New chief judge named in Saddam trial
Updated: 2006-01-24 09:27
One day before Saddam Hussein's trial resumes, court officials named a new
chief judge Monday and ousted another jurist off the five-member panel trying
the former Iraqi leader.
The changes raised new questions about the fairness of the process and
provided yet more signs of disarray in a trial already marked by delays,
assassinations and chaotic courtroom outbursts by the former Iraqi ruler.
The new chief judge will be Raouf Rasheed Abdel-Rahman, who like his
predecessor is a Kurd. Abdel-Rahman serves on a backup panel and has been
following the trial, officials said.
Rizgar Mohammed Amin submitted his
resignation as chief judge Jan. 15 after complaints by politicians and officials
that he failed to maintain control of the proceedings.
Iraqi judge Saeed al-Hammash, the
second-ranking member of the five-judge tribunal trying former President
Saddam Hussein, poses for a portrait, Sunday, Jan. 22, 2006, in Baghdad,
After Amin refused to withdraw his resignation, court officials had said he
would be replaced by his deputy, Saeed al-Hammash, a Shiite. However, the
government commission responsible for purging members of Saddam's Baath Party
complained last week that al-Hammash should not serve as chief judge because of
his former membership in the former ruling party.
Al-Hammash denied having joined the Baath party, and a U.S. official said
Sunday that there was nothing in his background to prevent him from serving.
On Monday, however, court official Raid Juhi said al-Hammash was being
transferred off the case entirely and that Abdel-Rahman would be the new interim
chief judge. Juhi insisted the move was not a result of the Baath membership
blamed the allegations on a smear campaign by Saddam loyalists and the
commission which made the charge. "This is a conspiracy," he told The Associated
Press without elaborating.
Rizgar Mohammed Amin, the former presiding
judge of a five-judge tribunal overseeing the Saddam case, conducts the
trial held under tight security in Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone
in Iraq, October 2005.[AFP/file]
His removal, however, appeared designed to spare the tribunal potential
embarrassment. Membership in the Baath Party was a necessary condition for
admission to prestigious schools, postgraduate programs or promotions.
Saddam's legal team said it was more concerned about alleged government
pressure on the court than who serves as chief judge.
"We don't care who is the presiding judge," lawyer Khamis al-Obeidi told the
AP. "But we will pull the rug from under his feet if he succumbs to the
influence of the government."
Al-Obeidi said he and other defense lawyers met with Saddam for more than six
hours Sunday and decided to seek a further adjournment unless the court responds
in writing to some of the motions submitted in previous hearings. These include
a 20-page memo questioning the court's legitimacy, he said.
The latest changes add to the charged atmosphere surrounding the trail since
it began Oct. 19 and may further raise questions about the fairness of the
proceedings. Two defense lawyers have been assassinated and a third fled the
country since the trial began.
"It is increasingly clear that this doesn't look like justice the way it's
supposed to be rendered," said William A. Schabas, director of the Irish Center
for Human Rights at the National University of Ireland. "The fact that judges in
a trial resign for facts other than ill health is very disturbing."
Saddam and seven others have been accused in the deaths of about 140 Shiites
following a failed assassination attempt in 1982 against the former ruler in
Dujail, 50 miles north of Baghdad. They could be hanged if convicted.
In the seven previous sessions, the silver-haired Amin displayed remarkable
patience and composure in the face of what appeared to be attempts by Saddam,
his half brother Barzan Ibrahim and the defense team to delay or derail the
Saddam has complained that he was tortured, openly prayed in court when Amin
would not allow a recess and frequently lectured the judge on patriotism.
Barzan, a one-time chief of Saddam's intelligence, has been more belligerent,
insulting witnesses, one of the judges and the three prosecutors.
The trial has been divisive in a post-Saddam Iraq where sectarian tensions
fueled by a Sunni-led insurgency are threatening to tear the country apart.
Sunni Arabs loyal to the former leader took heart from his outbursts during the
hearings, which are televised nationwide with a 30-minute delay.
But Shiites and Kurds, including senior politicians who had opposed Saddam's
rule for decades, found the relative freedom he has had in the courtroom an
affront to the memory of his victims and the feelings of their families.