be evil. But what he does in a courtroom, whether or not it's advancing his own interests, is essential to society.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 11:01 AM on May 9, 2008


I don't think I can get any clearer than what I have already said. jsavimbi, try reading it again, ok?

I thought this post was about the movie and any following commentary would be made within the constraints of having watched, processed and understood the content in order to formulate an intelligent opinion on the subject.

I was wrong.

Please disregard what I've said before and return to gleaning over random post and inserting opinionated fact, which may or may not have any relevance to the post, in the commentary.
posted by jsavimbi at 11:16 AM on May 9, 2008


Great. I saw a trailer for this documentary last year (before I watched some other documentary in a theater). I have a feeling that now this DVD is going to take forever to get from me on my Netflix account.
posted by jabberjaw at 11:20 AM on May 9, 2008


jsavimbi, do you really question that this guy is controversial, not merely because he is not a good guy, but because people explicitly questiong the morality of AT ALL defending his clients? That idea is what dirtynumbangelboy is reacting to. His comments are not irrelevant. (Or unintelligent, or random).
posted by prefpara at 11:22 AM on May 9, 2008


UM. Questiong = question in my dialect (typo-ese).
posted by prefpara at 11:23 AM on May 9, 2008


but because people explicitly questiong the morality of AT ALL defending his clients? That idea is what dirtynumbangelboy is reacting to.

Thank you, prefpara. My responses were sparked by the early comment about not trusting lawyers. Discussion is an organic thing around these parts, but apparently some people would prefer to dictate what is discussed, and then insult people when they forget to take their telepathy pills.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 11:41 AM on May 9, 2008


jsavimbi, do you really question that this guy is controversial, not merely because he is not a good guy, but because people explicitly questioing the morality of AT ALL defending his clients?

There is no question that Verges is controversial. None at all, as he has sought to (attention-whored) place himself in that light, at least from the perspective of the West. In regards to the "defending his clients" meme, had you seen the movie, you would've realized what he was really about. Defending his clients, as individuals, was not his main function. He made that clear, himself, in a recent film about himself.

dirtynumbangelboy and I are talking about two different things. He's on about lawyers and their essential work and myself about Jaques Verges, two different topics in the same thread. Moving along...
posted by jsavimbi at 12:01 PM on May 9, 2008


had you seen the movie, you would've realized...

Had you read my comment, you would've realized that it did not address the content of the movie. It adressed a specific aspect the controversy surrounding Verges.
posted by prefpara at 12:11 PM on May 9, 2008


aspect OF the controversy.

I cannot type today.
posted by prefpara at 12:11 PM on May 9, 2008


I've read your comments, and what I'm trying to convey to you, through telepathy or movie-watching, is that he may not always be fulfilling the judicial function that you're alluding to. I say that based on his on his activities as a communist agitator moonlighting as a lawyer.

Other than the fact that he'll take on the role of defense lawyer to the indefensible, I fail to see any controversy with the guy. He makes it plain and simple what he's about.
posted by jsavimbi at 12:31 PM on May 9, 2008


How does being a communist prevent you from performing the duties of a defense lawyer?
posted by dosterm at 1:46 PM on May 9, 2008


It doesn't, of course, but he can't admit that without going outside the narrow confines of what he has decided This! Conversation! Must! Be! About!
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 2:12 PM on May 9, 2008


From the "very bad" link:

As was reflected by a low win rate so low that he earned the nickname "Monsieur Guillotine," Vergès' priorities in the courtroom had little to do with protecting the freedom of his clients. When he defended his radical clients, he used his well-known "attack the prosecution" method of defense and even if he did not win the case, he would bring attention to his client's and ultimately his own cause.

A good and thorough defense of the accused is a crucial element of the courts, as dnab says, but it appears that Vergès isn't very concerned with that. He's concerned with using high-profile clients to give him a platform to defend his ideas, not their cases.

So, Vergès can be universally hated. If you don't believe that guilty people deserve a defense, you can hate him for being their defense lawyer, and we here at MeFi can all agree that this is a poor reason to hate him. If you believe they deserve a proper defense, you can hate him for (intentionally) doing a piss-poor job of it and exploiting the situation for his own gain. His 'defense' seems to boil down to "yes, my client is very very guilty, but so is France/Israel/etc".
posted by heatherann at 5:50 PM on May 9, 2008


It's that soupçon of self-righteousness that really makes the myopia.
posted by prefpara at 6:28 PM on May 9, 2008


[A few comments removed. If you're going to just snipe back and forth, take it elsewhere.]
posted by cortex at 9:46 PM on May 11, 2008


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