OPCW lied about chemical weapons report on Syria

WikiLeaks has published an internal email written by a member of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) fact-finding mission to Syria that exposes the far-reaching effort to suppress and distort evidence in order to claim that the government of Bashar al-Assad was responsible for the alleged April 7, 2018, gas attack in Douma, a suburb of Damascus then held by CIA-backed Islamist “rebel” forces.

The revelation once again makes clear the lying character of the campaign to justify the US regime-change operation in Syria, which has turned large sections of the country into a wasteland, killing hundreds of thousands of people and turning millions more into refugees.

OPCW Syria Wikileaks Douma Damascus

The alleged attack in which as many as 49 people were reportedly killed was seized on by the governments of the United States, Britain and France to justify the launching of air and missile strikes just one week later against Syrian government forces.

The attacks took place just hours before an OPCW fact-finding team was due to arrive in Syria to begin an investigation. The assault brought the US and its allies to the brink of open war not just against Syria, but also against the Assad government’s allies Iran and Russia.

The alleged attack in Douma came as Assad was consolidating control of the areas around Damascus and shortly after Trump had announced that US troops deployed to control the eastern half of Syria would soon be leaving. The purported Syrian government gas attack was seized on as a casus belli.

On April 8, one day after the alleged chemical attack and before any investigation had been carried out, Trump tweeted that there had been a “mindless CHEMICAL attack” by the “Animal Assad” backed by Russia and Iran, and that there would be a “big price to pay.” Under the guidance of Trump’s newly appointed national security advisor, John Bolton, military options were drawn up to attack Syria. The air and missile strikes were launched on April 13, US time.

Saturday’s WikiLeaks release makes clear that the OPCW report published in July 2018 was shaped to conform with the public allegations made by the US, UK and France. British Mail on Sunday columnist Peter Hitchens, in an article based on the WikiLeaks release, noted that the doctoring of the OPCW fact-finders’ report “appears to be the worst instance of ‘sexing-up’ in support of war since the invasion of Iraq and Tony Blair’s doctored dossiers.”

The investigator who authored the memo, and who remains anonymous, sent the email to OPCW Chief of Cabinet Robert Fairweather and his deputy, Aamir Shouket, on June 22, 2018, to raise “grave concern” about details that had been excluded from or changed in the soon-to-be-published redacted report on the agency’s investigation into the alleged gas attack. He wrote that the redacted report had strayed so far from the evidence collected that it “no longer reflects the work of the team.”

The email highlights statements that misrepresent the evidence collected in the on-the-spot investigation, including the assertion that the team had found “sufficient evidence at this time to determine that chlorine, or another reactive chlorine-containing chemical, was likely released from cylinders.”

This was simply not the case. As the whistle-blower explained, while samples were recovered that had been in contact with one or more chemicals containing a reactive chlorine atom, they could have come from multiple sources, including household bleach.

Moreover, there was insufficient evidence to show that the cylinders supposedly dropped onto Douma by Syrian helicopters were the source of a chemical release.

Another claim in the official report, that “high levels” of chlorinate organic derivatives were detected at the site of the alleged attack, was also false. According to the investigator, these chemicals were found in trace amounts as a low as 1–2 parts per billion.

The release of the email by WikiLeaks is only the latest episode in the unraveling of the official account, which began to come apart almost as soon as the alleged gas attack was trumpeted in the bourgeois press, accompanied by unverified video footage of children apparently suffering in a hospital.

Already in October 2018, the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media published the results of its investigation into the incident, which found that given the evidence presented by the OPCW, it was impossible to determine if a chemical attack had in fact taken place. Initial claims by the US and France that nerve agent had been used had been dismissed out of hand by the OPCW.

Last May, an unpublished report authored by ballistics expert Ian Henderson, who led the OPCW’s engineer sub-team in Douma, was leaked. In it, Henderson raised serious questions about the claim that the attack was carried out by chlorine cylinders dropped from the air, a claim that implicated Assad’s forces.

Instead, Henderson’s report concluded it was more likely that the two cylinders examined by investigators had been placed in their positions, implying that the purported attack had been staged by the Islamist forces that controlled the area at the time of the incident.

Last week, Jonathan Steele, former senior foreign correspondent for the Guardianreported in Counterpunch on a briefing by an OPCW whistleblower known as Alex, who relayed an incident in July 2018 in which dissenting experts were told in no uncertain terms at a meeting with three unidentified American officials that Syria was responsible for the alleged chlorine gas attack in Douma.

The final OPCW report published in March of this year omits any quantitative analysis of the low levels of chlorinated organic chemicals uncovered by investigators, undercutting the official claims of a chemical gas attack.

The annual conference of the OPCW begins today in The Hague, where the whistleblower who spoke to Steele hopes to raise concerns about the Douma investigation, though there are no indications that the organizers will allow such a discussion.

In the course of the more than eight-year regime-change operation in Syria, during which the US and its allies have used various Al Qaeda-linked Islamist militias as their proxy forces, one CIA-sponsored provocation after another has been used in an (unsuccessful) attempt to stampede US public opinion behind the war.

In 2013, a chemical gas attack in Eastern Ghouta was blamed on Assad and used to justify the preparation of massive US air strikes, which were called off at the last minute by Obama. This incident was later exposed by investigative reporter Seymour Hersh as the work of US-backed rebels acting with the support of Turkey.

The pseudo-left groups that have lined up behind the criminal US war in Syria and pushed for an even bigger bloodbath stand exposed. The now defunct International Socialist Organization, which dissolved into the Democratic Party earlier this year, used its Socialist Worker publication to promote the CIA-backed opposition and denounce anyone who opposed the US intervention as a stooge of the bourgeois Assad government and “imperialist” Russia and Iran.

WikiLeak’s critical role in bringing the investigator’s damning email to light makes clear once again why its founder and publisher, Julian Assange, is rotting away in England’s maximum security Belmarsh prison, facing extradition to the United States and 175 years in prison for exposing American war crimes in the Middle East.

The US intelligence agencies and the entire political establishment, Democrats and Republicans alike, intend with their persecution of Assange, condemned by United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture Nils Melzer as a form of torture, to put a permanent clamp on information about the crimes of US imperialism.

The US government, with its immense resources and vast intelligence apparatus, has not yet succeeded in shutting down one of the most crucial resources in bringing before the public the truth about the operations of US and world imperialism.

It is up to the international working class, as a vital part of its struggle to defend its democratic and social rights, to come to the defense of Assange as well as Chelsea Manning and demand their immediate release from prison and the dropping of all charges against them.


The leaked email in full

From: ********

Sent: 22nd June 2018 08:27

To: *********

Subject: Grave concern about the ‘redacted’ Douma report

Dear ******,

I wish to express, as a member of the FFM (Fact Finding Mission) team that conducted the investigation into the alleged chemical attack in Douma on 7 April, my gravest concern at the redacted version of the FFM report, which I understand was at the behest of the ODG. (Office of the Director General). After reading this modified report, which incidentally no other team member who deployed into Douma has had the opportunity to do, I was struck by how much it misrepresents the facts. Many of the facts and observations outlined in the full version are inextricably interconnected and, by selectively omitting certain ones, an unintended bias has been introduced into the report, undermining its credibility. In other cases, some crucial facts that have remained in the redacted version have morphed into something quite different to what was initially drafted. If I may, I will outline some specific aspects to the redacted report that are particularly worrisome.

The statement in paragraph 8.3 of the final conclusions ‘The team has sufficient evidence at this time to determine that chlorine, or another reactive chlorine-containing chemical, was likely released from cylinders’, is highly misleading and not supported by the facts. The only evidence available at this moment is that some samples collected at Locations 2 and 4 were in contact with one or more chemicals that contain a reactive chlorine atom. Such chemicals could include molecular chlorine, phosgene, cyanogen chloride, hydrochloric acid, hydrogen chloride or sodium hypochlorite (the major ingredient of household chlorine-based bleach). Purposely singling out chlorine gas as one of the possibilities is disingenuous. It is also worth noting that the term ‘reactive chlorine-containing chemical’ used in the redacted report is, in fact, inaccurate. It actually describes a reactive chemical that contains chlorine which itself (the chlorine) is not necessarily reactive e.g. chlorophenol. The original report uses the more accurate term ‘a chemical containing reactive chlorine’.

The redacted report states that the gas was likely released from the cylinders (in Locations 2 and 4). The original report purposely emphasised the fact that, although the cylinders might have been the source of the suspected chemical release, there was insufficient evidence to affirm this. It is possible the error was simply a typo. This is a major deviation from the original report.

Paragraph 8.2 states that ‘based on the high levels of various chlorinated organic derivatives, […] detected in environmental samples’. Describing the levels as ‘high’ likely overstates the extent of levels of chlorinated organic derivatives detected. They were, in most cases, present only in parts per billion range, as low as 1-2 ppb, which is essentially trace quantities.

The original report discusses in detail the inconsistency between the victims’ symptoms, as reported by witnesses and seen in video recordings. Omitting this section of the report (including the Epidemiology which has been removed in its entirety) has a serious negative impact on the report as this section is inextricably linked to the chemical agent identified. It either supports or detracts from the confidence in the identity of any possible chemical. In this case the confidence in the identity of chlorine or any choking agent is drawn into question precisely because of the inconsistency with the reported and observed symptoms. The inconsistency was not only noted by the FFM team but strongly noted by three toxicologists with expertise in exposure to CW (Chemical Weapons) agents.

The original report has extensive sections regarding the placement of the cylinders at both locations as well as the relative damage caused to the impact points, compared to that caused to the cylinders suspected of being the sources of the toxic chemical. These sections are essentially absent from the redacted report. This information was important in assessing the likelihood of the ‘presence’ of toxic chemicals versus the ‘use’ of toxic chemicals.

A feature of this investigation and report was the robust and extensive scientific basis for sampling plans and analysing the data collected. A comprehensive bibliography of peer-reviewed scientific literature was attached to support and enhance the credibility of the work of the mission. This has unfortunately been omitted from the redacted report.

By singling out chlorine above other equally plausible substances containing reactive chlorine and presenting it as a fact in isolation creates, I believe, a level of partiality that would negatively impact on the perceived credibility of the report, and by extension that of the Organisation. I am requesting that the fact-finding report be released in its entirety as I fear that this redacted version no longer reflects the work of the team. The original report contains facts and observations that are all equally valid. The fact that inconsistencies are highlighted or observations not fully understood does not justify their omission. The inconsistencies and observations are based on the evidence and data collected. Further information in the future may help resolve them but the facts as they stand at present will not alter and need to be reported.

If the redacted version is to be released, I respectfully request to attach my differing observations, in accordance with the spirit of paragraph 62 of part II of the Verification Annex of the CWC.

Yours sincerely