Chemical Weapons in Douma, Syria: a dangerous game with the truth – by Hans-C von Sponeck

Hans von Sponeck, former UN Assistant Secretary General and UN Humanitarian Co-ordinator (Iraq).

[Originally published in German by Die Informationsstelle Militarisierung (IMI) e.V. This translation is based on the Google Translate version.]

On February 5, 2003, US Secretary of State Colin Powell presented CIA images from Iraq to the United Nations Security Council to testify that the Iraqi government continued to possess weapons of mass destruction. Statements by UNMOVIC, the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, that there was no evidence of this, were ignored. Six weeks later, Operation Iraqi Freedom, the illegal war waged by the United States and United Kingdom, began.

There are similar reports about Syria, with the difference that it is not a government providing the alleged evidence, but the OPCW, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, an international body based in The Hague.

On April 7, 2018, Douma, a city of 100,000 people not far from Damascus, was allegedly attacked with chemical weapons. The OPCW responded by dispatching a team of scientists who concluded in their investigative report that 43 people reportedly killed in the attack were unlikely to have died from chemical weapons. Experts from the OPCW Douma team discovered that instead of this report, the OPCW management intended to publish a falsified report stating that chemical weapons had been used. This deception was prevented by OPCW scientists. Eventually, however, the final report contained manipulated accounts of the attack and unscientific conclusions regarding the chemical substances found, the demonstrated toxicology and the ballistics.

Furthermore, the OPCW relied on the statements of only one of the two groups of contemporary witnesses who had been identified. This was a group of Syrian refugees who had been interviewed in Turkey with the help of the White Helmets.[1] The second group of witnesses were mostly medical workers in Damascus who said they were working at the hospital at the time victims of the alleged chemical weapons attack were seeking medical help. The testimonies of this group of witnesses indicated that dust and fume inhalation, but not chemical poisoning, was the cause of the patients’ discomfort. These important statements were not referred to in the OPCW report. However, the account of the witnesses interviewed by the White Helmets is highlighted in the OPCW report. These reported testimonies were accepted without the possibility of examination, even though the testimonies were often contradictory, especially with regard to the question of chemical poisoning.

Continue reading
Posted in chemical weapons, disinformation, free intelligence, guest blog, international institutions, OPCW, Syria, Uncategorized, war | 1 Comment

Giorgio Bianchi at UNSC: “What game are we playing? Do we want World War III?”

The Italian journalist Giorgio Bianchi was invited to participate in a meeting organized at the United Nations Security Council on 6 May 2022. The theme of the meeting was human rights violations in the Ukrainian Donbass area. Here is a transcript of the speech [with links added].

Good evening, it is truly an honour for me to be here.

I recently returned from Donbass, where I documented the conflict for about two months.

I must say that I expected to find a difference between the reality on the ground and in the media, but not at this level.

I can understand Russian propaganda; I can understand Ukrainian propaganda. What remains incomprehensible to me is European propaganda.

With the Russian media censored, and with all the other supposed official media aligned on Ukrainian propaganda, for the European public – I am European – it is practically impossible to form an objective opinion on the reality on the ground. This is why more and more people are turning to the web to receive balanced information.

Governments and digital platforms, instead of questioning themselves about this phenomenon, are trying to limit access to information online. It seems that their goal is to support a single narrative of the facts.

War is traumatic in itself, and I know something about it. There is no need to make it even more horrible by flooding the ether and paper with fake news. I think it is not useful to feed the conflict or widen it, feeding hatred.

It seems to me that there is some kind of interest in making the conflict last for a long time and spread.

I personally exposed several fake news items spread in the European media: the shameful front page of La Stampa which deceptively attributed the massacre in Donetsk on March 14 to the Russians; the fact that Marianna, the girl who symbolized the bombing of the Mariupol hospital, had not been kidnapped by the Russians; the fact that the Russians are not deporting civilians from Mariupol (they could not evacuate all the civilians who wanted to leave; they certainly did not take away those who wanted to stay).

