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Iran: Politicization of Syria’s chemical-weapons file harms OPCW credibility

Press TV – April 30, 2022

Iran’s deputy permanent representative to the UN has decried the politicization of the Syrian chemical-weapons file by certain countries, stressing that the move will endanger the credibility and authority of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the global chemical watchdog.

Zahra Ershadi made the remarks in an address to the UN Security Council session titled “The situation in the Middle East: (Syria – Chemical)” on Friday, during which she strongly condemned the use of chemical weapons anywhere, by anyone, and under any circumstances.

Ershadi stressed the implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and said the treaty aims to protect humanity from the devastating repercussions and scourge of the use of chemical weapons.

“We reiterate our call for the full, effective, non-political, and non-discriminatory implementation of the CWC, and preserving the OPCW’s authority as well. We believe that politicizing the implementation of the Convention and exploiting the OPCW for politically motivated agendas endangers the Convention’s credibility and also the Organization’s authority,” the Iranian envoy to the UN said.

“We also emphasize that any investigation into the use of chemical weapons must be impartial, professional, credible, and objective in order to establish the facts and reach evidence-based conclusions, and in doing so it must strictly adhere to the provisions and procedures within the framework of the Convention; no deviation from the Convention shall be permitted,” she added.

Underlining Syria’s strenuous efforts to meet its CWC obligations, she said the country has shown its willingness to collaborate with the OPCW.

“However, it is disappointing that certain States Parties have politicized the Syrian chemical weapons file, preventing the OPCW from confirming Syria’s compliance with its obligations, which could have resulted in constructive dialogue and cooperation with Syria,” Ershadi said.

“We recognize the critical importance of the Syrian government’s efforts to fulfill its obligations under the Convention,” she further added.

Ershadi also expressed Iran’s support for the approach taken by OPCW and Syria to hold a high-level dialogue and hoped that the initiative would yield positive results.

OPCW, CWC ‘politically biased’

Ershadi’s remarks came after the US accused Syria of flouting the CWC and obstructing the OPCW’s inspectors on Friday, which marked the 25th anniversary of the implementation of the landmark treaty.

Responding to the US accusations, Syrian ambassador Bassam Sabbagh said the inspectors had been denied access because of a “lack of objectivity and professionalism.”

Sabbagh also accused the OPCW and the CWC of political bias.

Russian Ambassador Vasily Nebenzya said the convention had become a “punitive” instrument wielded in the interests of a “narrow group of countries” against Syria.

“At its 25th anniversary, the OPCW has very serious systemic problems and a tarnished reputation,” Nebenzya noted. “Russia unconditionally supports the CWC and is committed to its letter and spirit. What gives rise to question to us is how its provisions are being implemented by the OPCW.”

Moscow and Damascus have on many occasions said members of the so-called White Helmets civil defense group stage gas attacks in a bid to falsely incriminate Syrian government forces and fabricate pretexts for military strikes by the US-led military coalition.

The group, which claims to be a humanitarian NGO, has long been accused of collaborating with anti-Damascus militants.

On April 14, 2018, the US, Britain, and France carried out a string of airstrikes against Syria over a suspected chemical weapons attack on the city of Douma, located about 10 kilometres northeast of the capital Damascus.

Washington and its allies blamed Damascus for the Douma attack, a charge the Syrian government rejected.

According to concealed OPCW documents that were revealed later, the investigators of the Douma incident had found “no evidence” of a chemical weapons attack.

However, the organization censored the findings under pressure from the US and its allies to conceal evidence undermining the pretext of the ensuing US-led bombing of Syria.

Syria surrendered its stockpile of chemical weapons in 2014 to a joint mission led by the United States and the OPCW, which oversaw the destruction of the weaponry.

The Arab country has consistently denied the use of chemical weapons despite Western rhetoric.

April 30, 2022 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , | 1 Comment

The OPCW Douma Investigation: Manipulation of Key Toxicology and Related Information Regarding Alleged Victims between the Original Interim Report and the Final Report

Dr Piers Robinson, Convenor, Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media | December 2021

This report, reviewed by three experts, has been extracted from a larger report analysing the OPCW Douma investigation and which will be published in full at a later date. For comments, further information and corrections please contact Dr Piers Robinson at piers.robinson@propagandastudies.org, piers.robinson@propagandastudies.ac.uk or piers.robinson@me.com

Table of Contents

1. Overview

2. Redaction of Key Toxicology Finding Ruling Out Chlorine Gas as Cause of Death

3. Redaction of Information Concerning Gas Dispersion and Build Up

4. Deletion of Contradictory Information Regarding Location of Deceased in Basements

4.1 Deceased in Basement

4.2 Inconsistencies with Respect to Death Toll and Burial of Victims

5. Obfuscation and Failure to Resolve Unexplained ‘Country X’ Witness Testimony Regarding Nerve Agent Symptoms

6. Unresolved Questions Regarding the Authenticity of Events at Location 2

7. Discussion and Recommendations for Next Steps

1. Overview

This report is extracted from a larger report, in progress, which systematically documents the alterations and redactions observed across the OPCW Fact Finding Mission reports- The Original Interim Report, the Secretly Redacted Interim Report, the Published Interim Report and the Final Report.[1] The focus of this report is on critical information regarding the 43 victims at Douma who are reported to have been killed as a result of the alleged chemical weapon attack in Douma, 7 April 2018. No traces of any nerve agent such as sarin were found. As is now known, the Final OPCW report, which reported there were reasonable grounds to conclude chlorine gas was used as a weapon, has been challenged by a significant number of experts whilst two former OPCW scientists involved with the investigation have reported what amounts to malpractice and fraud during the OPCW investigation.

This report shows how significant information relating to the Douma victims has been manipulated, with no apparent justification, through alterations or redactions between the Original Interim Report and the Final Report. At the very least this manipulation of information indicates that the circumstances surrounding the deaths are far from clear. At worst the manipulations indicate an attempt to conceal the truth about what happened to the civilians. Key findings are as follows:

  • A toxicology assessment by four NATO toxicologists/pharmacologists from Germany with expertise in chemical weapons poisoning which ruled out chlorine gas as a cause of death was reported in the Original Interim Report but omitted from the Final Report.
  • Information questioning the feasibility of a fatal build-up of gas, especially in the basement of the alleged attack site at Location 2, although clearly set out in the Original Interim Report, was omitted from the Final Report.
  • Contradicting witness testimonies regarding deceased victims at the alleged attack site ‘Location 2’, although detailed in the Original Interim Report, are excluded from or obfuscated in the Final Report.
  • Witness accounts indicating contradictory information regarding casualty numbers and who was responsible for burying them have been obfuscated come the Final Report.
  • Divergent witness testimony between ‘Damascus’ witnesses and ‘Country X’ witnesses, with only the latter reporting symptoms associated with a chemical attack, is clearly demarcated in the Original Interim Report but obfuscated and unresolved in the Final Report.
  • Information regarding the ‘repositioning’ of bodies through the course of the night 7-8 April 2018, evident in open-source images circulated by activists, is clearly stated in the Original Interim Report but downplayed in the Final Report.
  • Information raising question marks over the authenticity of foam-like material observed on some of the victims, whilst mentioned in the Final Report, is left unexplored and unresolved.

The implications of these manipulations are discussed more fully in Section 7. Briefly, the exclusion of the key toxicology assessment ruling out chlorine gas, which indicates that the victims were not killed by chlorine gas at Location 2, is significant because it obfuscates the fact that no clear explanation for cause of death could be established. As such, the deaths of 43 civilians remains unexplained. Conflicting and inconsistent statements from alleged witnesses in ‘Country X’ – numbers and whereabouts of the deceased at Location 2 and nerve agent symptoms – is concerning and, when combined with the downplaying of information relating to the ‘re-positioning’ of bodies and possibly inauthentic foam-like material observed on some of the decedents, indicates that the Final Report elided information potentially relevant to a finding that at least some of the events at Location 2 were manipulated or staged. Finally, the significant discrepancies in witness accounts regarding the number of deceased, their burial in a mass grave along with other victims, as well as obfuscation of exactly who buried the deceased, reinforces the concern that the circumstances surrounding the civilian deaths in Douma on 7 April 2018 have been obfuscated in the Final Report.

2. Redaction of Key Toxicology Finding Ruling Out Chlorine Gas as Cause of Death

The finding that no nerve agents, such as sarin, or their degradation products were present in the environmental and biological samples, together with the fact that chemical analysis showed samples had apparently been in contact with a substance or substances containing a reactive chlorine atom, was puzzling; the signs and symptoms exhibited by the victims was, the investigators argued, inconsistent with poisoning from a choking agent such as chlorine gas. The Original Interim Report proceeds to identify the principal incongruencies – the almost instantaneous occurrence of pulmonary oedema and associated copious frothing at the mouth and nose, and the apparent immediate collapse and death of the victims who were within meters of an escape route – which according to the investigators rule out chlorine gas being the cause of death at Location 2 (see Image 1).

Image1: Photograph taken of some of the victims at Location 2 and distributed via Opposition Media

These principal inconsistencies were confirmed at a meeting held with chemical warfare toxicologists/pharmacologists in early June 2018).[2] Minutes written up for toxicology meeting conclude by stating ‘that the key “take-away message” from the meeting was that the symptoms observed were inconsistent with exposure to chlorine, and no other obvious candidate chemical causing the symptoms could be identified’. These minutes were confirmed[3] by the other OPCW officials who had attended, including the Head of OPCW Laboratory. These principal inconsistencies are set out clearly in the opening summary section of the Original Interim Report as follows:

‘Some of the signs and symptoms described by witnesses and noted in photos and video recordings taken by witnesses, of the alleged victims are not consistent with exposure to chlorine-containing choking or blood agents such as chlorine gas, phosgene or cyanogen chloride. Specifically, the rapid onset of heavy buccal and nasal frothing in many victims, as well as the colour of the secretions, is not indicative of intoxification from such chemicals.

The large number of decedents in the one location (allegedly 40 to 50), most of whom were seen in videos and photos strewn on the floor of the apartments away from open windows, and within a few meters of an escape to un-poisoned or less toxic air, is at odds with intoxication by chlorine-based choking or blood agents, even at high concentrations.’ (Original Interim Report [Summary]; paras 1.10-1.11, p. 3)

In the ‘Epidemiology’ section of the same report (paras 7.70-7.91; pp: 26-29) it is first noted that the apparent rapid onset of symptoms and death are consistent with a fast-acting nerve agent such as sarin:

A highly debilitating agent, in the opinion of the FFM team, would have to have been released in order to cause the rapid onset of symptoms described by witnesses and observed in the videos where large numbers of decedents are concentrated in different apartments at Location 2. The rapid onset of heavy salivation and frothing from the mouth would be more consistent with exposure to a highly toxic nerve agent than a chocking (sic) agent such as chlorine or phosgene. However, analytical results showed no indication of organophosphorus nerve agents or their degradation products present in samples collected at the scene of the alleged attack or in biomedical samples from victims’. (Original Interim Report: para 7.81; p. 27)

Before then identifying the principal inconsistencies with respect to chlorine gas:

a) Pulmonary edema [sic] and excessive frothing from the mouth have been reported in cases of exposure to lethal doses of chlorine gas or other toxic chlorine-based agents such as phosgene or cyanogen chloride [7] [8] [9]. However, indications are that pulmonary edema, particularly in the case of phosgene, is a late pathological effect of exposure and in cases of high exposure levels death can result before pulmonary edema develops [8] [9]. The white of [sic] light-cream colour of the froth presented by victims is not in keeping with exposure to choking agents, where secretions are characteristically pinkish in colour when frothing does occur,

‘The rapid, and in some reported cases, immediate onset of frothing described by victims is not considered consistent with exposure to chlorine-based choking or blood agents. The opinion of a number of toxicologists, specialists in chemical-weapons-related intoxication supported this assessment’. (Original Interim Report: para 7.82; pp. 26- 27)

b) In order to produce such rapid incapacitation that victims would be unable to escape the toxic gas from the location of the alleged chemical attack (see 3D layout of the building and description), a respiratory irritant such as chlorine or phosgene would almost certainly need to have rapidly accumulated to very high concentrations. It is considered unlikely, given the location of the suspected source of the toxic chemical as well as the configuration and condition of the building, that such concentrations would not[sic] have been attained, particularly in the basement. Moreover, if such high concentrations had developed, as mentioned above, reports suggest that asphyxiation would have been the likely cause of death before pulmonary edema and frothing could develop [10]. (Original Interim Report: para 7.83; p. 27)

c) ‘It should be expected that on encountering the irritant gas, victims would instinctively have retreated and exited the building, which was within a few metres away.’ (Original Interim Report: para 7.84; p. 27)

d) ‘Based on the above observations, expert opinions of toxicologists specialized in chemical weapons exposure, and published scientific knowledge in this area, the FFM team considers that chlorine gas or other reactive chlorine-containing toxic agents such a phosgene or cyanogen chloride would not have resulted in the severe and rapid frothing symptoms reported by witnesses and observed in video footage and photos.’ (Original Interim Report: para 7.85; p. 27)

However, whilst the Original Interim Report communicates clearly the findings that both the arrangement of bodies and the observed symptoms are not compatible with chlorine poisoning, the Final Report obfuscates this finding as follows.

