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 | 8 Comments

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

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

Should Universities Care About The Truth?

Caring about the truth is what universities – through their members – do. But what about the truth of alleged facts that are appealed to as grounds for governments to go to war or to engage in military interventions? Such claims are not typically the fruits of academic research. So the question is whether universities have any particular business truth-checking them. The answer is not obvious.

In my latest article, published in MR Online, I argue that since universities are already getting drawn into the world of fact-checking controversies, some strategic reflection on how best to do so would be in order.

The article considers two starkly contrasting methods of finding truth ‘in a post truth world’ – Bellingcat’s and that of the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media. It comes to a very clear recommendation about why and how universities should care about checking the truth of the claims that are leveraging their reputations.

Read the article at MR Online

Download pdf

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Has OPCW whistleblower helped prevent war with Iran?

“If he’s right, the United States went to the brink of war on the basis of fraudulent information.” So says President Trump’s adviser Tucker Carlson speaking on his Fox News show about Ian Henderson – he’s the OPCW engineering expert whose assessment of the alleged 2018 Douma chemical attack was recently leaked to the public. Carlson is credited with since having stayed the president’s hand in response to recent calls for retaliation against Iran. The vindication of Carlson’s earlier scepticism about the Douma allegations would not have been lost on the Commander in Chief. So even if the battle for his ear is not over, as the New York Times cautions, this is still encouraging news for those who – like the OPCW whistleblower who leaked the Henderson document – want to do the right thing and speak out with the truth even in the face of corruption and intimidation.

In May this year, it was revealed that the OPCW’s final report on the alleged 2018 chemical attack in Douma had misrepresented its own investigation’s findings. The leaked engineers’ assessment – excluded from the final report published in March 2019 – effectively exculpates the Syrian government. It shows the munitions were more likely placed by hand than dropped from a government helicopter.

This finding would have been politically difficult to publish for those in control at OPCW (who are not the investigators). For the American, French and British, having peremptorily blamed the Assad government for the Douma attack, had already launched over 100 missiles at Syria in retaliation. The engineers’ assessment suggests that these Western allies had no legal, moral or factual grounds to justify their action.

Western mainstream media have been almost entirely silent about this major new revelation. One notable exception in America, however, has been Tucker Carlson. Already a lone sceptical voice at the time of the attack last year, he covered the leaked assessment in his show on Fox News. He highlights the significance of the assessment signed by the experienced OPCW engineering sub-team leader Ian Henderson:

“If he’s right, the United States went to the brink of war on the basis of fraudulent information”

To talk about this, Carlson welcomes as guest Tulsi Gabbard. An Iraq war veteran and current presidential candidate for the Democratic Party, Gabbard’s conspicuous valor has included speaking out openly about the US’s propensity to engage in wars on false pretexts. Inured to the smears of being an “Assadist”, she is a consistent critic of the interests vested in the war machine. She agrees that the OPCW revelation “is a significant and very important development that we’ve got to take seriously.” She emphasises the importance of “doing our due diligence and checking very carefully the evidence”.

Gabbard turns then to a still more pressing case where a responsible approach to foreign policy decisions is urgently needed:

“We’re at the brink of a war with Iran. The American people don’t seem to be prepared for how devastating and costly such a war would be…”

She emphasises how such a war would bring total chaos, could not be contained within Iran and would extend across the region. Many would die, many more would be displaced, and vast amounts of money would be diverted from where it is really needed. Moreover, everyone has also to ask – as she, a former soldier speaking for her comrades does,

“What are we fighting for? What would a victory be?”

That interview was shown on Fox News on 25 May. In June, we were to learn that the conversation had been picked up in circles beyond the anti-war movement. As the Daily Beast reported:

In the upper echelons of the Trump administration, hawkish voices on Iran predominate—most notably Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton. But as tensions between the U.S. and Iran have escalated over the last few weeks, there’s been another, far different voice in the president’s ear: that of Fox News host Tucker Carlson.

Carlson had ‘privately advised Trump against taking military action against Iran’, also heavily criticising ‘the more “hawkish members” of his administration’. While they were calling for military retaliation against Iran in response to recent tanker attacks, the president was to adopt a view much closer to Carlson’s.

So, thanks in some measure to the OPCW whistleblower, it was evidently present to Trump’s mind that a president can sometimes be too readily persuaded to take precipitate action.

As for the OPCW, we have still to see what may be done to address the politicisation that non-aligned states have long complained of. But it is an encouraging sign that John Bolton, the man who most egregiously sought to undermine OPCW’s processes back in 2002, reportedly to the point of threatening harm to its Director General’s children, appears to have been sidelined by the president over Iran.

