The appointment of a new judge to lead the investigation of the Beirut explosion came as fast as the removal of Judge Sawan from his 6-month investigation when, inevitably, he “crossed the red lines.”
His challenging (and challenged) efforts to dig out the truth were brought to a harsh stop by the same officials he was brave enough and honest enough to summon for questioning.
In a matter of hours of his removal, other names were proposed to replace him, with the Higher Judicial Council rejecting the first candidate and deciding, a day later, on Judge Tarek Bitar, both nominated by caretaker Justice Minister Marie-Claude Najm.
Judge Bitar, who had refused to assume that role back on August 12th, citing personal convictions and reasons, is now officially the new lead investigator into the Beirut port explosion, which is now back to square one.
Unlike his predecessor on this critical case, a Military Court judge, the new lead investigator is a civil criminal judge. He is the head of the Criminal Court in Beirut.
It is uncertain if that difference counted in the decision of the Higher Judicial Council to appoint Judge Bitar, “a young judge who is competent and enjoys a good reputation,” as described by Nizam Saghieh of the watchdog Legal Agenda.
A native of Aidamoun in Akkar, north Lebanon, Judge Bitar was the Public Defender of Appeal in the North until 2017 when he was appointed head of Beirut‘s Criminal Court.
However, there is little known to the public about him other than a few positive comments on social media, including his colleagues praising him as respectable and of no political affiliation.
It was no different, though, when it came to Judge Sawan who was little known to the public and similarly praised by his peers.
It is to note that, while Judge Sawan was deemed unfit by the court of cassation to continue because of his alleged impartiality as a victim of the blast, president Michel Aoun had firmly refused from the start to bring in an impartial International investigation, as many had asked and keep asking.
In his opinion, that would impact the sovereignty of Lebanon.
As far as the investigation dynamics have shown all through these past 6 months, the only sovereignty that could be possibly impacted by an impartial international probe is that of the officials who could be involved in this case.
This case, from the inception of its story with the infamous ammonium nitrate entering Beirut to the time it exploded and caused the mass-murder in the capital, couldn’t have existed without people in power involved, directly or indirectly, or both.
That brings to raise the currently trending question, which answer is not a puzzle really: Will Judge Bitar be permitted to do what was forbidden to Judge Sawan?
Crossing what the court and some politicians call the red lines when it comes to officials, former and current, is inevitable if this case is to be resolved.
The people know it, hence their ongoing protests for justice and demands for an international investigation.