The Summary section of the Final Report contains no reference to the principal inconsistencies and the ruling out of chlorine gas. Instead, the summary section makes reference to both (a) witness observations alleging 43 decedents at Location 2 and that the FFM did not examine the bodies (Final Report [Summary]: para 2.10; p. 3) and (b) that ‘many of the signs and symptoms reported … indicate exposure to an inhalant irritant or toxic substance’ (Final Report [Summary]: para 2.11; p. 4). It then concludes:  … based on the information reviewed and with the absence of biomedical samples from the dead bodies or any autopsy records, it is not currently possible to precisely link the cause of the signs and symptoms to a specific chemical’ (Final Report [Summary]: para 2.11; p. 4). The formulation of words used avoids making any explicit statement ruling out chlorine, thus leaving the possibility that chlorine might have been a cause. As such, the key conclusion that chlorine gas was not likely to have been the cause of death, confirmed during the June 2018 consultation with NATO toxicologists, is absent from the Final Report summary.

Furthermore, in an apparent attempt to strengthen the suggestion that the victims were killed in a chemical attack, the Final Report summary (para 2.10; p. 3) claims that ‘[a] United Nations agency also reported cases of death by exposure to a toxic chemical’ and references two UN (Human Rights Council [HRC]) reports[4]. This claim is misleading in that neither of the UN reports, both written while the OPCW’s Douma investigation was still ongoing and which rely primarily on witness testimony, state any firm conclusions regarding cause of death:

The Commission of Inquiry has been investigating this incident. The available evidence is largely consistent with the use of chlorine, but this in and of itself does not explain other reported symptoms, which are more consistent with the use of another chemical agent, most likely a nerve gas. The Commission’s investigations are on-going. (Report A: p. 14).

And in a section of the HRC report headed ‘Ongoing Investigations’:

‘… the Commission cannot make yet any conclusions concerning the exact cause of death, in particular on whether another agent was used in addition to chlorine that may have caused or contributed to deaths and injuries’ (Report B: p. 17).

As such, nothing substantive can be drawn from the cited UN reports as they, in fact, cite clear reservations about the cause of death that undermine the Final Report’s conclusion of chlorine being the likely cause of death.[5] This is a misleading move and one that is reinforced by repeated referencing of the two UN reports in the conclusion section of the Final Report (para 9.5: p. 30-31). Furthermore, it is notable that the latest report from the UN HRC on this issue does not include Douma as one of its 38 cases of chemical weapons use in Syria, because it did not meet the evidentiary threshold necessary to conclude an attack had occurred.[6]

The principal inconsistencies and ruling out of chlorine gas are also expunged from the body of the Final Report. Specifically, the Epidemiology section does at least include the important observation that only a fast-acting agent (which chlorine gas is not) would readily explain the apparently immediate collapse and death of victims at Location 2:

‘The victims do not appear to have been in the midst of attempting self-extrication or respiratory protection when they collapsed, indicating a very rapid or instant onset. This type of rapid collapse is indicative of an agent capable of quickly killing or immobilizing’ (Final Report: para 8.96; p. 29).

However, the principal inconsistencies identified in the Original Interim Report that lead to the conclusion that chlorine gas was inconsistent with the cause of death at Location 2 – immediate appearance of pulmonary oedema and copious visible frothing plus the rapid collapse of victims in piles – are absent. Instead, the ‘Epidemiology Analysis’ spends several paragraphs describing, amongst other things, the various symptoms observed in media and reported by witnesses before concluding that ‘it is not currently possible to precisely link the cause of the signs and symptoms to a specific chemical’ (Final Report: paras 8.70-8.103; pp: 25-30). Again, as with the summary section, the formulation of words used avoids committing to any explicit statement either ruling out or affirming chlorine use, thus leaving the possibility that chlorine might have been a cause. Via this apparent linguistic sleight of hand, the original finding, that ‘symptoms observed were inconsistent with exposure to chlorine’[7], is elided.

No explanation or justification for this expunging of an unequivocal expert opinion can be identified in the Final Report. Whilst the report does refer to later consultations with toxicologists in September and October 2018, it provides no information about what they said that might help to explain or justify the suppression. It is also notable and concerning that the Final Report makes no mention of the original consultation with the NATO toxicologists; the only consultations shown in the report timeline are those obtained during the Autumn of 2018 (Final Report: Annex 3; pp; 40-41).

3. Redaction of Information Concerning Gas Dispersion and Build Up

Regarding the feasibility of gas concentration reaching lethal levels, a section titled ‘Analysis of the possible route of dispersion of the alleged toxic chemicals or chemicals in Location 2’, included discussion of likely dispersion routes for gas at Location 2 (Original Interim Report: paras 7.24-7.26; pp. 15-16, including Images 2 and 3). In this section the report noted that each level on the staircase had a ‘tall glass-shattered window’ (Original Interim Report: para 7.19; p. 13) which provided routes ‘for horizontal dissipation of the toxic gas towards the exterior’ (Original Interim Report: para 7.25; p. 15). It is also noted that no direct route could be identified through which chlorine gas from the cylinder, which had landed on a balcony several floors up from ground-level, could directly reach the basement: ‘It would also appear that for chlorine to reach lethal concentration in the basement, the gas dispersion would almost certainly need to have come from the exterior, given the absence of a clear dispersion path from within the building’ (Original Interim Report: para 7.25; p. 15).

Images 2 & 3: Sample of diagrams from Original Interim Report relating to building layout and dispersion routes.

Drawing upon this analysis, the Original Interim Report then notes in the Epidemiology Section that:

In order to produce such rapid incapacitation that victims would be unable to escape the toxic gas from the location of the alleged chemical attack (see 3D layout of the building and description), a respiratory irritant such as chlorine or phosgene would almost certainly need to have rapidly accumulated to very high concentrations. It is considered unlikely, given the location of the suspected source of the toxic chemical as well as the configuration and condition of the building, that such concentrations would not [sic] have been attained, particularly in the basement. (Original Interim Report: para 7.83; p. 28)

Unlike the Original Interim Report, the Final Report contains no discussion of possible dispersion routes and the feasibility of dangerous concentrations of gas having built up so rapidly. The existence of glass-shattered windows on the staircase at each level plus the absence of any direct route for gas to pass into the basement are mentioned (Final Report: paras 8.24 and 8.25; pp. 15-16), but no analysis is provided, unlike in the Original Interim Report, as to what these facts mean with respect to the likely dispersion of any chlorine gas. Also of relevance here is the fact that the Original Interim Report documents significant inconsistencies in witness testimony regarding reports of victims in the basement at Location 2 and elsewhere.

4. Deletion of Contradictory Information Regarding Location of Deceased in Basements

Witness testimony regarding the presence of deceased in the basement at Location 2, and information regarding the number of deceased and their burial, are facts present in the Original Interim Report but removed from the Final Report.

4.1 Deceased in Basement

The Original Interim Report noted significant variations in witness testimony relating to the finding of deceased in basements. Specifically:

there were variations … in the numbers of bodies and their distributions throughout location 2 as observed in video footage and photos, compared to the numbers provided by witnesses who were interviewed. According to statements from witnesses, “many people they presumed dead, were lying on the floor of the basement”. (Original Interim Report: para 7.69; p. 23).

The Original Interim Report sets out these discrepancies in a table identifying four witnesses (Witnesses 1919, 1742, 1753 and 1920) who claim to have seen between ‘some’ and ’40-50’ decedents in the basement at Location 2 (Original Interim Report: p. 24 and see Image 4).

Image 4: Table detailing ‘Country X’ witness reports regarding location of mortal victims (Original Interim Report: p. 24)

However, no evidence could be found to corroborate the claims bodies had been found in any basements:

The FFM did not obtain any video footage or photos of dead casualties lying in the basement of location 2 or being removed from there. There were also no photos or video footage available to the FFM team of the other two basements or of decedents, where three witnesses interviewed claimed to have been exposed to chlorine’ (Original Interim Report: para 7.69; pp. 23- 24)

This information is important[8] because it highlights the question of how the victims could have been poisoned and killed in the basement of the building at Location 2 by gas from a cylinder that had landed on a balcony four floors above. As noted above in Section 3 – Redaction of Information Concerning Gas Dispersion and Build Up – the basement only had an entrance from the street. This implied that the chlorine would need to have descended inside the building gone out on to the street and re-entered the basement in lethal concentrations, an unproven and unlikely scenario.

Notably, the Secretly Redacted Interim Report redacts information concerning the lack of evidence for witness claims regarding observing deceased in the basement at location 2. The paragraph cited immediately above is altered in the Secretly Redacted Interim Report to read:

Three of the seven casualties were purportedly exposed at two buildings, the exact locations of which were not known or visited by the FFM team. No photographs or videos of the locations or victims of the alleged attacks at these locations were available to the FFM team. (Secretly Redacted Interim Report: para 7.29; p. 15)

As such, the Secretly Redacted Interim Report obfuscates the key discrepancy noted in the Original Interim Report about the contradiction between witness claims that deceased had been seen in the basement at Location 2 and there being no obvious explanation for how chlorine gas could have entered that basement and reached lethal concentrations. The wording is also deceptive in that, by noting the absence of photographs or videos at the two other buildings, it implies there were video and films available for the Location 2 basement. No mention of this issue is made in the Published Interim Report which states only that ‘[a]nalysis of the testimonies is ongoing’ (para 8.17; p. 11).

The issues raised by these particular witness claims remain unresolved in the Final Report which continues to exclude the detailed table (see Image 4) that appeared in the Original Interim Report. In particular, the problematic claim made by four witnesses that bodies were seen in the basement at Location 2 is obfuscated in the Final Report: Whilst the Final Report refers to some witnesses ‘seeing decedents in the basement of the building’ [at location 2] (Final Report: para 2.10 p. 3 and para 9.5; p. 30), at another point it makes no mention of deceased in the basement at Location 2: ‘Witness accounts place the deceased lying on the stairs, inside apartments on multiple levels of Location 2, inside basements of neighbouring buildings across the area, on rooftops and on the streets’ (Final Report: para 8.62; p. 24). As with the Secretly Redacted Interim Report and Published Interim Report, no mention is made of the fact that the FFM ‘did not obtain any video footage or photos of dead casualties lying in the basement of Location 2 or being removed from there’ (Original Interim Report: para 7.69; p. 23-24).

