A Syrian Student Writes…

In May this year I received a message from a student, one I had never met. With the student’s permission, I share the message now because it offers some salutary perspective on an issue that has recently been raised in a hostile article in The Tab (a Murdoch-funded media entity) about expectations and concerns of Syrian students entering Western universities. Aside from smearing my own reputation, the article takes a damagingly prejudicial approach to a sensitive issue, as this message helps us see.

Dear Professor Hayward, I thought it might be important to let you know that an individual claiming to be a journalist for HuffPost UK contacted me yesterday asking If I would comment on your involvement in the Syria, Propaganda and Media Group as I am a [degree programme redacted] student in the School of Social and Political Science. It would appear that the person has likely messaged more students within the school and I felt it was best to let you know. I have not replied and do not intend to.

However, I would be very interested in meeting to discuss the issue of Syria, the uprisings and the truth. As a Syrian student who comes from a pro-government family, I have often felt conflicted between my personally held views and the overwhelming outlook of those around me in Scotland and at the university. I have found it very difficult to know how to research the issues at stake, as any information available tends to be extremely biased in one direction or another. Having now read your wordpress and other materials, I feel it could be extremely refreshing to speak to you and perhaps get a proper perspective on an issue that is extremely personal and important to me.

As I’m sure you understand, being a Syrian student studying at a Western institution has made it extremely difficult to wrap my head around the conflict of viewpoints I face as a Syrian but also a Western-educated student when thinking about and trying to research Syria.

I met the student and we had a long chat – about many things, but they included the difficulties faced by Syrians who are obliged to take a view of the situation in their home country that is imposed on them by people in the West. The fact is, students from Syria, as from anywhere else, have a range of backgrounds, experiences and beliefs. But they also come from a situation of terrible and complex conflict – which can intensify and complicate differences. One thing they have in common, though, is that they have sought to get away from conflict.

Anybody who claims to care, and especially those of us with a duty of care, should be aware of the possibility that people we meet may have views they are reluctant to share – for any number of reasons – and we should be very careful not to presume to know what those views are.

The student I met spoke of being overwhelmed by the expectation of conforming to a view that was so at odds with the student’s own beliefs and experience. The fact that even academics can be contributing to that demoralising experience should be a concern to all of us in education. We might all look to how we can raise our game.

For The Tab – following its big sister The Times – to be singling out for attack those of us making this very point simply goes to show that that the values and ethos of a media entity with multi-million dollar funding from the Murdoch empire are fundamentally at odds with the very vocation of academics, and not just a small group of us.

I am personally most grateful to the student who contacted me, not only for helping avert a planned media attack, but for making tangible the value of respectful mutual engagement that a university aims to support and encourage.

 

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Posted in propaganda, Syria, Uncategorized, war | 3 Comments

Where do the interests of democracy lie? Working Group responds to UK minister’s attack on critics of the “Integrity Initiative”

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Posted in disinformation, guest blog, media, political philosophy, propaganda, UK Government, Uncategorized | 9 Comments

Integrity: Grasping The Initiative

This post provides links to discussions of the Institute for Statecraft’s “Integrity Initiative”. Most recent update is 5 November 2019 – the first anniversary of the original post – when verdict of Scottish Charity Regulator on the operation was announced.

Scroll down for this update and the original list which was maintained until April 2019, at which point the links numbered 185.  Continue reading

Posted in conspiracy theory, constitutional politics, disinformation, inter-media, journalism, media, propaganda, Russia, UK Government, Uncategorized, war | 49 Comments

“Major Revelation” from OPCW whistleblower: Jonathan Steele speaking to the BBC

The following is a transcription of an interview given by Jonathan Steele (former Senior Middle East Correspondent for the Guardian) to Paul Henley, on the BBC World Service programme, Weekend, on 27 October 2019 Continue reading

Posted in BBC, chemical weapons, disinformation, Guardian, guest blog, international institutions, media, OPCW, propaganda, Syria, UK Government, Uncategorized, war, White Helmets | 28 Comments

Media Coverage of OPCW Whistleblower Revelations

On 23 October 2019, the Courage Foundation and Wikileaks released a statement arising from a panel meeting with the OPCW whistleblower on irregular practices in the OPCW’s investigation of alleged chemical attack in Douma, on 7 April 2018. This was signed by seven figures of international standing, including the OPCW’s first director general, José Bustani.

Within hours of its release, this statement was reported in La Repubblica (Italy) and NachDenkSeiten (Germany), but no mainstream outlet in English-speaking countries mentioned it on the day. Meanwhile, though, alternative and non-Western outlets have been alive with discussion of the statement and its implications, as have social media.

This post will keep a note of significant media comment on the revelations and the issues they give rise to, being updated as and when items appear.

