The Devil's Advocate
by Thomas Katsampes

November 19, 2007

Khieu Samphan was head of state of Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge genocide. Clearly there is no question that great evil was committed by this government with this man at its head. Neither am I disputing the fact that even human monsters are by law entitled to legal representation. However, does it follow that any lawyer has a moral obligation to defend them? Jacques Verges has agreed to defend Khieu Samphan. Verges' rather notorious list of clients includes Klaus Barbie:
A dedicated sadist, responsible for many individual atrocities, including the capture and deportation to Auschwitz of forty-four Jewish children hidden in the village of Izieu, Klaus Barbie owed his postwar notoriety primarily to one of his 'cases', the arrest and torture unto death of Jean Moulin, one of the highest ranking member of the French Resistance. Jean Moulin was mercilessly tortured by Klaus Barbie and his men. Hot needles where shoved under his fingernails. His fingers were forced through the narrow space between the hinges of a door and a wall and then the door was repeatedly slammed until the knuckles broke. Screw-levered handcuffs were placed on Moulin and tightened until they bit through his flesh and broke through the bones of his wrists. He would not talk. He was whipped. He was beaten until his face was an unrecognizable pulp. A fellow prisoner, Christian Pineau, later described the resistance leader as "unconscious, his eyes dug in as though they had been punched through his head. An ugly blue wound scarred his temple. A mute rattle came out of his swollen lips." Jean Moulin remained in this coma when he was shown to other resistance leaders who were being interrogated at Gestapo headquarters. Barbie had ordered Moulin put on display in an office. His unconscious form sprawled on a chaise lounge. His face was yellow, his breathing heavy, his head swathed in bandages. It was the last time Moulin was seen alive.
This is what Jacques Verges defends. How does one dedicate so much of his life to defending monstrous evils and remain of a morally clear conscience? In Robert Bolt's play A Man for All Seasons, Roper asks Sir Thomas More to arrest Richard Rich for "spying" even though there is no proof that Rich broke the law. The dialogue that follows is instructive:
More: Go he should, if he were the Devil himself, until he broke the law.

Roper: Now you give the Devil benefit of law!

More: Yes, what would you do? Cut a road through the law to get after the Devil?

Roper: Yes, I'd cut down every law in England to do that!

More: And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws from coast to coast, Man's laws, not God's, and if you cut them down - and you're just the man to do it - do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes! I give the Devil benefit of law for my own safety's sake.
Would Sir Thomas More have defended Khieu Samphan, Klaus Barbie, or Carlos the Jackal? It is an interesting hypothetical.
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