These obfuscations are not trivial. As already explained, there was no plausible explanation established for how chlorine gas could have travelled down several flights of stairs at location 2, to then move out onto a street and then re-enter the building to enter the basement, and then build up sufficient concentration to cause multiple deaths. A possibility raised by these inconsistencies is that witness reports of there having been deceased in the basement are untrue.

4.2 Inconsistencies with Respect to Death Toll and Burial of Victims

In the Original Interim Report two witnesses (1787 & 1780) report 150-300 total dead (Original Interim Report: p. 24 and see Image 4). In addition, the report also states that the ‘SCD’ [‘Syrian Civil Defence’/White Helmets] were in charge of burying the deceased in co-ordination with the local council. Most of the witnesses reported to be unaware of the location of the burial sites’ (Original Interim Report: para 7.50; p. 21). The Original Interim Report also notes that ‘Witnesses who were involved in burial preparations recounted that the victims of the alleged chemical attack were buried in a mass grave with other casualties’ (para 7.66; p. 23). Additionally, in a 2019 interview with ‘civil society leaders’ from Douma it is claimed, according to the translation, that there were 187 bodies found in ‘bunkers’. As pointed out by Adam Larson, one of the individuals in the 2019 interview was also recorded during the 2013 alleged sarin attack in East Ghouta:

In the subsequent reports there appears to be no further mention of either the higher death toll claims or the reference to burial in a mass grave alongside other victims[9]. The Final Report states:

The FFM could not establish the precise number of casualties; however some sources reported that it ranged between 50 and 500. Other sources denied the presence of chemically -related casualties. (Final Report: para 8.73; p. 26)

In the Final Report it is no longer clarified who was responsible for burying the victims and says instead:

Prior to the military campaign, the SCD was in charge of burying the deceased in coordination with the local council. A number of witnesses reported that they were unaware of the location of the burial sites. (Final Report: para 8.47; p. 22)

This alteration obfuscates whether or not the SCD were responsible for burying the deceased. At the time of the alleged attack in Douma, a British journalist, Jose Ensor, reported that those responsible for the burial were ‘local residents and members of Jaish al-Islam [the militant opposition group in Douma]’ and that the intent was to preserve evidence. Recently, Raed Saleh (Head of the ‘SCD’/White Helmets) was interviewed by the BBC and he stated [according to the BBC translation]:

The dead were buried in one place. It was a mass grave. It wasn’t the first time we buried people like that. Because when these attacks happen, we don’t have enough cemeteries all the time. There are too many dead. We didn’t gather evidence from the bodies themselves. We took samples from things like animal corpse and clothes and other effects. We told investigators location of the grave and met with investigators at the Turkish border to hand over the evidence we had gathered. (BBC ‘Mayday’, Episode ‘The Cylinder on the Bed’).

Overall, alterations and inconsistent claims as to the total number of deceased and who was responsible for burying the civilians inevitably means that key events surrounding the deaths in Douma remain left unclear in the Final Report.

5. Obfuscation and Failure to Resolve Unexplained ‘Country X’ Witness Testimony Regarding Nerve Agent Symptoms

The Original Interim Report states in its Epidemiology section that:

Witnesses interviewed in Damascus present a narrative whereby, on April 7 around the time of the alleged chemical attacks, casualties arrived at Location 1 displaying symptoms commensurate with asphyxiation from dust and fumes as a result of bombing. The symptoms included dysponea [sic], cough and asthmatic exacerbation secondary to exposure to smoke and dust. Witnesses and victims interviewed in Country X describe symptoms that included shortness of breath, a burning sensation in the chest, oral hypersecretion, ocular irritation, visual disturbances, lacrimation, dysphonia, nausea, vomiting, pruritus, and in the case of some surviving victims, constricted pupils. (Original Interim Report: para 7.77; p: 26-27)

The Original Interim Report also notes that hallucinations, which are not a symptom of chlorine poisoning (Original Interim Report: para 7.60; p: 23, were reported. ‘Country X’ witnesses are witnesses interviewed in Turkey, believed to have been arranged via the ‘SCD’/White Helmets, whilst ‘Damascus’ (including Douma) witnesses were interviewed in Syria and had been provided via Syrian government authorities.

The symptoms reported by Country X witnesses include those indicative of both chlorine poisoning and nerve agent poisoning (especially ‘constricted pupils’ and [immediate/rapid] oral hypersecretion) whilst those from Damascus indicate symptoms consistent only with dust and fumes. The Final Report, however, does not clearly delineate the reports from Damascus and Country X witnesses and thus obfuscates this important divergence:

Broadly, patients were reported to display shortness of breath, burning sensation in the chest, oral hypersecretion or foaming, and occular [sic] irritation. Additional complaints were visual disturbance, lacrimation, dysohonia [sic], nausea, vomiting and pruritus. A non-specific number of patients classified as severe manifested with seizure activity described as flexion of arms and wrists. Medical personnel reported the absence of any signs of external trauma. (Final Report, para 8.79; p. 26)

The Final Report also obfuscates the fact that Country X witnesses reported constricted pupils, again a key sarin/nerve agent indicator, by removing it from the list in paragraph 8.79 and instead discussing the reporting of both constricted pupils miosis (constricted pupils) and mydriasis (dilated pupils) in the following paragraph: ‘An unknown number of patients were reported to have manifested miosis or mydriasis. Although interviewed medical staff or physicians did not directly observe miosis, one support staff stated that four casualties who were classified as severe were directly observed to be presenting mydriasis’. (Final Report: para 8.80; p. 27). The fact that hallucinations had been reported, which are not a symptom of chlorine poisoning, was removed from the Final Report.

These important inconsistencies – reporting of a symptom not associated with chlorine poisoning (hallucinations) and symptoms associated with nerve agent poisoning (constricted pupils and [immediate/rapid] oral hypersecretion) ­– coming from Country X witnesses are unresolved in the Final Report.

6. Unresolved Questions Regarding the Authenticity of Events at Location 2

It is noted in the Epidemiology section of the Original Interim Report that: ‘[t]he white or light-cream colour of the froth presented by victims is not in keeping with exposure to choking agents, where secretions are characteristically pinkish in colour when frothing does occur’ (Para 7.82; p. 27). A related issue regarding the authenticity of events at Location 2 concerns the finding that, based on analysis of media, ‘it is apparent that some of the victims have been moved and re-positioned between video recordings’ (Original Interim Report: para 7.69; p. 24). According to Stephen MacIntyre, at least one of the re-positioned victims, indicated by analysis of publicly available video footage,[10] appears to show profuse white foaming only after repositioning:

In another film placed online a boy with profuse foaming from the mouth is shown being moved the following day and here the foam-like material has clearly persisted and is semi-rigid (See here tt 1.13-1.36):

The Final Report does appear to reflect some doubt about the authenticity of the white foam seen on some of the victims noting that ‘[m]any of the victims present with white, foam-like oral and nasal secretions, similar in appearance to fulminate pulmonary oedema but in multiple cases much more profound and seemingly persistent’ (Final Report: para 8.90; p. 28). It also notes that ‘[w]hen comparing adult and paediatric groups, there does not appear to be any correlation in secretion presence, absence or amount’ (Final Report: para 8.70; p. 28). In paragraph 8.98 the Final Report states that:

The airways secretions seen in many cases are similar to those seen with exposure to some chemical weapons, toxic industrial chemicals and toxic does of pharmaceutical agents but are more profound and seem to have a consistency more like viscous foam than secretions typically originating from the upper or lower airways. Notably, there are casualties both with and without secretions that are in very close proximity to one another. (Final Report: para 8.98; p. 29)

However, no analysis of these inconsistencies is offered and the matter is seemingly dismissed by the vague assertion that ‘[i]n general, the presence and context of the airways secretions indicate exposure to a chemical substance’ (Final Report: para 8.98; p. 8.98). 

In addition, the media evidence showing that bodies were reposition during the course of the night of 7-8 April 2018, whilst clearly referenced in the body of the Original Interim Report (‘it is apparent that some of the victims have been moved and re-positioned between video recordings’ (Original Interim Report: para 7.69; p. 24), is relegated to the annex of the Final Report and with the wording altered to: ‘[f]rom the various videos showing the deceased victims throughout the interior of Location 2 some of the victims had been moved between video recordings’ (Final Report: Annex 11; p. 103). As noted above, at least one of the victims, shown in the publicly available video footage,[11] does not show the appearance of white foaming until after the body had been re-positioned. As such the Final Report, through deletions and obfuscations, suppresses information which indicates that certain aspects of events at Location 2 were questionable.

7. Discussion and Recommendations for Next Steps

A scenario in which up to forty-three civilians are supposed to have died almost immediately from chlorine gas poisoning at Location 2 was clearly questioned by the FFM Douma team and then corroborated via a consultation with NATO toxicology experts. The fact that the toxicological assessment ruling out chlorine gas at Location 2 as a possible cause of death was expunged from the Final Report, without any explanation or justification, is of serious concern and indicates that there was an attempt within the OPCW to censor doubts, based on scientific analysis, that the civilians were killed by chlorine gas at Location 2. As detailed in Section 1, it is notable that UN (HCR) reports from 2018 also raised question marks over the cause of death and their recent 2021 report has not included Douma as one of its established cases of chemical attack.

This unexplained redaction is made more worrying by the absence of detailed discussion regarding the likelihood of lethal gas concentrations particularly in the basement at Location 2 – a discussion present in the Original Interim Report but absent from the Final Report – and inconsistent and uncorroborated witness testimony relating to the finding of deceased in the basement at Location 2 and in other basements. Furthermore, witness testimony reporting a much higher death toll and the burying of civilians in a mass grave along with other decedents is absent from the Final Report. At the same time, identification of who was responsible for burial of the deceased is obfuscated in the Final Report. Inexplicable reports of nerve agent symptoms, de-emphasizing information regarding the ‘repositioning’ of some of the deceased, and failing to evaluate fully the questionable white, foam-like material on victims, further contribute to a pattern in which contradictory or ‘inconvenient’ information is being redacted, obfuscated or left unresolved come the Final Report.

In summary, important information which casts doubt on the plausibility of the scenario in which chlorine gas killed 43 civilians at Location 2 – a toxicology report ruling out chlorine gas as a cause of death, analysis of gas dispersion routes questioning the likelihood of a lethal concentration of gas – have been removed from the Final Report with no obvious justification. At the same time, information indicating unreliable or inconsistent witness testimony – reporting of deceased in basements and nerve agent-like symptoms – has been removed and/or obfuscated whilst information indicating possible fabrication – ‘re-positioning’ of bodies and questionable white foam-like material appearing on some of the victims – is downplayed. As such, information that might have contributed to a finding that no attack had occurred – stated in the Original Interim Report as the possibility that ‘b. The fatalities resulted from a non-chemical-related incident’, has been sidelined or is absent from the Final Report, with no supporting scientific justification. At the same time, this apparently selective use of evidence does appear to be consistent with the following claim made in the Final Report:

The FFM team based its findings on whether there were reasonable grounds to believe that chemical weapons were used, based on a reliable body of evidence consistent with other information tending to show that an incident or event happened (Final Report: Footnote 9; p. 8)

This statement suggests that the drafters of the Final FFM report were primarily interested in gathering evidence which supported the allegation that a chemical weapon attack occurred. Such an approach would likely lead to the sidelining counter-evidence and, therefore, is neither objective nor robust and falls short of basic investigative and scientific standards.

With these points in mind, the following steps should now be taken:

1. The OPCW must explain the grounds for removing the original assessment, offered by four NATO toxicologists, that the death of the victims at Location 2 was inconsistent with poisoning by chlorine gas. If it cannot do so, an updated Douma Report needs to reinstate this important conclusion.

2. The mechanism by which there could ever have been sufficient build-up of chlorine gas to kill the victims, apparently immediately, in any part of Location 2, needs to be fully evaluated and then reported.

3. Inconsistent and uncorroborated witness testimony pertaining to the presence of large numbers of deceased in basement areas and the reporting of nerve agent symptoms needs to be revisited and a determination made as to whether these witnesses can be considered reliable.