On the contrary, I have shown that Ukrainian soldiers and militias have extensively used civilians as human shields. The testimonies I have collected are dozens and the vast majority confirm it. There is no trace of this fact checking work in the mainstream press.

What game are we playing? Do we want World War III? Do we want to reduce the European populations to misery by dint of sanctions?

I am an independent reporter. My work has been recognized internationally. But I cannot work in Ukraine because I am on a blacklist, Myrotvorets, in which I am defined as a “criminal” – just for doing my job and for sharing my point of view with the public, a point of view documented by eight years of work in the field.

Today I am accused of being an embedded professional. But I can’t work on the other side because I risk being arrested.

Do you think this is normal?

Another time: what game are we playing at?

For sure, it is a very dangerous game.

Marianna interviewed by Giorgio in her home town
Posted in disinformation, guest blog, human rights, journalism, media, propaganda, Ukraine, Uncategorized, war | 3 Comments

A UK Crackdown on Academic Freedom?

This week in Parliament a UK government minister promised ‘we will crack down on it hard’ referring to academics sharing information from Russian sources and articulating views like the one in my tweet:

‘As long as we’re still able to hear two sides of the story we should continue striving to do so.’

Even if sometimes one side is clearly wrong, hearing what they say can still be important. And it should be remembered that an important factor in this case is the serious conflict that exists within Ukraine.

Citizens need to understand the challenges decision makers face, and political leaders need to understand what their adversaries are thinking. To know thy enemy is to reduce the risk of escalating a conflict through misunderstandings. In war, miscalculations can have terrible consequences. We also know that misinformation can sometimes even slip through on our own side, as when the UK went to war in Iraq, mistakenly believing it had weapons of mass destruction.

It is therefore worrying to hear the Secretary of State for Education so explicitly confirm my tweet’s implicitly-stated fear that before long we may only be able to hear one side of a story. Are we at a point where both citizens’ freedom of expression – a human right – and also academic freedom are under threat in Britain?

I happen to tweet purely in a capacity of personal concern and as a private citizen, but let’s imagine an academic who is about to write a scholarly article about events in a war in another country. Should they present one side only? Would peer reviewers even accept that? Would it equip students to face the complexities of the world if they never learn how to rebut false claims because they are always shielded from them? Would it be in the interests of posterity to be bequeathed a one-sided historical record? And how would posterity judge a society whose universities were governed not by the principles of science and scholarship but by government edicts?

In the present situation, it will be rightly said that, morally speaking, there are not ‘two sides’ to a war of aggression, which is a crime under international law. So as our leaders rightly condemn Putin’s invasion we can also earnestly hope they commit themselves to working for a future in which international law is respected – by all nations. More immediately, the hope is they will work to promote as swift and as bloodless an end to the war as possible in Ukraine – as well as in the less-publicised wars elsewhere. This means a commitment to supporting negotiation rather than risk being drawn into escalation and the prospect of a devastating internationalised war.

Negotiation involves different sides listening to each other. Politicians allied with one side need to have as full a picture as possible of the other’s thinking. They also need to hear good independent advice. Who knows if Putin’s decision to invade might have been avoided if fuller and franker discussion were permitted to influence it? Russia’s political system punishes critical thinking and places academic freedom under serious constraints.

We don’t want our own politicians to make the mistake of stifling views that could point out pathways to reconciliation by imposing restrictions on the range of acceptable public debate. With the suggestion of a crackdown on academics who might contribute to that, it is hard to see how our elected representatives would be serving the interests of the people they represent, or of people anywhere.

As for the people of Ukraine, their need is for peace – not to become the epicentre of World War III. There is such a risk if calls for a no-fly zone, or other measures that would lead to direct military confrontation between nuclear powers, are heard without challenge. To challenge them is not to be a stooge of the enemy but an ally of humanity.

