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Saddam Hussein's unlikely ally

Apr. 14: It's been over one year since U.S. forces captured Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. When he does face justice, he'll have an unlikely ally: Ramsey Clark, former U.S. Attorney General under President Lyndon Johnson, the son of a U.S. Supreme Court Justice and civil rights activist. Dan Abrams interviews Saddam Hussein's attorney.

It's been over one year since U.S. forces captured Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. When he does face justice, he'll have an unlikely ally: Ramsey Clark, former U.S. Attorney General under President Lyndon Johnson, the son of a U.S. Supreme Court Justice and civil rights activist. Dan Abrams interviews Saddam Hussein's attorney.

On Thursday's "The Abrams Report," Clark speaks exclusively to MSNBC's Dan Abrams about why he feels Saddam Hussein deserves effective representation and a fair trial. Following are excerpts from the interview:

DAN ABRAMS, HOST, "THE ABRAMS REPORT": Why would Ramsey Clark, the former Attorney General— a man whose name is familiar in the United States— represent Saddam Hussein?  Why give Saddam the benefit of having your name associated with him?

RAMSEY CLARK, FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, if that's, if that's a benefit to him I hope it won't tarnish his reputation.  I became deeply involved in civil rights in the '60s when I left government... I go wherever these problems are. 

CLARK: So it became clear to me immediately (it would seem obvious to anybody) that not only that he had to have effective council of his choice but that a great deal more depended upon his effective representation.  Effective in fact and effective in appearance, credible.  

ABRAMS: Sure Saddam deserves effective representation.  Why when it's someone who is clearly someone who has not cared about human rights in his past should he have you as a lawyer?

CLARK: Well, that's-- to me that's--

ABRAMS: Is that irrelevant?

CLARK: I think in fairness, I know you're a good lawyer.  But in fairness you really test human rights in a crisis. But his trial, a fair trial is a human right. 

CLARK: To show that an American stands up for human rights against those people that have been demonized by his own country, seems to me to add validity to the idea that human rights are universal.  

ABRAMS: But isn't there a moral choice also?  I mean you've given me strictly sort of a legal answer, which is that he deserves as does everyone a fair trial and that you want to make sure that happens.  But isn't there also a moral choice to say "He needs somebody but I don't want to be that person based on what I know he's done in his past"?

CLARK: That thought doesn't occur to me because that's me being a judge.  A lawyer is not the judge.  

ABRAMS: But you reached out to him.  

CLARK: I reached out to him--

ABRAMS: To be fair.

CLARK:  Because I could see what a crisis it was for human rights.  And what's happening right now.  I mean his human rights are violated every moment.  He has not seen a lawyer; he has not seen his family.  He's kept completely incommunicado. And it's imperative that you in a crisis like this and cases of most importance that you fight hardest for human rights.

CLARK: But the idea that you don't represent someone because they're awful, if they are, is contrary to the idea of the right to council. Now can-- if the United States committed the supreme international crime, a war of aggression against Iraq, can it stand above the law and not be charged with that while Saddam Hussein is demonized and charged with other crimes?

ABRAMS: What do you say to those who say this is just your effort to put this administration on trial?  And that this is your opportunity to challenge a war that you hated?

CLARK: Well, I don't like hatred but I tell you I oppose the war with all my heart and soul.  But I also oppose the sanctions with all my heart and soul. And I wrote and pleaded and spoke to the Clinton administration and their officials and did everything within my power. Ask the Democrats, they don't see me as a Democrat.  I'm for human rights and I'm for peace.  And I think the two go together.

ABRAMS: You said that you think that Saddam should be tried in international criminal court as opposed to in Iraq by the tribunal there.  The problem with that is that would mean that he couldn't be tried in that court for any of the crimes committed before this court was established.  And that would mean that there were a lot of gassing, use of chemical weapons, etc from the '80s and early '90s that would go untried.  Doesn't that concern you?

CLARK: But the international criminal court doesn't have jurisdiction by choice because it believes in the rule of law for acts that occurred before July the first of 2002. But that's before the U.S. invasion, that's before all the activities of that time.  That's pretty serious.  

ABRAMS: But this would ignore some arguably Saddam's most severe crimes.  

CLARK: Well, I'm not going to presume his guilt.  But in terms of the effect on the people of Iraq what has happened since March the 19th of 2003 is far more severe than what happened in those other periods under the worst allegations of them.   

ABRAMS: It sounds like when you talk about Saddam Hussein you presume he's innocent.  And--

CLARK: Of course I do.

ABRAMS: And yet when it comes to the U.S. it seems you presume them guilty.  Whenever you talk about the--

CLARK: I don't know why you say that.  But--

ABRAMS: Really. Every time you talk about the U.S. it sounds like you are indicting them.  And when you talk about Saddam Hussein you restate the presumption of innocence.

CLARK: An indictment is based on probable cause not an assumption of guilt, you know. We don't deny "shock and awe" do we?

ABRAMS: But do we deny the gassing of the Kurds?

CLARK: I'm here to say he's entitled to a fair trial.  I will tell you that he's been so thoroughly demonized that it's almost impossible to hope for a fair trial.  He's been demonized for years and years.  He's been demonized by the media of the United States and by the government of the United States overwhelmingly. But above all you go with the rule of law.  And you have to have a court that is duly constituted, that is legal, that is competent, that is independent and that is impartial.  And you're not going to get one in Iraq.

ABRAMS: Why shouldn't the Iraqis be able to try Saddam Hussein themselves?

CLARK: Well, because the crimes involve international impact overwhelming.  What's the United States doing there, you know?

ABRAMS: How about crimes he committed against their people?  I mean Saddam Hussein committing crimes against the Iraqi people.  Why shouldn't the Iraqi people be able to--

CLARK: Well, we can let them decide but they don't even have a Constitution or a government yet, you know.  What you've got is a U.S. chosen system, judges. Certainly the Iraqi people have a vast interest in this.  But their greater interest is peace.  Their greater interest is reconciliation.  They're living under the most miserable conditions of many miserable periods of time in their lives.  Right now there's violence everywhere. It's the worst time they've had in-- in my experience there, including during the bombing in it Gulf War.

ABRAMS: Some would say this is the best time that they've ever had as a free people.  They've just had their first elections, etc.

CLARK: Well,  the only people that would say that are people who just made a million bucks or something on some contract.  There are very few that believe it's the best time.  If you don't stick your head out the front door, what kind of freedom is that?

ABRAMS: Do you have any former colleagues or friends who come up to you and they say, "Ramsey, what are you doing?"  What are you doing getting involved in the Saddam thing?  

CLARK: It may seem strange.  But among my friends and acquaintances, I have not had a single critical comment.  I think in part because they know me, by definition.  And that's what they expect me to do. But I've had some hundreds-- I haven't tried to count them-- of people who say "Thank you."  And "He deserves a fair trial."  And we're glad somebody stands up.  I read in the press that it's not a popular thing.  I see in the media-- it's not a popular thing.  And I never lived for the popular thing.

'The Abrams Report' airs weeknights, 6 p.m. ET on MSNBC TV.