4. Evidence of ‘re-positioning’ of bodies and the questionable white foam like material needs to be evaluated in detail via an expert-led systematic review of the available photographic images and video footage.

5. More generally, the methodology employed by the team drafting the Douma Final FFM Report needs to be critically evaluated in order to determine the extent to which a pre-determined objective – finding of reasonable grounds to conclude the alleged attack occurred- was obtained through systematic selective use of evidence.

6. In addition, and given the uncertainty regarding the numbers of deceased and their burial, clarification is necessary as to both who was responsible for burying the deceased and the numbers buried. The location of the mass grave(s) should be identified with a view to possible exhumation as part of a war crime investigation. It can be noted that the OPCW, the leadership of the ‘SCD’/White Helmets, Syrian government authorities and Local Leaders from Douma, amongst possible others, would all be expected to assist with these important clarifications. Both the International Criminal Court and the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic (UNHRC) should be kept updated on all these issues.


[1] The reports are available at https://wikileaks.org/opcw-douma/document/FirstdraftInterimReport/https://wikileaks.org/opcw-douma/document/RedactedInterimReport/https://www.opcw.org/sites/default/files/documents/S_series/2018/en/s-1645-2018_e_.pdf, and https://www.opcw.org/sites/default/files/documents/2019/03/s-1731-2019%28e%29.pdf. Download date 3 June 2021.

[2]Minutes of the meeting, written three months  after the consultation, are available here: https://wikileaks.org/opcw-douma/document/actual_toxicology_meeting_redacted/. Download date 14 September 2020.

[3] See https://wikileaks.org/opcw-douma/document/correctly_redacted_emails_re_toxicology_minutes/page-3/#pagination. Download date 15 September 2020.

[4] REPORT A: United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) – Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic – report, 38th Session, 20 June 2018 (A/HRC/38/CRP.3) and REPORT B: HRC – Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic report to the General Assembly, – 39th Session, 10 – 28 September 2018 (A/HRC/39/65).

[5] It is notable that a New York Times article published on 20 June 2018 reported that the Commission had doubts about the cause of death and withheld information from the official report issued the same day. It quotes an official as saying “with the April 7 attack in particular, more information was needed, including precisely what killed the 49 people. If we’re not sure what the cause of death was, we may be looking in the wrong place”. See https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/20/world/middleeast/un-syria-eastern-ghouta.html.

[6] See A/HRC/46/54, https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G21/014/36/PDF/G2101436.pdf?OpenElement. Download date 3 June 2021.

[7] https://wikileaks.org/opcw-douma/document/actual_toxicology_meeting_redacted/page-2/#pagination.

[8] It is also important in that it is entirely inconsistent with the video evidence and other witness accounts. No videos were seen (or no witnesses claimed) of bodies in or being moved from the basement.

[9] The Final Report does mention mass burial in paragraph 7.8, p. 10, but excludes information claiming that the deceased were buried alongside other decedents.

[10] https://climateaudit.org/2018/04/24/douma-videos-and-photos/. Download date 2 May 2021.

[11] https://climateaudit.org/2018/04/24/douma-videos-and-photos/. Download date 2 May 2021.

December 21, 2021 Posted by | Deception, False Flag Terrorism | , | Leave a comment

Pressed for answers on Syria cover-up, OPCW chief offers new lies and excuses

By Aaron Maté​ | The Grayzone | July 2, 2021

Facing growing outcry, OPCW Director General Fernando Arias went before the UN and told new falsehoods about his organization’s Syria cover-up scandal — along with more disingenuous excuses to avoid addressing it.

Part one of two


In the two years since the censorship of a Syria chemical weapons investigation was exposed, the head of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), Fernando Arias, has vigorously resisted accountability.

Arias has refused to investigate or explain the extensive manipulation of the OPCW’s probe of an alleged April 2018 chlorine attack in Douma. Rather than answer calls to meet with the veteran inspectors who protested the deception, Arias has disparaged them. The OPCW Director General (DG) has even resorted to feigning ignorance about the scandal, recently claiming that “I don’t know why” the organization’s final report on Douma “was contested.”

Facing growing pressure to address the cover-up – most prominently in a “Statement of Concern” from 28 notable signatories, including five former senior OPCW officials – Arias came before the United Nations Security Council on June 3rd to answer questions in open session for the first time.

In a nod to the public outcry, Arias backtracked from a previous statement that the Douma controversy could not be revisited. But while appearing to suggest that the investigation could be reopened, Arias offered more falsehoods about the scandal, and new disingenuous excuses to avoid addressing it.

This two-part report summarizes Arias’ latest evasions and distortions, which include the following:

• Rejecting proposals for resolving the Douma controvery, Arias invoked restrictions that do not appear to exist. Arias falsely claimed that the OPCW’s Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) has “no authority” to examine the suppressed Douma evidence. Arias also claimed that he personally has “no authority whatsoever to reopen this investigation,” even though the OPCW’s regulations contain no such limits.

• To discredit the vast quantity of work that was done for the investigation’s original report, which found no evidence of a chlorine attack, Arias falsely stated that the “bulk” of analysis was conducted after its chief author was no longer involved. To advance this falsehood, Arias cited a fabricated figure.

• Arias tacitly retracted a previous false claim that no state has challenged the Douma report’s conclusions. But instead of acknowledging that prior falsehood, he replaced it with a new one.

• Arias did not answer direct questions about the documented scientific fraud in the Douma probe, and how he plans to address it. The DG ignored a question from the Russian delegation about why the Final Report omitted the conclusions of NATO member state toxicologists who ruled out chlorine gas as the cause of death. And for the third time, Arias did not respond to a question asking whether he will agree to meet with the dissenting inspectors.

• A recent BBC podcast interviewed a purported OPCW source who discussed sensitive information and criticized the Douma whistleblowers, as well as the organization’s first Director General, José Bustani. Arias offered an absurd excuse to avoid launching an investigation, stating that he would only probe the breach of confidentiality if the BBC’s source “is identified.”

• Arias continued to deceptively minimize the role of the key dissenting inspector, Dr. Brendan Whelan. Arias downplayed the fact that Whelan was the scientific coordinator and chief author of the team’s original report, and falsely claimed that he was only involved “in a limited capacity.”

• Arias also continued to falsely downplay the role of the second known whistleblower, Ian Henderson. Arias’ latest distortions about Whelan and Henderson are addressed in the second part of this report.

Arias’ UN appearance was the latest chapter in a saga that has upended the world’s chemical weapons watchdog. In April 2018, the US, UK and France bombed Syria after accusing its government of committing a chemical attack in Douma. In March 2019, the OPCW released a final report that aligned with the US narrative that Syria was guilty of dropping chlorine gas cylinders on a pair of apartment buildings, including one where dozens of dead bodies were filmed. But an extraordinary trove of leaks soon exposed that the OPCW had published a whitewash.

Internal OPCW documents showed that the inspectors who investigated the Douma incident had found no evidence of a chemical weapons attack. The files also revealed gross inconsistencies in the prevailing narrative that chlorine was the cause of death. These findings, if released, would have reinforced strong indications that extremist insurgents who controlled Douma had staged the incident, just as Syrian forces were set to retake control. But the Douma evidence was concealed in a multi-stage cover-up.

Unknown senior OPCW officials were caught trying to doctor the team’s original report to falsely suggest evidence of a chemical attack. A delegation of US officials also visited the Hague and, in a highly irregular move, tried to convince the team that chlorine gas was used by the Syrian government. The bulk of the original team who deployed in Douma was sidelined, replaced by officials who, for the most part, had not even set foot in Syria. The result was a deceptive final report that erased the key findings of the censored original.

Although the OPCW leaks first surfaced in May 2019, Arias did not face direct questioning about the controversy until December of last year, when he came before the United Nations Security Council. However, Arias refused to answer in open session, and reportedly gave vague, non-substantive answers in private.

The Director General’s decision to return to the UN to answer questions in open session followed growing public pressure, led by former senior UN official Hans von Sponeck, as well as Bustani, the former OPCW chief. Arias’ reliance on falsehoods and hollow excuses offered the most stark display yet that his handling of the Douma cover-up cannot be defended in good faith.

OPCW chief falsely claims “no authority whatsoever” to address Douma cover-up

Just weeks before his UN appearance, Arias told the European Parliament on April 14th that when it comes to the OPCW’s Douma scandal, “the matter is closed.”

But when he came before the UN Security Council on June 3rd, Arias changed his tune. Rather than personally closing the door on revisiting the probe, Arias now claimed that he does not have the authority to re-open it. Arias did so by citing OPCW rules and restrictions that do not appear to exist.

Arias’ fallacious excuse came in response to a new proposal to break the impasse. In April, the Berlin Group 21 – established by former UN assistant secretary general Hans von Sponeck, former OPCW chief Jose Bustani and Richard Falk, an eminent Princeton Law Professor – put forward a way to address the dispute over the Douma report. They urged Arias to allow the OPCW’s own Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) — a subsidiary body made up of 25 independent scientific and technical experts who serve in their personal capacities — to assess the claims of the dissenting inspectors.

“The SAB possesses the necessary scientific and technical expertise,” the Berlin Group 21 statement said. “[We] believe that leaving the scientific debate to the scientists, who best understand the issues at hand, would provide a more objective and rational approach to begin resolving this unfortunate and highly damaging controversy that surrounds the OPCW and indirectly endangers global security by eroding confidence in future findings relevant to alleged uses of chemical weapons.”

At the UN Security Council, Arias rejected this proposal, claiming that his hands are tied by the OPCW’s own regulations:

 The goal of the Scientific Advisory Board is written, in the terms of reference, is to enable the Director-General to render specialized advice in connection with very sophisticated, very complicated matters and issues related to chemicals and chemical weapons. Which means that the SAB has no role to assess the findings of the FFM. The FFM is entrusted to investigate and activate an investigation to produce a report. And this report—I sign the report, I don’t touch it—it goes directly to the policymaking organs, in this case the Executive Council. Which means that the SAB has no authority to reassess the investigation of the FFM or to assess any opinion of the inspectors produced on a personal basis.

In claiming that the SAB “has no authority to reassess” the Douma FFM’s findings, Arias is invoking a restriction that does not exist.

In citing the SAB’s terms of reference (ToR), Arias failed to mention that it – along with the Chemical Weapons Convention — explicitly allows for the establishment of a temporary working group of scientific experts to provide recommendations on “specific issues” – exactly as the Berlin Group 21 proposed. Paragraph 9 of the SAB’s ToR states:

In consultation with members of the [Scientific Advisory] Board, the Director-General may establish temporary working groups of scientific experts to provide recommendations within a specific time-frame on specific issues, in accordance with Article VIII, paragraph 45 of the [Chemical Weapons] Convention.

Contrary to Arias’ claim, there is nothing preventing him from convening a working group of scientific experts to review the particularly “specific issue” that is the Douma investigation – arguably the most internally contested specific issue in the OPCW’s history. Yet Arias is claiming that he is somehow hindered by regulations that, in reality, explicitly grant him the authority to do exactly what he now claims he cannot.

In stating this excuse, Arias also dismissed the work of the dissenting inspectors as having been “produced on a personal basis”, and therefore not subject to reevaluation. Yet there was nothing “personal” about the Brendan Whelan authored-original report, completed in June 2018 and reviewed and sanctioned by other inspectors, including the team leader. What remains unknown is who exactly were the senior OPCW officials who personally doctored its contents – a question that Arias has refused to investigate.