Universities are there for the service of humanity. As the very name implies, they are responsible for maintaining universally shared standards of knowledge and understanding. They provide a vantage point from which the affairs of nations can be seen in wider perspectives. It is in everyone’s interest that they be allowed to fulfil that role.

Freedom of expression within the law is central to the concept of a university. Without this guarantee and the freedom of inquiry which it protects, universities’ vital contribution to new forms of knowledge and understanding would be compromised. This applies even in extreme circumstances, such as times of war.

Source: iStock via https://www.timeshighereducation.com/blog/freedom-speech-should-not-be-restricted-lightly

Posted in free intelligence, international institutions, journalism, media, propaganda, Russia, UK Government, Ukraine, Uncategorized, war | 7 Comments

“Fact Checkers” irresponsibly dispute safe injection advice

“Fact Checkers” have denounced as “misleading” a claim recently aired by Jimmy Dore (self-styled ‘jag-off comedian in a garage’ somewhere in the US, and usually on the right side of history). Dore was presenting a warning given by John Campbell (seasoned British nurse practitioner whose YouTube channel has been a source of careful comment on all things Covid for his million plus subscribers since the start of the outbreak). The warning is based on peer-reviewed research showing that ‘inadvertent intravenous injection of COVID-19 mRNA vaccines may induce myopericarditis’.

The concern is that because Covid injections must be intra-muscular, not intra-venous, an injection inadvertently going into a blood vessel risks causing blood clots and potentially serious heart problems. It may be relatively rare that a needle tip hits a vein, but it happens.

The good news is that this risk is easily avoided by a simple expedient: after inserting the needle but before injecting, withdraw the plunger enough to check no blood is coming up – it’s called aspirating before injecting.

That simple precaution seems like common sense, and you’d think it would be standard practice. But you’d be wrong.

Continue reading
Posted in disinformation, health, propaganda, Uncategorized | 6 Comments

The CIJA Sting from the Perspective of International Justice

The recent CIJA sting on Paul McKeigue revealed a serious lapse of judgement on his part. But what it reveals from the perspective of international justice is immeasurably more significant: a rift between CIJA and the international legal community it aims to provide prosecution briefs for; affinities between CIJA and the White Helmets which raise wider concerns about Western-backed operations in Syria; and our neglect of the most egregious war crime in Syria.

Continue reading
Posted in BBC, disinformation, global justice, international institutions, journalism, media, OPCW, propaganda, Russia, Syria, UK Government, Uncategorized, war, White Helmets | 5 Comments

Can Privateers Bring Justice for War Crimes in Syria? A response to Michelle Burgis-Kasthala on CIJA (the Commission for International Justice and Accountability)

Introduction

In a recent interview, legal scholar Dr Michelle Burgis-Kasthala talked with Professor Joseph Weiler about her article, ‘Entrepreneurial Justice: Syria, the Commission for International Justice and Accountability [CIJA] and the Renewal of International Criminal Justice’. The article’s subject is currently attracting growing interest, and some enthusiasm, in certain legal circles (see e.g. also Alexander Heinze) and it lies at the heart of a well-resourced movement to bring criminal cases under provisions of ‘universal jurisdiction’ so as to fulfil a ‘responsibility to prosecute’ (a topic discussed further in this paper).

CIJA’s work centres on gathering captured government documentation in Syria to be used in providing linkage evidence for prosecutions of war crimes. (Linkage evidence for such prosecutions differs from more conventional types of evidence in that rather than providing direct proof of guilt for individual offences, it establishes a chain of responsibility to connect high-ranking officials with atrocity crimes committed on the ground.)

In the course of the interview, Weiler gently presses some critical questions. This post presses them a bit harder, and goes on to suggest some answers that can be found when the investigation is less reliant on interviews with protagonists.