Whatever one may think of Trump and Fox News stances on other matters, this story has to be a cause for some cautious optimism. Certainly, the chances of victory over the forces of war will be improved if everybody who can see lies used to justify a war does speak out against them.

 

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The need for radically reformed governance at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)

It was recently revealed that the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) had suppressed evidence about an alleged chemical attack in 2018. This scandal was downplayed in the mainstream media, but its implications are serious. The OPCW had already been losing the confidence of a number of states, including those of the Non-Aligned Movement as well as China and Russia. The organisation’s credibility has now been called into question in the eyes of all impartial observers.

The suppression of the Engineering Assessment of the Douma incident was not an isolated aberration, according to the latest Briefing Note produced by Paul McKeigue, David Miller, Jake Mason and Piers Robinson of the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media (WGSPM) – the organisation entrusted with the original leak of the suppressed assessment.

That trust is based on mutual respect between professional researchers. McKeigue and colleagues ‘are well aware that most staff in the OPCW continue to work professionally for the organisation’s mission of upholding the Chemical Weapons Convention.’

It is also grounded in a sense of shared purpose as human beings on this planet. The reason virtually every nation on Earth has ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) – whose provisions the OPCW is supposed to implement – is to prevent that particular source of atrocious crime from being used anywhere.

Quite simply, the very future of the OPCW is put in jeopardy by the political manipulations that have been undermining its credibility as an honest or impartial watchdog.

The latest WGSPM Briefing Note concerns real crimes – up to and including mass murder – that are not being properly investigated. It shows that investigations into them appear may have been hampered by the very organisation we have all entrusted to carry them out.

So the authors are clear what this means:

The credibility of the OPCW cannot be restored simply by finding some way to reverse what were purported to be the findings of the FFM on the Douma incident, but only by an independent re-examination of all its previous investigations of alleged chemical attacks in Syria, and a radical reform of its governance and procedures.

Read the Briefing Note: ‘How the OPCW’s investigation of the Douma incident was nobbled’, by Paul McKeigue, David Miller, Jake Mason, Piers Robinson Members of Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media, 26 June 2019

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On the OPCW response to the leaked engineers’ assessment

On 13 May 2019 the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media (WGSPM) published a document received from an anonymous whistleblower at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). The document’s findings run counter to the conclusion of OPCW’s official final report (1 March 2019) on the 2018 chemical incident in Douma – the one cited as pretext for French, US and UK forces to fire 103 missiles into Syria.

The significance of the new disclosure can hardly be overstated. But while recognized by some prominent independently-minded commentators, it has been studiously ignored by the mainstream media. As for OPCW itself, an official response has been very slow in coming.

Meanwhile “informed sources” have been floating various suggestions about why the implications of the leaked document may be somehow less significant than appears.

The latest briefing note from WGSPM analyses the response so far:

Comments on official response to the release of the Engineering Assessment of the Douma cylinders, by Paul McKeigue, David Miller, Jake Mason, Piers Robinson

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Douma chemical deaths: research and reports

The OPCW’s “final report” on the 2018 chemical incident in Douma, Syria, has been revealed to have suppressed a crucial engineers’ study that points to a conclusion opposed to the official one. Given the vital role of the OPCW in implementing the Chemical Weapons Convention on behalf of virtually every country in the world, this is a matter that calls for thorough and stringent investigation. Yet undertakings to do this have not been immediately forthcoming.

Furthermore, a large number of people lost their lives under unexplained circumstances in connection with the incident, so there is suspicion of a crime of mass murder. Thus concerns are that a proper criminal investigation may have been hampered. This also needs to be thoroughly investigated.

Below follows some brief commentary and selected links (most recent first) on how public understanding has developed in relation to the event and the informational contestation surrounding it.

[Update 12 June 2019]

Mainstream media have continued to avoid the issue, but across alternative and social media, public pressure for answers has been maintained. The spokespersons for OPCW seem to have made matters worse for themselves each time they have said something, as the Working Group (WGSPM) pointed out in a study of official OPCW responses. The WGSPM authors show that the responses are mutually self-contradictory. Initial attempts by OPCW management to deny the authenticity or downplay the significance of the leaked engineers’ report were followed by tacit admissions of its genuineness. The reason then given for its exclusion from the OPCW’s final report was that it contained an implication about who was responsible for the incident – yet in fact it did so no more than the approved report had done. It just pointed in the opposite direction.

In the meantime, a question in UK Parliament received a blithe and unsatisfactory reply, while some incisively probing questions formulated by Peter Hitchens received none from OPCW. Indeed, the Director General of the OPCW appeared to make matters worse with some perplexing remarks at a conference on 11 June.