Arias also offered another hollow excuse. The OPCW chief claimed that he can no longer revisit the Douma investigation because it is no longer “in the hands” of his office, but instead the policy-making organizations of the OPCW. According to Arias, that power now lies in the hands of the Executive Council, (the rotating group of 41 member states who govern the OPCW), and the full Conference of State Parties (all OPCW member states):

 I have to say that the report of the FFM directed to Douma is in the hands of the Executive Council and the Conference. The Director-General has no authority whatsoever to reopen this investigation that concluded and was reported to the Executive Council, and through the Executive Council to the Conference. The matter is in the hands of the policymaking organs and not of the Director-General. The Executive Council was already seized of the matter in March 2019.

 This is the first time that the Director General has claimed that the report is out of his control, and instead “in the hands” of a higher body. In introducing this escape-hatch, Arias is now giving the appearance that in principle he no longer objects to a reopening of the investigation. In reality, he is skirting responsibility for that decision by passing it to executive bodies that have blocked any efforts to discuss the cover-up right from the start. Upon the release of the Douma final report in March 2019, the Executive Council immediately voted down a proposal to hear from all of the experts who worked on the Douma case. The US delegation lobbied to block the vote by reportedly arguing that such a hearing would be akin to “Stalinist trials.”

Contrary to Arias’ assertions, the Chemical Weapons Convention does not support his claim that once a final report is issued, it becomes “in the hands of the Executive Council and Conference.” The relevant passage of the CWC simply states that the “Director General shall promptly transmit the preliminary and final reports to the Executive Council and to all States Parties.” (Part XI of the Verification Annex to the CWC, Investigations of Alleged Uses of Chemical Weapons, Section D [Reports], paragraph 23.)

There is nothing to suggest here that the Executive Council – or the State Parties — becomes the custodian of these reports, or that the Technical Secretariat (TS), which the Director General oversees, somehow loses control over them.

This is indeed borne out by past practice. It is common for the TS to make amendments to final reports and issue them without the Executive Council’s permission. Such amendments, which are issued as official TS “Addendums” to published reports, can be minor technical or typographic corrections, but also major substantive additions.

This practice includes a previous OPCW investigation in Syria. After publishing a final report on alleged chemical attacks by insurgents in Syria in December 2015 (S/1318/2015/Rev.1), Syrian authorities invited the OPCW to return in order to collect further evidence that the report claimed was lacking. The FFM team paid a second visit to Syria one month later and published an Addendum to the final report — with details of its additional deployment — in February 2016. (S/1318/2015/Rev.1/Add.1).

The Addendum contains no mention of the Executive Council, and there is no record of any EC vote to authorize it. The opening paragraph reads:

 This addendum provides information further to “The Report of the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission in Syria Regarding the Incidents Described in Communications from the Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs and Expatriates and Head of the National Authority of the Syrian Arab Republic” (S/1318/2015/Rev.1, dated 17 December 2015’).

In the case of Douma, no one is even proposing that the OPCW return to Syria, as it did after issuing that final report of December 2015. The OPCW is simply being asked to hear from the Douma probe’s own inspectors, and address their complaints including the doctoring of the mission’s original report. Arias is passing the buck to a concocted higher authority in order to avoid exercising his own.

Disparaging whistleblowers, OPCW chief cites a fabricated figure

In one of his few attempts to make a substantive claim in defense of the Douma investigation, OPCW Director General Ferando Arias has repeatedly asserted that “most of the analytical work took place” in the last six or seven months, when the dissenting inspectors were no longer part of the Douma Fact-Finding Mission (FFM). Because of this, Arias has claimed that the dissenting inspectors “had manifestly incomplete information on the Douma investigation,” rendering their protests “egregious.”

At the UN Security Council, Arias doubled down on this argument by adducing, for the first time, a purported figure to substantiate it. According to Arias, 70 samples were analyzed by the OPCW in the last six months of the investigation, when the dissenting inspectors were no longer involved. Arias made this claim twice:

The FFM, after Inspector B departed, worked for more than six months, during which the bulk of the results of the investigation was got by the team.  For instance, out of the more than 100 samples, around more than 70 results were brought in those last six months of the investigation.

… Of course, the bulk of the investigations related to Douma came after I arrived to the Organisation after July 2018.  Of the more than 100 samples, more than 70 good samples were analyzed after the summer of 2018.  The bulk of the investigation, the bulk of information, the bulk of analysis, of all the information that had been gathered came after the two inspectors left.”

Arias’ claim that “more than 70” samples “were analyzed after the summer of 2018” in the “last six months of the investigation” is a demonstrable falsehood. Unless the OPCW somehow failed to report dozens of analyzed samples until now, the claim of 70 samples is a fabricated figure. In reality, the final report on Douma shows that just 44 samples were analyzed throughout the entire probe. And just 13 of those samples were analyzed after the issuing of the interim report — i.e., after the dissenting inspectors were out of the picture.

With just 44 samples analyzed for the entire probe, and just 13 new samples analyzed in the final six months, this means that 70% of the Douma investigation’s total sample analysis was in fact conducted in its first month.

Completely inverting that reality, Arias has now produced a phony figure that paints a false picture of the work conducted in the six months after the dissenting inspectors were sidelined.

According to the Final Report, 70% of the total chemical samples analyzed were analyzed in the probe’s first month. Just 13 samples were analyzed in the last seven months, undermining OPCW DG Arias’ new claim that 70 samples were analyzed in that period. (Excerpt of Aaron Maté’s UN presentation, April 16 2021)

By claiming that the “bulk of the investigation” was conducted after the whistleblowers were no longer involved, Arias is also erasing other critical areas of work conducted in the first two months, and detailed in the suppressed original report.

As I recently detailed in a UN presentation, a comparison between the interim report of July 2018 and the final report of March 2019 shows that the vast majority of the investigation  was already done in the first two months in multiple key areas: 100% of the research of the scientific literature was done; 87% of the total interviews had been conducted and analyzed; a meeting with four NATO toxicologists had been convened, and 98.5% of the metadata analysis of media files from Douma was undertaken. In addition, a complete epidemiological study was reported in the original report, much of which was expunged from the final report.

This means that, contrary to Arias’ claim, the bulk of the work was in fact carried out in the probe’s first two months.

Retracting one falsehood, Arias replaces it with another

At the European Parliament in April, Arias falsely claimed that no state party has challenged any of the Douma report’s conclusions, and that Russia even “agrees” with them:

The conclusions of the report, paradoxically, have never been disputed by a state party. Even the Russian delegation agrees with the conclusions.

Arias’ implausible contention was that, despite the heated two-year public dispute over the Douma investigation, no member state has challenged it. Yet Syria and Russia have vigorously challenged the report’s findings, within the OPCW itself and in a series of UN Security Council debates.

As The Grayzone has previously reported, this phony talking point was first put forward by the NATO-tied website Bellingcat last year. Bellingcat produced excerpts of a letter that it claimed was sent by Arias in June 2019 to Dr. Brendan Whelan, the key dissenting inspector. This letter, Bellingcat declared, “reveals that at a diplomatic level behind closed doors, the Russian and Syrian governments have both agreed with the conclusions of the OPCW report.”

But The Grayzone then revealed that not only was this claim ludicrous, but based on a “letter” that was never actually sent. The Grayzone obtained and published Arias’ actual letter to Whelan, which contained none of Bellingcat’s text.

In a sign that he has now recognized the fallacy of the Bellingcat-promoted talking point, Arias tacitly walked it back in his June 3rd UN appearance. But instead of acknowledging his previous error, he replaced it with a new one. Arias now claimed:

None of the 193 Member States of the OPCW have challenged the findings of the FFM that chlorine was found on the scene of the attack, in Douma.

To support his claim about chlorine found at the scene, Arias cited a note verbal (diplomatic correspondence) from Russia:

I have here in front of me a note verbal of the Russian Embassy, dated the 26th of April 2019, note #759 that includes an attachment. It’s a Russian Federation paper, based on the conclusions of the report of the FFM in Douma. And this note required me to disseminate this report. This note, or report attached to the note by the Russian Embassy in The Hague said, “Conclusion. The Russian Federation does not challenge the findings contained in the FFM report regarding the possible presence of molecular chlorine in the cylinders, etc.” This is on the web page from the Organisation.

 Arias’ own source undermines his claim. Whereas Arias told the UN that no state has “challenged the findings of the FFM that chlorine was found on the scene,” his evidence for that statement – a Russian note verbal – simply states that Russia “does not challenge” that there was a “possible presence of molecular chlorine in the cylinders.”

The Russian correspondence goes on to explain why it explicitly does challenge the final report’s conclusion that chlorine was likely used as a chemical weapon. Responding to Arias at the UN, Russian Ambassador Vasily Nebenzya read the relevant passage in full:

The Russian Federation does not challenge the findings contained in the FFM report regarding the possible presence of molecular chlorine on the cylinders.  However, the parameters, characteristics and exterior of the cylinders, as well as the data obtained from the locations of those incidents, are not consistent with the argument that they were dropped from an aircraft. The existing facts more likely indicate that there is a high probability that both cylinders were placed at Locations 2 and 4 manually rather than dropped from an aircraft. Apparently the factual material contained in the report does not allow us to draw a conclusion as to the use of a toxic chemical as a weapon. On that basis, the Russian Federation insists on the version that there was false evidence and on the staged character of the incident in Douma.

Therefore, the only contention that Russia did not challenge is that of a “possible” presence of molecular chlorine in the cylinders found in Douma. That is for obvious reasons.

No one has argued that there was no possibility of a chlorine presence. There were, after all, two chlorine cylinders found at the scene, so traces of chlorine could be expected. In reality, the OPCW did not even report any finding of chlorine gas on the cylinder. They found chloride, a breakdown product of chlorine gas but also a very common substance in the environment, and in household products like table salt and other chloride salts. Chloride theoretically could have been dispersed around the cylinders.

Other possible evidence of chlorine gas use came from very low traces of various chlorine-containing organic compounds (CLOCs) found at the scene — most, if not all, of which can be present in the environment. Because the OPCW failed to test background samples – an oversight or deliberate omission that Whelan later described as scientifically indefensible – it could not determine if these trace quantities of CLOCs found at the scene pointed to chlorine gas use, or if they came from benign sources.

When challenged at the UN on his misrepresentation of the Russian note verbal, Arias did not offer a rebuttal. He instead tersely stated: “The Russian note verbale is published and that is what they have to say.”

Arias’ willingness to deceive the UN on the details of the Douma probe and the OPCW’s own capacity to address it also extends to his portrayal of the whistleblowers, as we will explain in detail in the second part of this report.

July 4, 2021 Posted by | Deception, False Flag Terrorism | , , | Leave a comment

Syria Regime Change Still on Western Agenda – Ex-Ambassador Peter Ford

By Finian Cunningham | Strategic Culture Foundation | April 30, 2021

The United States, Britain, and other NATO powers failed in their covert military efforts for regime change in Syria, thanks in large part to the principled intervention by Russia to defend its historic Arab ally. However, Peter Ford, the former British ambassador to Syria, contends that regime change is still very much a top priority for Western powers and their criminal agenda of reshaping the Middle East according to their imperial objectives. In the following interview, Ford explains how the Western tactic has now shifted to intensifying economic warfare in order to buckle the Syrian government led by President Assad. Nevertheless, the former British envoy envisages that the presidential election on May 26 will see Assad being resoundingly re-elected by a nation defiant towards Western aggression.

Peter Ford is a former British ambassador to Syria (2003-2006) who has publicly denounced Britain’s proxy-terror war for regime change in the Arab nation, along with other NATO accomplices. He is a seasoned diplomat having graduated in Arabic Studies from Oxford University and serving as an envoy in several Middle East countries. Ford has incurred the wrath of the British establishment for his outspoken truth-telling about their nefarious agenda in Syria. On the other hand, he has won the admiration of many people around the world for his courage and integrity. He is a recipient of the Serena Shim Award for Uncompromising Integrity in Journalism.

Interview

Question: What do you make of the ruling last week by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to strip Syria of its member rights based on allegations that the Syrian government military forces have repeatedly used chemical weapons during the 10-year war? It seems that the OPCW has become extremely politicized by the United States and its Western allies. Do you see a lot of arm-twisting of member states by Western powers to produce OPCW sanctions against Syria?

