29 November 2019 — Moon of Alabama
Leaks from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) prove that the OPCW management ignored or manipulated reports its Fact Finding Mission had written about the April 2018 Douma incident in Syria.
The history of the Douma incident and the OPCW and media manipulation around it is available from the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media under the headline: How the OPCW’s investigation of the Douma incident was nobbled. Our own posts around the incident are linked below.
The OPCW management ignored that the technical, chemical and medical analysis of its own specialists exculpated the Syrian government from the allegation that it poisoned some 40 people in Douma by dropping Chlorine canisters from a helicopter.
The OPCW scientific staff found that dropping the canisters could not have created the damage that was found. Those canisters must have been placed by hand. The amount of chlorinated organic chemicals found at the two scenes was very low and it is very unlikely that they are the result of a reaction with chlorine gas. The medical symptoms of the casualties as was seen in various videos at the time of the incident were inconsistent with death by chlorine inhalation.
The OPCW management twisted the interim and the final OPCW report on the incident to make it look as if the Syrian government was guilty of dropping chlorine canisters. The detailed internal technical analysis was ignored. It was replaced by external analysis from unknown sources who claimed the opposite of what the OPCW engineers and chemists had found. The wording of the report suggests that high levels of chlorinated organic chemicals were found without giving the very low concentrations (in parts per billions) that were actually found. The internal medical analysis was eliminated from the official report.
OPCW emails and documents were leaked and whistleblowers came forward to speak with journalists and international lawyers. Veteran journalist Jonathan Steele, who has spoken with the whistleblowers, wrote an excellent piece on the issues. In the Mail on Sunday columnist Peter Hitchens picked up the issue and moved it forward:
New sexed-up dossier furore: Explosive leaked email claims that UN watchdog’s report into alleged poison gas attack by Assad was doctored – so was it to justify British and American missile strikes on Syria?.
Hitchens also responded to the Bellingcat scam: Bellingcat or Guard Dog for the Establishment?.
Quoting Bellingcat Peter Hitchens (PH) writes:
However, a comparison of the points raised in the letter against the final Douma report makes it amply clear that the OPCW not only addressed these points, but even changed the conclusion of an earlier report to reflect the concerns of said employee.
Apart from the words ‘a’, and ‘the’, everything in the above paragraph is, to put it politely, mistaken. Bellingcat have been so anxious to trash the leak from the OPCW that they have (as many did when the attack was first released) rushed to judgment without waiting for the facts. More is known by the whistleblowers of the OPCW than has yet been released, but verification procedures have slowed down its release. More documents will, I expect, shortly come to light.
One, which I have seen, is very interesting. It is a memorandum of protest, written many months after the e-mail of protest published at the weekend. This was sent to the OPCW Director-General Fernando Arias (there is some doubt about whether it ever reached him) by an OPCW investigator (one of those who actually visited Douma), on 14th March 2019. It has reached me through hitherto reliable sources. This is nearly two weeks *after* the release of the ‘final’ report (on Friday 1st March 2019) which is supposed to have resolved the doubts of the dissenters.
In his discussion of the issue Hitchens also mentions this blog:
[The OPCW report claim]
‘Various chlorinated organic chemicals were found in samples from Locations 2 and 4, along with residues of explosive. These results are reported in Annex 3. Work by the team to establish the significance of these results is ongoing.’
resulted in some quite remarkable media reports. These are explored here:
Bellingcat and its supporters may not like the source, and I do not much like it myself, but it is a unique record, as far as I know, of the initial media response to the issue of the July 6 report. I have in fact checked its claims with Reuters and the BBC and they do not dispute what it says, though they say they later corrected the output.
It is sad, Peter, that you don’t like this blog much but I am afraid I can do nothing about it.
