P V Bakthavatchalam, an advocate and human rights activist from Chennai, will be on an international panel of lawyers being constituted to defend former Iraq president Saddam Hussein.
Bakthavatchalam, 68, who heads the Organisation for Civil and Democratic Rights in Chennai, has defended groups like the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and Al Umma, the Islamic fundamentalist group accused of involvement in bomb blasts in Tamil Nadu.
So how did he get involved in defending the world's most notorious dictator?
Special Contributing Correspondent Shobha Warrier put this and several more questions to him.
How did you get involved with this Paris-based agency that is going to arrange Saddam Hussein's defence?
Last month my daughter Ajitha went to France to attend a human rights seminar. I had heard there was an international forum of lawyers grouping together to defend Saddam Hussein. So I called my daughter and asked her to inform the forum that I was also interested. Unfortunately, she couldn't pass the message to anyone there.
Later, Niranjan Haldar of Amnesty International asked me when he was in Chennai whether I would be interested in involving myself in the case. He asked me because he knew the kind of human rights activities I am involved with. I told him I want to expose American atrocities.
Why did you volunteer to take on the might of the Americans?
Right from the beginning of my career, I have been campaigning for human rights, mainly of the suppressed and the oppressed. I had taken up the cases of Naxalites. It is not that the Naxalites are right, but my argument is, don't kill them in these so-called encounters. The police can put them behind bars, have a fair trial and, if needed, hang them. But they should not be exterminated in encounters.
In the case of Saddam Hussein also, I do not claim he had always been for the people. He has committed a lot of crimes against his people. But the way in which the Americans are going ahead with the trial, it is quite obvious they want to hang him.
With the introduction of capital punishment in Iraq, which was not there during the Saddam regime, do you feel it is going to be a sham trial under the interim government?
Yes, it will be a mockery and we want to see [to it] that it is not a mockery.
Whether we succeed in the case or not, we want to expose the real criminal, that is the American government machinery.
Saddam is a criminal, but America is a bigger criminal.
I have been exposing the government of Tamil Nadu and the Government of India all these years, now I will get a chance to expose the American government also.
I felt enraged when the Americans attacked Iraq. What right do they have to attack and rob that country?
It means they can also arrest Manmohan Singh and say he is against the people [of India].
The good thing is, we get information from America itself about what led to the war in Iraq. Just read [American political dissident and social thinker] Noam Chomsky's articles and other material. Luckily, there are a lot of socially conscious intellectuals in America.
We are collecting all that information to expose the Americans. We want to bring the trial out of the hands of the American puppet government [in Iraq]. We will approach the United Nations to arrange for a trial so that it will be a fair and free trial. You can understand how unfair the trial is going to be from the way the law has been amended just to hang Saddam.
What will be your defence? When Saddam ruled Iraq, he also committed a lot of crimes...
He has to be punished for that. There is no doubt about that. The question is, who is conducting the trial? What is the intention behind the trial?
What we are interested in is that the atrocities perpetrated by the Americans should not extend to any other country. So, it is not only to defend Saddam Hussein, but also to expose the Americans that we are coming together.
How strong is the group going to be?
Actually, we are yet to form a formal group. I am sure everybody would meet and decide on the course of action.
You have defended the LTTE and the Naxalites. These are described as terrorist groups or extremist groups. How would you describe them?
You call them terrorists, but I would say they are only fighting State terrorism. Otherwise, nobody is happy to be a terrorist. In that context, you can call Bhagat Singh and Subhas Chandra Bose terrorists. Perspectives differ. These people are wedded to a philosophy. They are also prepared to die to defend that philosophy. But the State wants to annihilate them.
Were you not criticised for defending them?
Yes, yes. The State machinery had foisted cases against me. One case went on for 11 long years. I have been arrested several times.
In defending Saddam Hussein, are you not afraid to take on the might of America?
I am not at all scared. Many of my lawyer friends ask me why I want to do this at 68.
See, when I defended Basha, the Al Umma leader, somebody called me and said, 'Your head will roll.' But I am not bothered.
I have been defending the poorest, the suppressed and the oppressed for the last several years. Those who had no courage to step into the corridors of the court are coming there.
I feel I am getting a chance to defend a man who deserves a free and fair trial.