Peter Ford: The Western powers are like dogs with an old bone on the subject of alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria. There is no meat on it but they continue to gnaw away. Why? Because the trope that “Assad gasses his own people” has become a cornerstone of the whole Western propaganda narrative on Syria. Without it, justifying the cruel economic war on Syria, largely through sanctions, would be harder to justify. And with military efforts at regime change having failed, economic warfare is now the last hope for the Western powers of destabilizing Syria enough to topple the government. For this strategy to work the Western powers are more than ready to undermine the credibility of the OPCW by abusing their ability to manipulate it in the Syrian context.

Question: The OPCW’s executive has been exposed in distorting its own reports for the objective of incriminating the Syrian government over alleged chemical weapons attacks. Do you think the OPCW has been turned into a lever to enable Western powers to harass Syria because these powers have been blocked by Russia and China from using the United Nations Security Council as a mechanism for aggression against Syria?

Peter Ford: The United States and the United Kingdom have not hesitated to ventriloquize the OPCW executive to get their way on Syria, stifling whistleblowing even where the cases of misreporting have been flagrant. As a former United Nations official myself, I can say that international organizations are nearly all controlled and used by the U.S./UK, with the Security Council thankfully the one arena where they are unable always to get their own way. This irks them considerably, leading them to go even further in exploiting and debasing agencies like the OPCW.

Question: Three months into a new administration in the United States under President Joe Biden, is there any discernible change in Washington’s policy towards Syria? You have stated publicly before that the whole war in Syria was a regime-change operation orchestrated by the U.S., Britain, France, and others. Is regime change in Syria still on the Western powers’ agenda?

Peter Ford: Regime change is very much still on the agenda. It cannot be openly avowed, of course, but how else to describe a policy of seeking a  “transition” under conditions that would guarantee removal of the present government? Those conditions include rigged elections and “justice” against “war criminals”. The economic warfare is as severe as anything that was waged against Iraq to bring Saddam down. It is blatant deceit to pretend this policy is not aimed at President Bashar al-Assad’s removal. Biden brings no change. If anything he is doubling down on the policy of his predecessor, without even the pretense of wanting out of Syria, holding on to sanctions, and deliberately hampering reconstruction.

Question: The United States still has troops illegally occupying parts of eastern Syria near the country’s oil fields, denying the Syrian state important resources for national reconstruction. You have described the American forces there as functioning like a “tripwire”. Could you expand on that concept?

Peter Ford: U.S. forces in occupied parts of Syria number around a thousand. The Syrian Arab Army could overrun these forces and their Kurdish allies in a matter of days. What stops them? The certain knowledge that any advance towards the American forces would trigger massive retaliation from the U.S. Air Force operating from its bases in the region. So the function of these U.S. forces is not to help “eradicate ISIS terror remnants” as implausibly claimed, but to serve as a tripwire and thereby deter Syrian forces from recovering territories that hold most of Syria’s oil and grain resources. Denial of these resources is key to bringing Syria to its knees via economic warfare.

Question: Could Biden step up the military intervention in Syria? Or is it more likely that the U.S. and its Western allies will pursue economic warfare through sanctions against Syria?

Peter Ford: It must be considered unlikely that the U.S. would put many more boots on the ground but many in the Pentagon are straining at the leash to bomb Syria at the slightest pretext. For the moment, the policy planners are counting on economic sanctions and are content to wait for the Syrian government to buckle.

Question: What are the strategic reasons for Western regime change in Syria?

Peter Ford: It’s a way of getting at Russia and Iran, essentially. A little thought experiment proves it. Imagine Assad suddenly said he was ready to get rid of the Russians and Iranians and complete America’s set of Arab powers in return for being left in power. Egypt’s Sadat did something similar in the late 1970s so it’s not unthinkable, and Assad was having tea with Britain’s Queen Elizabeth not so very long ago. Would the U.S. not then cast aside without a moment’s hesitation all the blather about democracy and human rights?

Question: How significant was Russia’s military intervention in the Syrian war in October 2015?

Peter Ford: It was a life-saver. Most people do not realize how close ISIS and other terrorist proxies were to grabbing control of Damascus. Naturally, the Western powers never like to acknowledge this awkward truth.

Question: France’s former Foreign Minister Roland Dumas remarked in a media interview back in 2013 how he was privately approached by British officials with a scheme for regime change in Syria two years before the war erupted in 2011. As a former British ambassador to Syria (2003-2006) can you recall noticing any such plot being considered?

Peter Ford: Planning for regime change in Syria only really began when the aftermath of the Iraq war went really sour and rather than blame themselves, the U.S./UK sought to deflect blame on to Syria. It accelerated after Britain’s Conservatives with their anti-Russian and anti-Iranian obsessions, and their support for Israel, came to power in 2010.

Question: Your principled and outspoken criticism of the British government’s involvement in the Syrian war has won you much respect around the world. Do you feel personally aggrieved by the malign conduct of Britain in Syria?

Peter Ford: I feel ashamed for my country’s actions. It really is quite shameful that we have been instrumental in causing suffering for millions of Syrians while hypocritically claiming we are doing it for their own good.

Question: Finally, Syria is holding presidential elections on May 26 in which incumbent Bashar al-Assad is running for re-election. The Western powers disparage Syria as an “undemocratic regime”. How do you view Syria’s polity? Is Assad likely to win re-election?

Peter Ford: Of course Assad will win and of course the Western powers will try to disparage his victory. But I can state with certainty that if you could offer the Conservative party in Britain a guarantee of achieving in the next general election anything anywhere near Assad’s genuine level of support, albeit some of it reluctant from a war-weary people, the Tories would bite your hand off for such an electoral gain. Much of the current Western propaganda effort against Syria is geared at trying to spoil Assad’s victory and deny it legitimacy. But inside Syria itself, the people will see the election as setting the seal on 10 years of struggle, and Assad will emerge strengthened as he faces the next phase in the Western war on Syria.

May 1, 2021 Posted by | Timeless or most popular, War Crimes, Wars for Israel | , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Syrian government has been blamed for the 2018 Saraqib chemical attack, but this time around India isn’t buying it

By Kit Klarenberg | RT | April 23, 2021

Damascus again finds itself the subject of international opprobrium after being found guilty of a chemical attack, and ostracised from the OPCW. However, New Delhi’s rejection of the report suggests the West’s influence is waning.

On April 21, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) announced it would remove Syria’s “rights and privileges” within the association with immediate effect.

The move was precipitated by 87 OPCW member states voting in favor of a proposal by 46 countries – led by London, Paris, and Washington – to strip Damascus of its voting powers in the assembly, and bar the country’s representatives from holding any offices within the organisation.

It’s the first time a member state has been sanctioned in such a manner in its 24-year history, and follows just over a week after the OPCW released the findings of its second Investigation and Identification Team (IIT) probe of an alleged chemical attack in Saraqib, Syria in February 2018. The team concluded that a Syrian Air Force helicopter had dropped “at least” one cylinder containing chlorine over the city, dispersing the contents over a wide area.

The report’s headline claims were dutifully amplified without critique by the mainstream media, but this time not all were convinced. At an informal meeting of United Nations Security Council members, convened by Moscow and Beijing on April 16, four days after the IIT findings were released, India’s deputy permanent representative K. Nagaraj Naidu had some stern words for the OPCW.

He stated that New Delhi had always stressed the necessity of “impartial, credible and objective” investigations into the use of chemical weapons, which “scrupulously” follow Chemical Weapons Convention procedures and provisions to reach “evidence-based conclusions,” scathingly adding, “the current report falls short of these expectations.”

The veteran diplomat didn’t articulate India’s specific reservations about the findings, but said it was necessary to “draw lessons” from events such as Colin Powell’s infamous February 2003 UNSC speech, when he claimed Washington possessed “irrefutable and undeniable” evidence Iraq had weapons of mass destruction capable of targeting the West.

In any event, one doesn’t require a degree in chemistry to see the IIT report is far from “impartial, credible and objective” on its own terms.

First and foremost, the OPCW claims IIT findings were derived from a “comprehensive review” of a mountain of evidence, including eyewitness and victim interviews, analysis of samples collected at the site, and even examination of satellite imagery. But it simultaneously concedes the probe “relied” on a May 2018 OPCW Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) investigation of the incident, which reached the same conclusions as the IIT.

Relying on the FFM report is inherently problematic, given mission investigators didn’t actually visit the site of the attack, and all the samples reviewed were provided by the highly controversial White Helmets. This means there was no chain of custody for this vital physical evidence, in breach of long-standing OPCW protocol, which states such a paper trail is “100% critical.”

“The OPCW would never get involved in testing samples that our own inspectors don’t gather in the field, because we need to maintain chain of custody of samples from the field to the lab to ensure their integrity,” an OPCW spokesperson said in April 2013.

Interestingly, a table in the FFM report comparing samples taken from two cylinders said to have delivered the chlorine payload, indicated chlorine-related chemicals were found by investigators but also showed many chemicals detected were related to the nerve agent sarin, which jihadist forces in Syria are known to have used.

The FFM report and its IIT successor nonetheless both conclude there are “reasonable grounds” to believe the chemical used in the attack was chlorine, the latter claiming “sarin-related compounds” represented a negligible part of the “chemical signature” identified in the samples. However, they also note that specialists the team consulted “agreed that it would be difficult to fill a cylinder to be used as a weapon with both sarin and chlorine.”

The IIT is said to have explored “the possibility of cross-contamination during the sampling process, or at a later stage in the handling of the samples themselves,” their findings “leaving the possibility that contamination occurred before sampling or after the samples were taken, but before they were secured by the OPCW in sealed packaging.”

“The latter scenario would still not fully explain why only by-products and one degradation product of sarin, rather than sarin itself, were identified,”  the particularly incongruous passage notes. “In any event, since the FFM did not make findings related to the use of sarin in Saraqib…the IIT refrained from pursuing this aspect of the incident further. Some uncertainties in respect of the possible use of sarin in the same area remain.”

No doubt due to recent allegations of rebel forces having staged “false flag” chemical attacks in Syria in order to precipitate Western intervention, the IIT report specifically explored this scenario. Investigators obtained and analyzed “various household chlorine-based products commonly used in the Syrian Arab Republic and readily available on the market,”  which identified six specific chemicals, “the presence of which in samples from the Saraqib incident could be indicative of intentional – or even accidental – dispersal of these chlorine-based products in the area in question.”

No trace of the six chemicals could be found in the samples, which the IIT contends entirely refutes suggestions of staging. However, which six chemicals were found by the team isn’t stated, nor is how and why their absence rules out a “false flag” operation explained.

The White Helmets were even more fundamental to the FFM investigation than merely providing the samples. They also put investigators in touch with witnesses who reinforced the chlorine attack narrative, several of whom conspicuously stated that the smell around the affected area was a “pungent odour” similar to “household cleaning products, though stronger.”

The White Helmets were likewise central to the OPCW’s investigation of several other alleged chemical strikes in Syria, including an April 2018 incident in Douma. Leaked internal OPCW documents reveal that two FFM teams were sent to investigate the incident, with one heading to the site itself, and the other to Turkey.

Witness interviews conducted in the separate countries diverged so sharply that a 116-page draft interim report prepared in June 2018 specifically referred to “two broad and distinct narratives” – one in which a chemical attack happened, one in which no such event occurred.

Yet the report released to the public was trimmed to just 34 pages, with all ballistic, forensic and witness evidence gathered by the Douma FFM, which completely dispelled the notion of a chemical attack, and pointed directly or indirectly to a staged incident, removed. Instead, based on the White Helmets-provided evidence alone, the OPCW claimed there was “sufficient evidence” to conclude chlorine had been unleashed on the rebel-occupied city from cylinders dropped from a government helicopter. An eerie echo of its Saraqib probe indeed.

