BAGHDAD, (Reuters) – The tribunal trying Saddam Hussein said on Thursday its new chief judge would preside over the next session on Jan. 24, despite calls for him to be barred for suspected links to Saddam’s Baath party.
An official of the independent Debaathification Commission told Reuters on Wednesday Sayeed al-Hamashi was the subject of an inquiry and should be removed from his post.
The allegations threw the U.S.-sponsored court into fresh confusion after the resignation last week of chief judge Rizgar Amin, a Kurd, who quit in protest at political interference.
Hamashi, Amin’s deputy, was promoted to the top job. He has denied any links to the Baath party and his fellow judges appeared to rally around him on Thursday to defend his record.
Tribunal spokesman Judge Raid Jouhi said the judges in the Saddam trial had been carefully selected for their professionalism and integrity.
“The judges are well known and their history is also well known and they are professionals. So far it is Judge Hamashi who is going to head the next session,” he told Reuters.
Hamashi had previously been the only other judge to appear on television with Amin in coverage of the trial.
Ali Faisal, executive manager of the Debaathification Commission, said Hamashi’s position came to the Commission’s notice when he was named as Amin’s replacement.
Jouhi said he was puzzled as to why the commission had only realised now that Hamashi was one of the judges trying Saddam.
“Hamashi had been working in this court for a year and seven months and was shown on TV many times, so I don’t understand why the commission has suddenly woken up to this, why they didn’t realise before,” he said.
He said the commission must back up its claims: “Do they have this evidence? Any evidence must be examined carefully.”
The Commission, set up under U.S. military rule after Saddam’s overthrow in 2003, is charged with rooting out members of the Baath party from positions of power.
Hamashi, a Shi’ite and the most senior of the four other judges on the panel trying Saddam in the first case for crimes against humanity, was named by court officials on Monday as taking over temporarily, in accordance with standard procedure.
Sources inside the High Tribunal said he had also emerged as the consensus choice of his fellow judges to take over permanently in the event Amin stood by his resignation, which has not yet been accepted by the government.