A few hours ago Hitchens published another piece: In defense of journalism – ‘Citizen journalists’ are no such thing. In it he again takes on Bellingcat and other such ‘citizen journalists’ and ‘researchers’ to then reveal that he himself has now talked to an OPCW whistleblower:
Luckily for me I have had the backing of people who know deep down that journalism must take risks to be any good. Someone had to say ‘yes’ to me when I headed off at short notice a few days ago, on my complicated way to a safe house somewhere in a major city on the European continent.
Someone had to fork out for my train fares and my cheap station hotels. Someone had to have the guts to let me tell my story about what I found when I got there — which was an honest man in turmoil. His job was to tell the truth and he was being prevented from doing so. So I could help him. In four decades of journalism, I have seldom felt closer to the Holy Grail, truth that had to be told, and truth that would shake power. Here it was. A pretext for war had been manufactured by suppression of research.
Hitchens must refer to an upcoming war that was supposed to be based on the now disgraced OPCW report.
There is indeed a possible path to war.
The original agreement for OPCW investigations in Syria stipulated that the OPCW would report the results of investigations to a Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) at the United Nations where the Security Council would then attribute guilt to either side of the conflict. The U.S. tried to use the JIM process to attribute dubious chemical incidents in Syria to the government. Russia vetoed those attempts. The U.S. then decided to circumvent the UN process.
In 2018 the U.S. and its proxies manipulated the OPCW statute and added the task of identifying the guilty party of chemical incidents to the OPCW’s agenda:
[The decision] also calls upon the [OPCW] Secretariat to put in place arrangements “ to identify the perpetrators of the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic by identifying and reporting on all information potentially relevant to the origin of those chemical weapons in those instances in which the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission determines or has determined that use or likely use occurred, and cases for which the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism has not issued a report”.
The decision further affirmed that whenever chemical weapons use occurs on the territory of a State Party, “those who were the perpetrators, organisers, sponsors or otherwise involved should be identified” and it underscored “the added value of the Secretariat conducting an independent investigation of an alleged use of chemical weapons with a view to facilitating universal attribution of all chemical weapons attacks”.
The manipulated OPCW report, which omitted the OPCW scientists’ findings, will now be the basic document which the new OPCW attribution group, the Investigation and Identification Team, will use to find the Syrian government guilty. That guilty verdict can then be used to publicly justify a war on Syria without further UN Security Council interference.
This is what Hitchens means when he writes that “A pretext for war had been manufactured by suppression of research.”
Russia, China and several other governments have protested against the change in the OPCW statute. The Russian statement to this year’s Chemical Weapon Convention (CWC) conference says:
The decision to vest the OPCW Technical Secretariat with functions to identify parties responsible for the use of chemical weapons adopted in June 2018 at the CSP-SS-4 in contradiction of the Convention is illegitimate. This innovation forced on the OPCW goes beyond the scope of the CWC and the Organization, the decision itself was adopted in violation of the Convention, and its implementation is nothing other than an interference with the exclusive competence of the UN Security Council.
As a clearly foreseeable result of this questionable decision, fundamental problems with its realization ensued, namely, the lack of transparency and accountability of the “attribution” mechanism, which is the Investigation and Identification Team, to the OPCW governing bodies. The States Parties have yet to learn about the terms of reference of this entity, its operating conditions, its criteria for selection of “incidents”to investigate or sources and modalities of its financing.
The OPCW scientists found serious evidence that the Syrian government can NOT be guilty of the Douma incident. Under U.S. pressure the OPCW management suppressed its scientists’ technical reports or replaced them with those from “external experts” to make it look as if the Syrian government caused the incident. The new attribution group at the OPCW will use that manipulated report to find Syria guilty of causing the incident. The U.S. and others could then use that guilty verdict as pretext to launch a war.
We only learned of this plan because courageous scientists and engineers at the OPCW do not want to see their organization abused to find pretexts to wage wars on the innocent. They came forward and told the public what it needs to know. They deserve our gratitude.
Previous Moon of Alabama coverage of the Douma incident and its aftermath: