Update 28 April – the appearance of 17 witnesses at the OPCW meeting at The Hague all testifying to a complete absence of chemical weapons or victims at the clinic has been accepted by non-Western observers as close to definitive proof. Western media have offered some half-hearted thoughts about why one might be cautious about accepting the witness statements at face value, but given how dramatically this belated caution contrasts with their own initial rush to judgement on the basis of entirely untested evidence, the main response has been radio silence. While a cessation of disinformation is welcome, there remains a very important question. While everyone should be very happy to learn there were no chemical weapons deaths at the clinic and to know that the kids appearing in the video scene there are in good health, we also saw images of other kids and some adults, elsewhere in Douma, that genuinely appeared to be dead. Their deaths look to be appropriately subject to criminal investigation. This should not be forgotten. Both justice for these apparent victims of some kind of unlawful killing, and a need to establish still what exactly occurred in similar alleged chemical incidents, require continued attention. So while most of the links below can now be regarded as elements of the historical record of how the investigation has appeared to different observers, the section on ‘current work in progess’ remains very much a record of live inquiry.
Update 22 April – regarding the clinic scene, by now, it seems that the onus is on anyone who thinks chemicals figured there at all to provide some evidence. Attention can focus on whether chemicals were involved elsewhere, and, if so, what they were, what damage they caused to whom, and who was responsible for their use. The announcement today of a discovery of large quantities of hexamine, a sarin precursor, at a lab of Jaish al Islam, could be significant.
Update 20 April – now we have heard testimony not only from residents and medics, but also from one of the children featured in the video. Further update: German TV News from ZDF carries report of numerous witness statements from Douma refugees who all say the chemical attack was staged (from minute 7:30), which does reduce the likelihood that witnesses could have been ‘planted’ or coerced. (I have added a separate note on this latter matter, 21 April.)
Update 16 April – further to doubts expressed by prominent journalists and senior British military figures over recent days, today renowned journalist Robert Fisk visited the actual scene of the clinic and reports doctor’s confirmation of what two medical workers had previously said (April 13), namely, that smoke/dust inhalation following an explosion had caused the breathing difficulties patients presented with. What then happened was that a man came in shouting that there’d been a gas/chemical attack, causing panic, and starting getting people hosed down for the camera. This same story was also reported by Pearson Sharp for OAN who additionally interviewed dozens of local residents, randomly chosen from queues for relief supplies, none of whom had seen any sign of any chemical attack.
Original post 8 April 2018 Allegations of a chemical attack in Douma by Syria on 7 April were met by threats from President Trump to attack Syria. These were followed by Israeli missile strikes on an airfield in Homs early on 9 April. Given the pace of events and their significance for potential escalation in tensions between the Western powers and Russia, it is helpful to have timely information about questions that are under investigation by independent researchers. This post will be updated as and when insightful contributions are published, including as work in progress. Comments are open to allow for readers’ further recommendations and observations.
In the media
German TV news from ZDF reports that numerous refugees from Douma all say alleged chemical attack was staged (20 April) video report, in German, from minute 07:30
‘OAN’S Pearson Sharp refutes MSM reports of alleged Syrian chemical attack’ (18 April) – 7 minutes of interviews with witnesses in the street by the site of alleged attack
Dirk Emmerich, RTL Deutschland (16 April) [in German, shows citizens saying they were used as human shields, knew of no gas attack, and are very glad for the food they can now get.] [now with English subtitles, thanks to @walid970721]
Robert Fisk, from the clinic in Douma, reports that there was no chemical/gas attack (16 April) – short podcast, expect more…
Former First Sea Lord of the Royal Navy, Lord Alan West, articulates deep scepticism about allegations (13 April) – see interview from minute 06:40
Testimony from on the ground in Douma
Two men working in hospital ER, seen in the “chemical attack” video, testify that there were no chemical attack victims but that a panic was caused by a man with camera who came in and said it was a chemical attack (13 April)
Current work in progress
Douma Videos and Photos Steve McIntyre (24 April 2018)
On anomalies concerning position and condition of the chlorine cylinder Michael Kobs (twitter thread)
‘Syria – Manipulated Videos Fail to Launch World War III’ Moon of Alabama (13 April)
Research on previous chemical incidents in Syria:
Updated assessment of Khan Sheikhoun incident Paul McKeigue
Analysis of video footage from Khan Sheikhoun incident @qoppa999 (twitter thread)
Research on 2013 Kafr Batna incident ACLOS collective
Selected interviews about wider context of the current crisis
Jeffrey Sachs (12 April)
Maria Zacharova (12 April)
Summary of key questions
1. Was there a gas attack?
[ If no, how can deaths alleged caused by it be explained?]
2. If yes, was Syrian government responsible?
[If no, who was?
3. If yes, were the airstrikes justified under principles of international law?
The answer to (3), even assuming affirmative answers to (1) and (2) = NO, according to Professor Mary Ellen O’Connell, Robert and Marion Short Professor of Law and Research Professor of International Dispute Resolution—Kroc Institute, University of Notre Dame. (Unlawful Reprisals to the Rescue against Chemical Attacks? – 12 April 2018)
Further discussion of legitimacy and legality of Western action
Richard Falk, ‘Attacking Syria’, in The Transnational (18 April 2018)