Saddam Hussein does not appear to be lacking in lawyers willing to defend him when he is tried for war atrocities and crimes against humanity, presumably in Baghdad next year. "I've had about 1,500 lawyers ask me if they can join my team," says Mohammad Rashdan, 55, a Jordanian lawyer retained by the ex-tyrant's first wife Sajida, who is exiled in Qatar. "Every time I go to court, lawyers come up and ask me if they can join the defense." But that might be a little premature: the job isn't Rashdan's quite yet. French attorney Jacques Verges--who won notoriety representing Nazi Klaus Barbie and legendary terrorist Carlos the Jackal--says he, not Rashdan, will be leading Saddam's defense. Hundreds of lawyers have contacted Verges as well, he claims. "I've received a lot of applications--from Italy, France, Germany, Arab countries, from all over," says Verges, 80. "If a trial takes place, I'll call all of them."
Rashdan, a former associate of Saddam's, sent a letter to the Paris bar association last month, accusing Verges of falsely claiming to be Saddam's lawyer. "The family has refused to allow Verges to represent [Saddam]," Rashdan insists. Not so, says Verges. In a cluttered Paris office decorated with African carvings and bronze Buddhas, he offers up a two-paragraph letter, apparently mailed from Switzerland by Saddam's nephew Ali Barzan al-Tikriti, asking Verges to help his uncle. The letter's authenticity could not be verified; alTikriti slipped out of Switzerland last month, and Verges doesn't know where al-Tikriti is now.
Rashdan and Verges have appealed to the Red Cross in Geneva for access to Saddam. The Red Cross, whose officials visited Saddam in a U.S. detention center in Iraq last Tuesday--a day before the fallen dictator's 67th birthday--says it can't help. "Attorneys need to ask the Americans themselves," says Antonella Notari, a Red Cross spokeswoman in Geneva. Neither Rashdan nor Verges has been able to do so. Both have said they distrust Saddam's captors. Another thing the rivals have in common: both hope to focus their defense on U.S. actions in Iraq rather than on the veracity of the charges. "Our strategy is that there was an illegal war against Iraq," says Rashdan. "Everything that happened after that was illegal. They have arrested Saddam illegally."
--By Vivienne Walt