This selective editing was quite so misleading, it prompted an OPCW investigator who’d visited Douma to write privately to the organisation’s director general, expressing their “gravest concern” at the degree to which the findings “misrepresents the facts.” It wasn’t until November 2019, 18 months after the report was released, that their chilling words were leaked online.

It’s anyone’s guess whether similarly grave concerns have been expressed internally about the evidently equally suspect Saraqib FFM probe, although in this case no investigator actually went to the city to conduct an “impartial, credible and objective” on-the-ground inspection. The very countries that proposed Syria’s OPCW censure are no doubt relieved – and the OPCW itself is extremely unlikely to make such an egregious mistake ever again.

Kit Klarenberg is an investigative journalist exploring the role of intelligence services in shaping politics and perceptions.

April 23, 2021 Posted by | False Flag Terrorism | , , | 1 Comment

Anti-Syrian OPCW Resolution Adopted After Pressure on Some Countries, Russian Envoy Says

Sputnik – 22.04.2021

The 25th Session of the Conference of the States Parties to the OPCW was held in the Hague on 20-22 April. During this session, France presented a draft resolution, which provides for the suspension of the rights and privileges of Syria in the organisation due to the alleged violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) by Damascus. Members of the organisation adopted the resolution by a majority vote.

“At the 25th conference of the participating States that ended in The Hague, an anti-Syrian resolution on the deprivation of Syria of its rights and privileges was adopted. This means that Damascus is deprived of the right to vote at sessions of the highest governing body, the conference; it cannot be elected to the executive board of the organization, and also to any of its other subsidiary bodies, the Syrians will be denied access to posts in the technical secretariat,” Russia’s Permanent Representative to the OPCW Alexander Shulgin said.

He noted that this was the first such precedent on The Hague site when a state party was declared a persistent violator of the CWC and sanctions were applied against it.

“And this is done by falsifying facts, massive propaganda, blackmail and twisting arms of some countries to ensure the necessary voting results on the relevant documents. To our great regret, this is what the OPCW is turning into. All this is done by the efforts of the United States, France, the United Kingdom and others. countries that do not cease to nurture plans to remove the government of Bashar Assad, which they hate, from the political arena,” the permanent representative emphasized.

Opponents of official Damascus, by their actions to advance geopolitical interests, are destroying the OPCW and leading it to collapse, he added.

April 23, 2021 Posted by | Deception | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

OPCW ignores critics of its cover-up, imposes sanctions on Syria

By Robert Inlakesh – Press TV – April 22, 2021

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has revoked Syria’s privileges at the agency, accusing it of repeatedly using chemical weapons during the civil war, yet refuses to properly address complaints of a cover-up by the organization over their sole on-the-ground investigation of any such attack.

On April 7, 2018, an alleged chemical weapons attack was reported from inside Douma, Syria, according to reports on the ground. Days later, the US, the UK, and France bombarded Syria in “response,” without any clarification that any such attack had taken place.

The significance of the alleged Douma attack was not only that it led to Western airstrikes on Syria, but also that it was the first alleged chemical attack that the OPCW had sent an on-the-ground team to investigate.

Despite the OPCW now concluding that there was a chemical attack that took place, the leaked ‘original report’ put together on the incident reveals that the studies conducted had found no evidence of a chemical attack using chlorine gas.

Two whistleblowers also spoke out from inside the OPCW, creating greater doubt about the credibility of the OPCW’s publicly stated conclusions. A leaked engineering assessment, conducted by the OPCW, on the two gas cylinders found at the site of the alleged Douma attack interestingly found that the evidence had been tampered with.

The first head of the OPCW, Jose Bustani, has also applied pressure and challenged the way the organization has handled the reporting, along with experts in the field such as Theodore Postol, an award-winning professor of Science, Technology and National Security Policy at MIT.

Recently, award-winning investigative journalist Aaron Mate addressed a United Nations Security Council panel, laying out a detailed analysis — which he says casts doubts over the OPCW’s current position — on whether there was a chlorine gas attack in Douma. When, at the end of the meeting, it came time for the representatives from both the US and UK to answer a direct question posed to them by Mate, they had already left the meeting.

An EU lawmaker, Mick Wallace, was also attacked as having repeated “fake news” when he questioned the OPCW Director-General Fernando Arias and said the following: “Why will you not heed calls from renowned international figures… to meet with all the investigators?” He went on to state, “This problem is not going away. Are you going to investigate all aspects in a transparent manner?”

It’s safe to say that there are large question marks surrounding the OPCW’s findings, but what of those “moderate rebels” in Syria claiming to have witnessed a massacre of Syrian civilians with chlorine gas?

The allegations of a Douma chemical weapons attack came from within territory held by a Saudi-backed extremist group, Jaish al-Islam. The terrorist organization, described as “moderate rebels” by Western media outlets, had a track record of placing Syrian civilians — men women and children — in cages outside of areas where militants were stationed in order to deter airstrikes from the Syrian government and its allies. The group also had been accused of starving and brutally executing Syrian civilians, on top of shelling civilian neighborhoods under Syrian government control and filming themselves opening fire upon civilian airliners.

At the time of the reported chlorine gas attack, it was clear that the Syrian government and their allies were on the verge of taking the rest of “rebel”-held Eastern Ghouta. The claims of a chemical weapons attack directly caused Western airstrikes, as happened just a year prior when a supposed chemical weapons attack also occurred in an area known as Khan Sheikhoun.

There was clearly a motive for the extremist organization, Jaish al-Islam, to claim that such an attack occurred in Douma, especially as they were losing the battle against government forces. In the case of the Syrian government, there would be no reason to risk committing such an atrocious crime when they were days away from complete victory, inviting Western airstrikes. This was simple to see, with the most elementary-level understanding of the Syrian war, yet these types of common sense arguments weren’t even taken into consideration by the international community.

Now, after ignoring all the credible critics, from journalists to EU lawmakers and whistleblowers to the ex-director general of the OPCW itself, the organization sees fit to impose sanctions on Syria for committing chemical attacks. Interestingly enough, they note multiple attacks as their justification and not just the Douma attack, and when pushed on it, the director general pointed to human rights reports to support his argument.

It is clear that the OPCW has taken a serious blow to its credibility and has decided to back Western imperialism over the truth, a shameful decision that serves as part of the justifications provided for the West applying its murderous sanctions on Syria.

Robert Inlakesh is a journalist, writer, and political analyst. He has lived in and reported from the occupied West Bank. He has written for publications such as Mint Press, Mondoweiss, MEMO, and various other outlets. He specializes in analysis of the Middle East, in particular Palestine-Israel matters. He also works for Press TV as a Europe correspondent.

April 22, 2021 Posted by | Wars for Israel | , | 1 Comment

As chemical weapons watchdog’s credibility crumbles, OPCW member states strip Syria’s voting rights

RT | April 21, 2021

Syria has been stripped of most of its rights at the global chemical weapons watchdog for alleged breaches. The OPCW stands accused of suppressing facts reported by its own inspectors in Syria for political purposes.

The vote to penalize Syria took place on Wednesday at the conference of the states that are parties to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in The Hague. Syria was punished for allegedly violating the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), of which the OCPW is the guardian, based on reports by the special Investigation and Identification Team (IIT).

The penalties were imposed at the proposal of France and backed by Western nations who helped pass it overwhelmingly by 87 to 15, with 34 abstentions out of 136 countries taking part.

The mechanism was created last year and was authorized to name perpetrators of chemical weapons attacks. It has on several occasions accused Syria of CWC infractions. Damascus sees the IIT as a “propaganda tool” used by countries seeking to topple its government, and says its reports cannot be considered scientific, as a Syrian representative said at the conference prior to the vote.

The concern is shared by some other countries, including Russia and China. The Chinese representative reminded on Wednesday that the IIT has remarkably less rigorous standards for collecting evidence than the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) did. The JIM was tasked with investigating incidents of alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria before the ITT.

“The IIT, instead of conducting on-site investigations, gave credence to samples provided by the so-called ‘non-government organizations,’ heeded the opinions of the so-called ‘external experts’ and interviewed the so-called ‘witnesses in third countries’,” Ambassador Jian Tan said, stressing that the work of the IIT went beyond the mandate under the CWC and couldn’t guarantee impartiality of the results.

Skepticism about the IIT and the OPCW in general has been growing among member states since 2019, when the organization was accused of covering up evidence discovered by its own inspectors after an incident in the Damascus suburb of Douma, which happened in April 2018. The US, the UK and France swiftly responded to the highly-publicized incident with retaliatory missile attacks against Syria.

The watchdog’s final report in 2019 all but accused Damascus of dropping chlorine gas canisters on the area as part of its effort to capture it from jihadist forces. But several whistleblowers came up after the report’s release with documents and testimonies indicating a different scenario.

They said the evidence collected by a JIM mission on the ground pointed to possible staging of the scene to blame the Syrian army. The OPCW allegedly suppressed the contradictory evidence and brought in external experts, who helped it arrive at the conclusions favorable to the three countries, which launched the strikes at Syria.

The OPCW leadership responded to the allegations by painting the whistleblowers as rogue elements disgruntled at the organization and ignoring calls for a rigorous scientific examination of how the final report on Douma was penned. Western governments and media treat their testimonies as a conspiracy theory peddled by Russia.

However this attempt to brush aside the dissenting voices seems to be hurting OPCW’s credibility. Earlier this month, members of the UN Security Council held an informal meeting to discuss the issue, and during the events India for the first time openly criticized the watchdog’s recent Syria reporting issued under the IIT mechanism.

As an OPCW state party, India expects the organization to conduct “impartial, credible and objective investigation into any use of chemical weapons,” in line with the convention principles, Indian envoy K. Nagaraj Naidu said. “The current report falls short of these expectations”.

The report in question details three alleged chemical weapons attacks in the town of Ltamenah in March 2017, which the IIT attributed to the Syrian Air Force. It updates an earlier version explaining OPCW’s findings, which was released last year and which New Delhi didn’t publicly comment on.

India was among the countries that voted against the creation of the IIT, citing its concerns over ‘mandate creep’. It abstained in July 2020, when the OPCW Executive Council voted to condemn Syria for IIT-reported use of chemical weapons.

Syria joined the OPCW in 2013 and declared massive stockpiles of chemical weapons, which were subsequently destroyed. The move was taken after Washington said it was considering military action against Syria after an alleged chemical weapons attack. The OPCW received the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize for bringing Syria into the CWC fold.

April 21, 2021 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , , | Leave a comment

EU Parliament session gets chaotic as MEP accused of ‘fake news’ for daring to question OPCW on whistleblower scandal

RT | April 16, 2021

Despite whistleblower leaks casting doubts on the OPCW’s findings, the EU Parliament is determined to enforce the organization’s anti-Assad line on Syria. MEP Mick Wallace was accused of spreading “fake news” when he spoke out.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has taken an intense interest in Syria’s civil war, and has accused President Bashar Assad of deploying chemical weapons against his own people on several occasions. Its conclusions have twice been used to justify US military action against Syria, and a new OPCW report on Monday found “reasonable grounds” to suspect that a Syrian Army helicopter dropped chemical weapons on the town of Saraqib in 2018.

The OPCW’s reports are good news for Western interventionists, but the organization is not without its critics.

Mick Wallace, an Irish MEP, is among them. When OPCW Director-General Fernando Arias addressed the European Parliament Subcommittee of Security and Defence on Thursday, Wallace accused the OPCW of squashing evidence that Assad may not have been behind one particularly heinous 2018 attack in Douma, near Damascus.

“Why will you not heed calls from renowned international figures…to meet with all the investigators?” Wallace asked Arias. “This problem is not going away. Are you going to investigate all aspects in a transparent manner?”