The silence of mainstream media and disarray apparent within the upper levels of contrasts with the dedication of OPCW’s professional investigators, independent journalists, and concerned citizens to get the truth out.

Sadly, it does have also to be noted that there are a few journalists of another kind who have continued to try to suppress critical questioning. The notorious ‘narrative corrector’ Idrees Ahmad, for instance, who as well as being a journalist is a lecturer at Stirling University in Scotland, attempted to intimidate The Nation & Izzy Awards into spurning the highly-respected independent journalist Aaron Maté for covering the leaked report. Meanwhile, Professor Scott Lucas of Birmingham University, who edits EA (Enduring America) Online, appears to have been channelling information – albeit of questionable quality – from “informed sources” within OPCW. (Ahmad and Lucas, incidentally, were called on to provide statements for the smear articles on WGSPM members in The Times last April – occasioned by our raising of questions about the reliability of claims about chemical weapons attacks.)

[28 May 2019] Public debate since the leaking of OPCW engineers’ report published 13 May 2019

Mainstream media has been slow – to put it mildly – in picking up the story. Exceptions to the general silence are Robert FiskPeter Hitchens, and Tucker Carlson with Tulsi Gabbard. (Hitchens has also pursued the story of a new alleged chemical attack of 19 May this year which appeared simply to be dropped by the media in the light of revelations now circulating concerning the previous one.)

The news was given some public prominence in statements by Susan Sarandon and Roger Waters.

Meanwhile, more numerous independent journalists and commentators have emphasised the significance of the leaked report. Videos feature Jimmy Dore and Aaron Mate interviewing Theodore Postol. Authors of articles include Caitlin Johnstone, Craig Murray, Jonathan Cook, Tony CartalucciMartin Jay, Kit Knightly, John McEvoy, Philip Roddis, Citizens Electoral Council (Australia), Martin Odoni, James O’Neill, Eric Zuesse, Fabio Giuseppe Carlo Carisio (in Italian), MediaLensTobias Riegel (in German), and Paul Bond.

The story also made the news in Cuba, Ghana, Japan, Venezuela, and, of course, Syria.

From the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media (WGSPM), Piers Robinson is interviewed live on RT, and David Miller gives an extended interview on Syriana Analysis.

Experts beyond WGSPM who have written on the subject include Theodore Postol and Stephen McIntyre.

The leaked OPCW engineers’ assessment was first published with a commentary by: Paul McKeigue, David Miller and Piers Robinson (13 May 2019) Assessment by the engineering sub-team of the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission investigating the alleged chemical attack in Douma in April 2018, Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media.

Engineers’ Assessment of Two Cylinders Observed at the Douma Incident (circulated internally 27 February 2019; published via WGSPM 13 May 2019) Unclassified OPCW.

Concerns about the quality of the OPCW final report of 1 March 2019

Russian Federation (26 April 2019) Commentaries on the conclusion of the report of the fact-finding mission on the use of chemical weapons in Syria regarding the alleged use of chemical weapons in Douma on 7 April 2018, OPCW Executive Council.

Paul McKeigue, David Miller and Piers Robinson (12 April 2019) The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW): critical questions, Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media.

In this period it emerged that public debate was being influenced by an organisation called the Institute for Statecraft and its “Integrity Initiative”.  I have posted a separate listing on this of 185 links to items between November 2018 and April 2019.

Further public information in the period between OPCW FFM interim and final report of 1 March 2019

CGTN (14 February 2019) BBC producer drops bombshell by saying footage of 2018 Douma chemical attack was ‘staged’, Youtube

INTERIM REPORT OF THE OPCW FACT-FINDING MISSION IN SYRIA REGARDING THE INCIDENT OF ALLEGED USE OF TOXIC CHEMICALS AS A WEAPON IN DOUMA, SYRIAN ARAB REPUBLIC, ON 7 APRIL 2018 

Significant findings in the period between the event and OPCW interim report of the Fact-Finding Mission (6 July 2018)

Regarding the event of 7 April 2018, relevant links were provided in this commentary that I posted on 8 April 2018 and last updated 28 April 2018.

 

 

two views of balcony

Fragmentation damage indicates an explosion, not a cylinder drop. It is absent from Douma scene according to OPCW and the ‘augmented reality’ of Forensic Architecture.

 

 

 

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PRESS RELEASE: Leaked report says the “chemical attack” in Syria in April 2018 was staged.  