Continue reading
Posted in international institutions, OPCW, Syria, UK Government, Uncategorized, war | 2 Comments

Diagnosing Disinformation: a reply to Wilson and Starbird

Author’s note: This article was originally due to appear in Misinformation Review, the Harvard-based journal that published the piece it responds to. The editorial board accepted the article for publication, but because of the challenging nature of my critique, they decided it should be published under the rubric of a letter to the editor so as to allow a right of reply to the authors of the article criticised. Three weeks after it was sent out to those authors, I was informed that ‘we are unable to publish letters on our site at this time.’ [Submitted to Misinformation Review 22 August 2020; Accepted for publication 30 October 2020; notified of non-publication 30 November 2020.]

Disinformation is a difficult field of investigation for a distinctive reason. Disinformation implies bad faith, and any discussion of it that relates to real actors or institutions implicitly impugns them. This adds a layer of difficulty for those attempting a dispassionate assessment of different points of view in terms of reasoned disagreements. The researcher needs to be scrupulous in maintaining standards of good faith when purporting to identify contraventions of it. Failure to attend to this requirement carries a further risk of propagating rather than diagnosing disinformation. This risk is made evident in a recent article by Tom Wilson and Kate Starbird in Misinformation Review. Unfortunately, they fall foul of it. This essay argues for greater epistemic caution.

Continue reading
Posted in disinformation, free intelligence, media, political philosophy, propaganda, Syria, Uncategorized, White Helmets | 3 Comments

How We’re Misled About Syria: UK Propaganda and the BBC

Previous posts about misleading Syria coverage – from MSF, Amnesty International, Channel 4 and George Monbiot of the Guardian – used the past tense in their title. However, this one is current. At the time of writing, the BBC is about to start airing a new radio series centring on the life and work of the late James Le Mesurier, the former British Army officer responsible for establishing the White Helmets, a prime source of information used by the Western media in coverage of the war in Syria.

Continue reading
Posted in BBC, disinformation, media, propaganda, Syria, UK Government, Uncategorized, war, White Helmets | 15 Comments

Free Intelligence: notes for a manifesto

Faced today with so much disinformation as we are today, how can citizens be mutually supportive in developing intelligence – intelligence being understood in all its senses, including as a capacity of individual inquirers, as a quality of publicly available understandings of the world, and as a source of insight into potentially disruptive aspects of social life?

Is there any reason not to be committed to:

the development and exercise of inquiring minds as an essential aspect of human life;

recognition of the value of social cooperation in developing intelligence;

maximal openness in the sharing of knowledge and understanding;

respect for the principles of freedom of thought and expression;

defence of those whose lawful rights of free expression are curtailed by government;

promotion of education that supports the development of intellectual autonomy and social understanding at all ages;

defence of a political order that respects constitutional principles for the governance of intelligence gathering and sharing, including provision for democratic oversight of intelligence agencies, state and corporate?

Are there other related commitments that should be regarded as similarly important?

Personally, I perceive disturbing trends in society today that tend to undermine the possibility of fulfilling those commitments. Of particular concern is the spread of disinformation in public communications arising not merely from negligence or incompetence. Agencies with resources to pursue particular agendas can engage in various strategic communications aimed at influencing the public into accepting beliefs that would, with the exercise of free intelligence, be more critically scrutinised.

A further concern is that the education system is being adversely influenced, with a particular risk being that universities, whose social role is to be custodians of the highest standards of research and instruction, are drawn into ventures that dilute and even undermine those standards. In fulfilling a commitment to raising the level of public debate about significant matters of political or scientific controversy, universities have a vital role to play, on behalf of – and answerably to – the whole of society.

What do you think? Please feel free to comment below…

Posted in free intelligence, Uncategorized | 5 Comments

The Unfolding Revelations Concerning the OPCW – by Piers Robinson

The following is an edited reproduction of an extended thread of tweets recently posted by Piers Robinson, founding member and spokesperson for the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media.

Continue reading

Posted in chemical weapons, disinformation, guest blog, international institutions, journalism, media, OPCW, propaganda, Syria, UK Government, Uncategorized, war, White Helmets | 7 Comments