Links to coverage (most recent first)

Peter Hitchens (27 October 2019) Mail on Sunday column (scroll down)

Karin Leukefeld (24 October 2019) Giftgas in Duma: über mutmaßlich manipulierten OPCW Bericht (RT video, 14 minutes, German)

Pro-Syria & non-MSM (23 October 2019) AMN, RT, TASS, Kit Klarenberg, Caitlin Johnstone, Morning Star

La Repubblica (23 October 2019) Whistleblower denuncia che l’OPAC, l’Organizzazione per la proibizione delle armi chimiche, ha manipolato le indagini sull’attacco chimico a Douma, in Siria, By Stefania Maurizi

Nachdenkseiten 23 October 2019) Whistleblower – der OPCW-Bericht zum angeblichen Giftgasangriff in Duma entspricht nicht der Wahrheit, by Karin Leukefeld

International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) (23 October 2019) OPCW-Inspektoren widersprechen offiziellem Abschlussbericht

Wikileaks (23 October 2019) OPCW Whistleblower Panel on the Douma attack of April 2018

Courage Foundation (23 October 2019) Panel Criticizes ‘Unacceptable Practices’ in the OPCW’s investigation of the Alleged Chemical Attack in Douma, Syria on April 7th 2018 

 

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Posted in journalism, media, OPCW, propaganda, Syria, UK Government, Uncategorized, war, White Helmets | 2 Comments

“Unacceptable Practices at OPCW” – by José Bustani and international panel

“The convincing evidence of irregular behaviour in the OPCW investigation of the alleged Douma chemical attack confirms doubts and suspicions I already had. I could make no sense of what I was reading in the international press. Even official reports of investigations seemed incoherent at best. The picture is certainly clearer now, although very disturbing” 

“I have always expected the OPCW to be a true paradigm of multilateralism. My hope is that the concerns expressed publicly by the Panel, in its joint consensus statement, will catalyse a process by which the Organisation can be resurrected to become the independent and non-discriminatory body it used to be.”

José Bustani, First Director General OPCW and former Ambassador to the United Kingdom and France

Panel Criticizes ‘Unacceptable Practices’ in the OPCW’s investigation of the the Alleged Chemical Attack in Douma, Syria on April 7th 2018

The Courage Foundation convened a panel of concerned individuals from the fields of disarmament, international law, journalism, military operations, medicine and intelligence in Brussels on October 15th. The panel met with a member of the investigation team from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the international chemical watchdog. On this basis the panel issued the following statement: Continue reading

Posted in chemical weapons, disinformation, guest blog, international institutions, journalism, media, OPCW, propaganda, Syria, UK Government, Uncategorized, war, White Helmets | 6 Comments

Flawed OPCW Douma Report: key criticisms

An International Panel convened by the Courage Foundation in October 2019, whose members included OPCW’s first Director General, José Bustani, issued strong criticism of ‘unacceptable practices’ surrounding the OPCW report on an alleged chemical attack in Douma, Syria on 7 April 2018.

The panel’s criticisms, following a meeting with a member of the OPCW’s Douma investigation team, highlight a number of serious concerns. These include alarming irregularities in the handling of toxicology reports. A summary of points arising from the panel meeting follows.

Analytic Points

  1. General

A critical analysis of the final report of the Douma investigation left the panel in little doubt that conclusions drawn from each of the key evidentiary pillars of the investigation (chemical analysis, toxicology, ballistics and witness testimonies,) are flawed and bear little relation to the facts.

  1. Chemical Analysis

Although biomedical analyses supposedly contributed to the conclusions of the report (para 2.17), the same report is unequivocal in stating that “no relevant chemicals were found” in biological samples (Table A5.2).

The interpretation of the environmental analysis results is equally questionable. Many, if not all, of the so- called ‘smoking gun” chlorinated organic chemicals claimed to be “not naturally present in the environment” (para 2.6) are in fact ubiquitous in the background, either naturally or anthropogenically (wood preservatives, chlorinated water supplies etc). The report, in fact, acknowledges this in Annex 4 para 7, even stating the importance of gathering control samples to measure the background for such chlorinated organic derivatives. Yet, no analysis results for these same control samples (Annex 5), which inspectors on the ground would have gone to great lengths to gather, were reported.

Although the report stresses the ‘levels’ of the chlorinated organic chemicals as a basis for its conclusions (para 2.6), it never mentions what those levels were —high, low, trace, sub-trace? Without providing data on the levels of these so-called ‘smoking-gun’ chemicals either for background or test samples, it is impossible to know if they were not simply due to background presence. In this regard, the panel is disturbed to learn that quantitative results for the levels of ‘smoking gun’ chemicals in specific samples were available to the investigators but this decisive information was withheld from the report.

The final report also acknowledges that the tell-tale chemicals supposedly indicating chlorine use, can also be generated by contact of samples with sodium hypochlorite, the principal ingredient of household bleaching agent (para 8.15). This game-changing hypothesis is, however, dismissed (and as it transpires, incorrectly) by stating no bleaching was observed at the site of investigation. (“At both locations, there were no visible signs of a bleach agent or discoloration due to contact with a bleach agent”). The panel has been informed that no such observation was recorded during the on-site inspection and in any case dismissing the hypothesis simply by claiming the non-observation of discoloration in an already dusty and scorched environment seems tenuous and unscientific.