PRESS RELEASE from the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media

In April last year Syrian opposition groups claimed that the Syrian government had launched a chemical attack in the last opposition stronghold near Damascus.  The US, France and Britain responded with a shower of cruise missiles against Syria. Now a leaked report  by engineers from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons who investigated the incident says that the alleged chemical attack was staged: the “only plausible explanation” for the gas cylinders found in two apartment buildings was that they were placed there, not dropped from helicopters.

On 8 April last year the world woke up to horrifying images of the bodies of more than 30 dead civilians lying in an apartment building in the Damascus suburb of Douma.  The opposition had held out against the Syrian Army till then, but agreed to be evacuated the next day. A week later,  the US, France and Britain attacked Syria with more than 100 cruise missiles in retaliation. Theresa May told the House of Commons that:

A significant body of information, including intelligence, indicates that the Syrian regime is responsible for this latest attack. … No other group could have carried out this attack. The opposition do not operate helicopters or use barrel bombs.

A team of investigators from OPCW arrived in Damascus on a Fact-Finding Mission the day after the US-led missile attack, and began inspecting the sites of the alleged attack.  In March this year, the Final Report of the Fact-Finding Mission was published.  This reported that outside experts in ballistics, structural engineering and metallurgy had been asked to give opinions on “the trajectory and damage to the cylinders”, and concluded that there were “reasonable grounds that the use of a toxic chemical as a weapon took place.“

There was no mention in the Final Report that the Fact-Finding Mission had conducted its own engineering study, led by one of OPCW’s most senior inspectors, Ian Henderson.  Now a copy of the suppressed Engineering Assessment has been leaked from inside OPCW – and OPCW has reluctantly confirmed that the document is genuine.  Although OPCW has refused to comment further, several UK commentators have reported that their contacts in OPCW briefed them off the record that this was “a minority opinion”,  that the author was “on the sidelines”, or a “disgruntled employee”.  

The Engineering Assessment says that the cylinder found lying over a hole in the roof (at what they designate location 2) would have punched straight through the roof if it had been dropped from 500M – much lower than a helicopter would actually fly – and could not have been stopped by the steel reinforcing bars without leaving marks on the cylinder.  The cylinder with fins found lying on a bed (at location 4) could not have fitted through the hole in the roof if it had been dropped from the sky.

In each case the alternative hypothesis [that the cylinders were placed in position rather than dropped from the air] produced the only plausible explanation for observations at the scene.

Piers Robinson, convenor of the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media [2] that published the leaked document, says:

“It’s hard to see how the opinions of outside experts who had not been to the sites could override the opinions of OPCW’s own engineering team who had made their own inspection on site. The best way for OPCW to clear this up would be to make all the documents that were used to prepare the Final Report of the Fact-Finding Mission, including the full reports provided by outside experts, publicly available for review.”

David Miller, a member of the working group, stated that:

“this leak shows that there is significant dissent inside the OPCW.  We hope that others will come forward with further elements of the story on how the OPCW has performed its role in this and other alleged chemical attacks. It is essential to note that any such disclosures can be done in confidence.”

 


For further information

Dr Piers Robinson: +44 7764763350, piers.robinson@propagandastudies.ac.uk

David Miller,  Professor of Political Sociology, University of Bristol, +44 7786 927551, david.miller@bristol.ac.uk

For independent comments

A military expert who has read the report (but is not associated with the Working Group):

Jonathan Shaw (former head of UK Special Forces)

Email: shaw215@hotmail.com

For a UK government view

UK delegation to OPCW: Twitter @UK_OPCW, email: opcw@fco.gov.uk

For OPCW’s position

The Public Affairs Office is unlikely to respond (see below). The Chief of Cabinet (equivalent to CEO)  is a French diplomat named Sébastien Braha:

Twitter: @braha_seb,  email: sebastien.braha@opcw.org, or sebastien.braha@diplomatie.gouv.fr

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/sébastien-braha-22a73328)

Footnotes

[1] In response to enquiries about this story from journalists, the OPCW Public Affairs office issued a statement on 16 May. The final paragraph was:

Pursuant to its established policies and practices, the OPCW Technical Secretariat is conducting an internal investigation about the unauthorised release of the document in question. At this time, there is no further public information on this matter and the OPCW is unable to accommodate requests for interviews

[2] Dr Piers Robinson is convenor of the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media, and co-author of the group’s previously published briefing notes on the Douma incident and other alleged chemical attacks in Syria. The group was attacked by The Times in April 2018 as ‘Assad apologists” for questioning the evidence on these alleged chemical attacks and the role of the White Helmets.   The Working Group has never expressed any opinion in favour of or against the Syrian government.

[3] Professor Miller is a member of the working group and co-author of the group’s previously published briefing notes on the Douma incident and other alleged chemical attacks in Syria.

 

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