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French lawyer says he will defend Saddam


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(CNN) -- A French attorney who has represented other notorious figures said Sunday that he will defend ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in any future trial.

Jacques Verges said he received a letter from Saddam's nephew, Ali Barzan al-Tikriti, asking him to take the case. Eleven other lawyers of various nationalities will work with him, Verges said.

"The nephew of Saddam Hussein designated me as the lead lawyer to defend Saddam," Verges said.

He said he is also representing Tariq Aziz, the former deputy prime minister of Iraq.

Among witnesses he plans to call to testify, Verges said, are Western leaders who backed Saddam's government during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s.

It's not the first time Verges has defended a notorious client. In 1987 Verges represented Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie, who was convicted for committing crimes against humanity.

Verges also was a longtime friend of Pol Pot, the infamous Khmer Rouge leader who was the architect of Cambodia's 1975-1979 "killing fields" regime. Pol Pot died in April 1998.

Saddam was captured December 13 near his hometown of Tikrit and has remained in U.S.-led coalition custody in Iraq. U.S. officials have described Saddam as being less than cooperative during interrogations.

"He's turned out a pretty wily guy who seems to be enjoying the give and take with his interlocutors," Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said earlier this month. "He sure thinks he's smarter than everyone else, that's for sure."

In early March, a team of U.S. Justice Department officials traveled to Iraq to start organizing evidence that could be used against Saddam once he goes on trial.

The team includes 50 prosecutors, investigators and administrative staff of various Justice Department entities, including the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration and the U.S. Marshals Service.

The team will assist the Iraqis in trying to sort through any evidence that can be used in war crimes trials against former regime officials, including the former Iraqi president.

CNN's Hayat Mongodin contributed to this report.


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