  1. Toxicology

The toxicological studies also reveal inconsistencies, incoherence and possible scientific irregularities. Consultations with toxicologists are reported to have taken place in September and October 2018 (para 8.87 and Annex 3), but no mention is made of what those same experts opined or concluded. Whilst the final toxicological assessment of the authors states “it is not possible to precisely link the cause of the signs and symptoms to a specific chemical” (para 9.6) the report nonetheless concludes there were reasonable grounds to believe chlorine gas was the chemical (used as a weapon).

More worrying is the fact that the panel viewed documented evidence that showed other toxicologists had been consulted in June 2018 prior to the release of the interim report. Expert opinions on that occasion were that the signs and symptoms observed in videos and from witness accounts were not consistent with exposure to molecular chlorine or any reactive-chlorine-containing chemical. Why no mention of this critical assessment, which contradicts that implied in the final report, was made is unclear and of concern.

  1. Ballistic studies

The unauthorised disclosure of the Engineering Assessment in May 2019 of the two munitions found at Locations 2 and 4, and subsequently acknowledged by the Director General as bona-fide, revealed the diametrically opposing views of inspectors within the FFM team. Although the panel does not have the technical competence to judge the merits of the contradicting studies (i.e. the study described in the final report versus the leaked engineering report), it was surprised by how little consideration was given to alternative hypotheses in the final report.

One alternative ascribing the origin of the crater to an explosive device was considered briefly but, despite an almost identical crater (understood to have resulted from a mortar penetrating the roof) being observed on an adjacent rooftop, was dismissed because of “the absence of primary and secondary fragmentation characteristics”. In contrast, explosive fragmentation characteristics were noted in the leaked study.

  1. Testimonies

The reporting of witness statements and the lack of any meaningful analysis highlights the partiality of this report. Whilst two clearly distinct and opposing narratives are described by witnesses, only the one supportive of the use of toxic weapons contributes to the conclusions. The imbalance between numbers of persons interviewed by the respective FFM teams in Damascus and in Country X is noteworthy, with twice as many of the latter being interviewed.

  1. Exclusion of inspectors and attempts to obfuscate

Contrary to what has been publicly stated by the Director General of the OPCW it was evident to the panel that many of the inspectors in the Douma investigation were not involved or consulted in the post-deployment phase or had any contribution to, or knowledge of the content of the final report until it was made public. The panel is particularly troubled by organisational efforts to obfuscate and prevent inspectors from raising legitimate concerns about possible malpractices surrounding the Douma investigation.

 

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Posted in chemical weapons, disinformation, international institutions, journalism, OPCW, propaganda, Syria, UK Government, Uncategorized, war, White Helmets | 4 Comments

OPCW: A Site of Struggle for Impartiality, Independence and International Legitimacy in War Crimes Investigations

The use of chemical weapons is a war crime. The Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) – signed by almost every nation[1] – aims to expunge their use from the face of our planet. Charged with implementing the Convention is the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). Part of its task is to investigate such use when alleged to have occurred. It has played a particularly prominent role in relation to Syria since the US administration under President Obama declared the use of chemical weapons a ‘Red Line’ the transgression of which would trigger military intervention in the war.

Ascertaining facts in the circumstances of war is never a straightforward matter, and there are strict protocols governing OPCW investigations. Unfortunately, the investigations of the OPCW’s Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) in Syria have not always conformed to its own rules. A number of States Parties to the CWC are seriously concerned about this – they include not only Syria itself, along with its Russian allies and China, but also the nations of the Non-Aligned Movement. They have gone so far as to reject the associated UN-mandated Joint Investigation Mechanism (JIM) attribution of blame to Syria for the 2017 Khan Sheikhoun incident, refusing thereafter to renew its mandate. In consequence, a new investigative mechanism has been created under the auspices of the UN, albeit without consensus of states parties, called the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism (IIIM).[2] Where OPCW investigations are primarily oriented to fact finding, the IIIM has been set up to provide documentation that would support prosecutions. The OPCW and the IIIM have signed a Memorandum of Understanding to underscore their intention to collaborate.

But what wider international legitimacy will this have, and how independent or impartial will the workings of these organisations be? The OPCW has evidently been ‘captured’ by Western powers, and the IIIM has been controversially created without a consensus. So what can be done to restore trust? These are serious questions that are not easy to answer. The aim here is the limited one of explaining how they have arisen and why they need to be pressed. Continue reading

Posted in chemical weapons, global justice, human rights, international institutions, OPCW, political philosophy, Syria, UK Government, Uncategorized, war, White Helmets | 6 Comments

Global Justice and Finance: an introduction to critical questions

This post introduces some central arguments of my book Global Justice and Finance. Continue reading

Posted in Finance, global justice, political philosophy, Uncategorized | 1 Comment