He is far from a lone crank. Whistleblower testimony and internal documents suggest that the OPCW suppressed “key information about chemical analyses, toxicology consultations, ballistics studies, and witness testimonies” relating to the Douma attack, in order to “favor a preordained conclusion,” in the words of one panel of skeptics. A scientific paper challenging the OPCW’s conclusion was shelved following an outcry from Bellingcat, and one director within the OPCW worried that were the truth to get out, it could aid Russia, an ally of Assad. Furthermore, while multiple whistleblowers have come forward to dispute the OPCW’s findings, more have been “frightened into silence,” one claimed last year.

Wallace also accused Arias of ignoring a “false leak,” made to the BBC and the NATO-affiliated Bellingcat, which he claimed was used to discredit former OPCW Director-General José Bustani, who disagrees with Arias’ blaming of Assad for the Douma attack.

Yet before Arias could respond, subcommittee chairwoman Nathalie Loiseau stepped in to do his job for him. Loiseau apologized to Arias for Wallace’s tough questioning, and accused the Ireland South MEP of peddling “fake news.”

“I cannot accept that you can call into question the work of an international organization, and that you would call into question the word of the victims in the way you have just done,” she scolded Wallace.

“Is there no freedom of speech being allowed in the European Parliament any more,” Wallace shot back, “today you’re denying me my opinion!”

Wallace’s microphone was then cut, and Arias allowed to speak. However, the OPCW chief did not directly address his questions. Instead he thanked the other MEPs present for their “words of support,” and reiterated his claims that Assad’s government is responsible for “a humanitarian catastrophe of massive proportions.”

Though Loiseau apparently wanted to shield Arias from Wallace’s uncomfortable questions, skepticism within the OPCW goes all the way to the top. Former Director-General Bustani has accused the organization of “potentially fraudulent conduct in the investigative process,” a position that saw him banned from addressing the UN Security Council on the issue last year.

The whistleblower scandal has been mostly ignored by the mainstream media, with only a handful of alternative outlets picking up the story.

From Loiseau’s position though, dissent within the parliament is undesirable ahead of the OPCW’s ‘Conference of the States Parties’ in The Hague next week. Ahead of Wallace’s questioning, Loiseau reminded MEPs that a vote will likely be taken at the conference to suspend Syria’s voting rights within the organization, likely accompanied by other “punitive measures.”

April 16, 2021 Posted by | Full Spectrum Dominance, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | | Leave a comment

‘US, allies have turned OPCW into a tool to pursue anti-Syria objectives’

Press TV – April 16, 2021

Syrian Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates Faisal Mekdad has categorically dismissed the new report by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), stating that the United States and its allies have turned the international watchdog into a tool to pursue their political goals against Damascus.

“Despite the difficult situation that Syria is going through, we have stood committed to our membership in the Chemical Weapons Convention,” Syria’s official news agency SANA quoted Mekdad as saying in a meeting with ambassadors and heads of diplomatic missions in Damascus on Thursday evening.

He added, “Syria and many other countries have acknowledged that the states which supported and funded armed terrorist groups in Syria, particularly the United States, France, Germany and Britain, will use the Syrian chemical file and the OPCW to achieve their hostile goals against Syria.”

Mekdad noted that Syrian government forces continue to score remarkable victories in their battles against the Takfiri terrorist groups, emphasizing that the troops have never used chemical warfare even in toughest operations against the foreign-sponsored militants.

He went on to say that certain Western countries have established the OPCW’s so-called Investigation and Identification Team (IIT) in order to produce reports, which best suit their anti-Syria agenda.

“The French-Western draft resolution, which is to be presented at the 25th meeting of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons later this year, is a new chapter in the series of conspiracies against Syria,” Mekdad pointed out.

The top Syrian diplomat finally called on the OPCW member states to support Damascus and counter the politicization of the organization’s activities by some Western countries.

A report by the OPCW’s so-called investigative arm claimed on Monday that Syria’s air force had dropped a chlorine bomb on a residential neighborhood in the terrorist-controlled Idlib region.

The report further asserted no one was killed when the cylinder of chlorine gas, delivered in a barrel bomb, hit the al-Talil neighborhood in the city of Saraqib in February 2018.

The Syrian foreign ministry, in a statement published on Wednesday, said the OPCW’s “misleading report,” written by “an illegitimate and incredible team,” fabricates “facts” to incriminate the Damascus government.

“This report has included false and fabricated conclusion which represents another scandal for the OPCW and the inquiry teams that will be added to the scandal of the reports of Douma incident in 2018, and Ltamenah in 2017,” it said.

Moscow and Damascus have on many occasions said members of the so-called White Helmets civil defense group stage gas attacks in a bid to falsely incriminate Syrian government forces and fabricate pretexts for military strikes by the US-led military coalition.

The group claims to be a humanitarian NGO but has long been accused of collaborating with anti-Damascus militants.

On April 14, 2018, the US, Britain and France carried out a string of airstrikes against Syria over a suspected chemical weapons attack on the city of Douma, located about 10 kilometers northeast of the capital Damascus.

Washington and its allies blamed Damascus for the Douma attack, a charge the Syrian government rejected.

Western governments and their allies have never stopped pointing the finger at Damascus whenever an apparent chemical attack takes place.

This is while Syria surrendered its stockpile of chemical weapons in 2014 to a joint mission led by the United States and the OPCW, which oversaw the destruction of the weaponry. It has consistently denied using chemical weapons.

April 16, 2021 Posted by | Deception, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , , , , | Leave a comment

Russia calls on OPCW to unveil truth behind alleged 2018 chemical attack in Syria’s Douma

Press TV – March 7, 2021

Russia has called on the global chemical weapons watchdog, OPCW, to conduct an impartial and reliable investigation into an alleged chemical attack in the Syrian city of Douma near the capital Damascus on April 7, 2018.

Russia’s Permanent Representative to the OPCW, Alexander Shulgin underlined the need for launching a transparent technical inquiry aimed at clarifying the actual course of events in Douma in 2018,  Syria’s official news agency SANA reported on Sunday.

“Successful work at the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) will be impossible until trustworthy circumstances behind the incident in the Syrian town of Douma in April 2018 are established,” the Russian official said.

Shulgin added that this sad page could be over and an international dialogue could be built at the OPCW only after receiving reliable conclusions on the issue.

Moscow has for months cited dissent by two former OPCW employees who leaked a document and an email as evidence that the OPCW doctored the conclusions of a report which found that a toxic chemical containing chlorine was used in a 2018 attack near Damascus.

According to the Russian official, the results which the two inspectors have reached and the violations they have uncovered have undermined the Western allegations.

In late 2019, whistleblowing website WikiLeaks published several batches of documents suggesting that the OPCW may have intentionally doctored its findings, notably avoiding revelations which may point to terrorists having been behind the alleged chemical attack.

One of the published documents showed Sebastien Braha, chief of cabinet at the OPCW, had ordered in an email that “all traces” of a report from Henderson be erased from the body’s registries.

Ian Henderson had found out that the gas cylinders at the site of the Douma incident had been placed there manually most likely by militants given that the area was not controlled by Damascus at the time.

Following the suspected chemical attack, Western countries were quick to blame it on the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

On April 14, 2018, the US, Britain and France launched a coordinated missile attack against sites and research facilities near Damascus and Homs with the purported goal of paralyzing the Syrian government’s capability to produce chemicals.

Damascus, however, said that no chemical attack had happened and that the incident had been staged by foreign intelligence agencies to pressure the government in the face of army advances against militants back then.

The OPCW concluded that chlorine had most likely been used in the attack. However, Syria and Russia both rejected the findings, saying they believed the incident had been staged by the White Helmets, a group which claims to be a humanitarian NGO but has long been accused of working with anti-Damascus militants and staging false-flag gas attacks.

The Syrian government also surrendered its stockpiles of chemical weapons in 2014 to a joint mission led by the UN and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which oversaw the destruction of the weaponry. However, Western governments and their allies have never stopped pointing the finger at Damascus whenever an apparent chemical attack has taken place.

Syria has been gripped by foreign-backed militancy since March 2011. The Syrian government says the Israeli regime and its Western and regional allies are aiding Takfiri terrorist groups that are wreaking havoc in the country.

Syrian government forces have taken back many areas once controlled by the terrorist groups.

Russia on Wednesday also called for not politicizing and exploiting the work of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Syria.

The IAEA in recent years has been investigating US claims that Syria allegedly tried to build a secret nuclear reactor at a remote desert site in Dayr al-Zawr in 2007, which no longer exists.

Syria and some other regional countries have time and again denounced the US and its Western allies for helping Israel develop its nuclear facilities and adopting double-standards on the issue of non-proliferation policies when it comes to Israel.

March 7, 2021 Posted by | Deception, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , , | Leave a comment

Bellingcat’s New Book ‘Whitewashes’ Manipulation of OPCW Report On Alleged Douma Attack

By Mohamed Elmaazi – Sputnik – 05.02.2021

A determination from the OPCW, that civilians in Douma, Syria were killed by chlorine gas canisters dropped from the sky, was undermined after internal documents revealed manipulation of the conclusions made by the expert team of inspectors who actually visited the site in question.

UK-based firm Bellingcat has come under heavy criticism for leaving out key information from it’s new book, regarding the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) whistleblower leaks in relation to the alleged chemical attack in Douma, Syria.

“The book [We Are Bellingcat: An Intelligence Agency for the People] excludes key evidence, shown in [my Twitter] thread, that has emerged from both OPCW sources and leaked documents regarding how attempts were made to manipulate the Douma investigation and the scientific flaws in the final report”, Dr Piers Robinson of the Organisation for Propaganda Studies explained in response to a request for comment.Robinson laid out a detailed twitter thread accusing Bellingcat, which is credibly suspected of being linked to Western intelligence agencies, of whitewashing “fraudulent conduct within the OPCW” and engaging in an exercise in “deception though omission”.

​The omissions from Bellingcat’s book mean that readers could be forgiven for never knowing that the controversy surrounding the OPCW report began when a member of the Fact Finding Mission to Douma discovered that their original interim report, agreed by the inspection team, was modified to make it look like chemical attack had occurred despite their conclusions to the contrary.

Bellingcat’s book also apparently omits reference to a panel discussion, with the former head of the OPCW, organised by the Courage Foundation, an organisation that supports whistleblowers.

Robinson outlines in his thread that the Courage Foundation panel “learned that an engineering study, sidelined by OPCW management, indicated that the damage seen [on a] chlorine cylinder and roof were not consistent with each other”.

Additionally, the panel learned that “a toxicology report by NATO chemical warfare experts had been suppressed come the final OPCW report”. This toxicology report “concluded that observed symptoms [of certain victims] were not consistent with chlorine gas poisoning them where they were found”

​The omissions in the book continued, with Bellingcat being accused of ignoring support for the OPCW whistleblowers from Jose Bustani, the organisation’s former chief.

​In doing so, Bellingcat “instead reinforces the attempt by OPCW senior management to smear some of its most experienced inspectors using a ‘leak investigation’ to spread lies and disinformation”, Robinson argues in his thread.

“The primary issue here is that Bellingcat are not properly independent of either western governments or indeed of elements within the OPCW itself”, Robinson told Sputnik. “They are clearly partial and yet Bloomsbury publishers has allowed this to be obscured and, predictably, for Bellingcat to present a manifestly partial description of the OPCW controversy”, he concluded.

In April 2018, allegations emerged of a chemical attack in the rebel-controlled area of Douma. The US, Britain and the EU accused the Syrian government of carrying out the attacks, and one week later launched strikes against the country, before any investigation was able to be completed. A team of experts from the OPCW ultimately conducted an onsite inspection of the site, 14 days after the alleged chemical attack, though the final report which concluded that chlorine canisters were likely dropped from the air, has since been marred in controversy.

The Syrian state and their Russian government supporters have always maintained that the alleged attack was staged by rebel forces in control of the region.

February 5, 2021 Posted by | Book Review, Deception, False Flag Terrorism | , | Leave a comment