Ramsey Clark, the U.S. attorney general under President Johnson, questioned the legitimacy of the Iraqi tribunal and safety of the lawyers.
Amid the wrenching testimony of a survivor who told of the atrocities wrought
Hussein's secret police, the presence of a former American attorney general
on Mr. Hussein's defense team in the trial court on Monday seemed to be one
of the day's less bewildering things.
Ramsey Clark, one of America's more renowned contrarians, made a mark
notable even by his own singular standards on Monday when he delivered a lecture
to the judges on the elements essential to a fair trial, including adequate
physical protection for the defense lawyers. Earlier, flushed and indignant,
Mr. Clark joined in a defense walkout that brought the trial to a temporary
Iraq is "a country that I love, and in a very dangerous time," Mr.
Clark, 77, said when the chief judge, Rizgar Muhammad Amin, relenting on his
demand for a written submission from the former United States attorney general,
gave him exactly five minutes to make his case. "There is a huge foreign
military occupation, and even brother and brother are killing each other. This
trial can either divide or heal, and so far it is irreconcilably dividing the
people of Iraq."
In a two-hour interview on Sunday, Mr. Clark, a tall, gaunt figure, still with
a Texas drawl after decades living in New York, set out a rationale for defending
Mr. Hussein that would face little contest in American law schools. All men,
he said, deserved a fair trial, even history's worst criminals. "Suppose
had survived," he said. "It seems to me that it would have been absolutely
critical to give him a fair trial, to let him call witnesses and cross-examine
the hell out of them." He added, "If you don't do that, historical
truth will be distorted."
Mr. Clark, son of a Supreme Court justice appointed by President Harry S. Truman,
made his mark in the Johnson years with his role as a Justice Department official
in drafting the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act, liberal landmarks
of the age. But for most of the last 40 years, he has steered an unconventional
passage of his own. It has been a journey that has taken him on many a far-flung
venture abroad, and across America, to embrace some of the era's most notorious
It is a remarkable roll call, the men who have had him at their side at times
of confrontation with America and its government: Col. Muammar
el-Qaddafi of Libya, Slobodan
Milosevic of the former Yugoslavia, Charles
Taylor of Liberia; and, at home, fringe figures like the Branch Davidian
leader David Koresh, the right-wing gadfly Lyndon LaRouche, and Sheik Omar Abdel
Rahman, who is serving a life term in an American jail for his role in the bombing
of the World Trade Center in 1993.
Then there is Mr. Hussein. The two men met in Baghdad for the first time during
the Persian Gulf war in 1991, and at least four more times during the 1990's,
when Mr. Clark opposed the economic sanctions imposed on Iraq after Mr. Hussein's
invasion of Kuwait in 1990, and renewed when he failed to comply with United
Nations inspector teams searching for unconventional weapons. Now, Mr. Clark
is one of three foreigners - the others are a Qatari and a Jordanian - on Mr.
Hussein's five-man defense team, and Mr. Clark finds himself explaining, as
so often before, how a former Texas liberal finds himself working in support
of a man as notorious as Mr. Hussein.
One thing that seems reasonably certain is that Mr. Clark is not in it for
the money. In the interview on Sunday - at the Rashid Hotel in Baghdad's heavily
fortified international zone, a short bus ride from the bombed-out former Baath
Party headquarters that has been remodeled for the trial - Mr. Clark was asked
about his fee for representing Mr. Hussein. Mr. Hussein's hidden wealth has
been a matter of keen speculation since his son Qusay, on the eve of American
troops' sweep into Baghdad in April 2003, sent a flatbed truck to Iraq's central
bank to make off with steel trunks containing at least $1 billion in cash.
"Not a penny," said Mr. Clark, who added that he had taken no fee
from many of his more contentious clients. What about the air fares on his shuttles
between Baghdad and New York, where Mr. Clark lives with his wife, Georgia,
in a Greenwich Village condominium? "Economy class," he said, $1,400
for the 13-hour leg from New York to Amman, Jordan, and a 500-mile additional
leg to Baghdad. Mr. Clark made the journey twice in the last week, sandwiching
legal work in New York between appearances at the Hussein trial. While the air
fares have been paid with the Hussein legal team's funds, he said, he was paying
for meals and taxi rides himself.
Mr. Clark said in the interview that beyond the personal right to justice,
there was the need for a broken society like Iraq to find ways to heal its wounds.
"If you don't give Saddam and the others a fair trial now, you're not going
to get peace," he said. "Emotions are so inflamed, it would be hard
to make things worse. So if there is a perception that the trial is simply war
by other means, people will be deeply angered, and they'll say, 'You're perverting
justice so as to destroy a man who is your political enemy.' "
But along with more scholarly arguments, Mr. Clark mixed personal observations
that suggested a sympathy for Mr. Hussein that has little in common with the
widely shared view of him as a psychopathic dictator - a view held both by his
Iraqi victims and by many outside the country who have studied his quarter century
in power. Mr. Clark still slips into calling his client President Hussein, a
title the ousted ruler has asserted for himself in court. Mr. Clark also savors
reminiscences about their long conversations over the years, including a four-hour
meeting Mr. Clark attended between Mr. Hussein and his legal team on Sunday.
The meeting was held at or near Camp Cropper, the American detention center
about a 20-minute drive from Baghdad International Airport, where Mr. Hussein
and more than 100 of his top associates are held. Mr. Clark said they met in
a bare auditorium, with American soldiers serving snacks of soda and chocolate-chip
cookies, and that Mr. Hussein was eager for conversation. "When a man has
been in extreme solitary confinement for nearly two years, any chance to talk
to people would be exhilarating," Mr. Clark said. "He seemed quite
mellow, and he read us two of his poems, about family life, about mothers and
children, and about the possibility of violent death."
At his trial, Mr. Hussein is charged with crimes against humanity in the killing
of 148 men and teenage boys from the Shiite town of Dujail, north of Baghdad,
after an assassination attempt against Mr. Hussein there in 1982. But Mr. Clark
suggested that Mr. Hussein's secret police had reason to act harshly against
Shiite assassins who, he said, almost certainly had political links to Shiite-ruled
Iran, then in the early stages of an eight-year war with Iraq. He compared the
actions of Mr. Hussein's secret police with the muscular behavior of an American
president's security detail.
"Just look at how our Secret Service works," he said. "I've
been knocked down several times when they see some kind of threat." In
any case, he said, he could not see how Mr. Hussein could be blamed for the
killings. "He was the president of the country, he was in a war, he was
a pretty busy guy," he said. "I can see this as a case of some of
his juniors overreacting."
But much of Mr. Clark's energy in the interview went into linking his earlier
legal career, fighting racial prejudice in the American south and apartheid
in South Africa, with the seemingly crankier course he has taken since. In both
periods, he said, he was engaged in confronting prejudice - in the case of Mr.
Hussein, Colonel Qaddafi and others, prevailing against people "who have
a habit of seeing the world in black and white, as good and evil, of demonized
characters stripped of all humanity." That, he said, was what America had
done to Mr. Hussein, and, in a way, to Mr. Clark.
"I know something about that, because I get a little bit of that demonization
myself," he said.