edited by O Society May 20, 2019
In April last year, Syrian opposition groups claimed the Syrian government launched a chemical attack in the last opposition stronghold near Damascus. The US, France, and Britain responded with a shower of cruise missiles against Syria.
Now a leaked report by engineers from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons who investigated the incident says the alleged chemical attack was staged: the “only plausible explanation” for the gas cylinders found in two apartment buildings is they were placed there, not dropped from helicopters.
On 8 April last year the world woke up to horrifying images of the bodies of more than 30 dead civilians lying in an apartment building in the Damascus suburb of Douma. The opposition had held out against the Syrian Army till then, but agreed to be evacuated the next day. A week later, the US, France and Britain attacked Syria with more than 100 cruise missiles in retaliation. Theresa May told the House of Commons that:
A significant body of information, including intelligence, indicates that the Syrian regime is responsible for this latest attack. … No other group could have carried out this attack. The opposition do not operate helicopters or use barrel bombs.
A team of investigators from OPCW arrived in Damascus on a Fact-Finding Mission the day after the US-led missile attack, and began inspecting the sites of the alleged attack. In March this year, the Final Report of the Fact-Finding Missionwas published. This reported that outside experts in ballistics, structural engineering and metallurgy had been asked to give opinions on “the trajectory and damage to the cylinders”, and concluded that there were “reasonable grounds that the use of a toxic chemical as a weapon took place.“
There was no mention in the Final Report that the Fact-Finding Mission had conducted its own engineering study, led by one of OPCW’s most senior inspectors, Ian Henderson. Now a copy of the suppressed Engineering Assessment leaked from inside OPCW – and OPCW reluctantly confirmed the document is genuine.
Although OPCW refused to comment further, several UK commentators reported their contacts in OPCW briefed them off the record this is “a minority opinion”, the author is “on the sidelines”, or a “disgruntled employee”.
The Engineering Assessment says the cylinder found lying over a hole in the roof (at what they designate location 2) would have punched straight through the roof if it had been dropped from 500M – much lower than a helicopter would actually fly – and could not have been stopped by the steel reinforcing bars without leaving marks on the cylinder. The cylinder with fins found lying on a bed (at location 4) could not have fitted through the hole in the roof if it had been dropped from the sky.
In each case the alternative hypothesis [that the cylinders were placed in position rather than dropped from the air] produced the only plausible explanation for observations at the scene.
Piers Robinson, convenor of the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media  that published the leaked document, says:
“It’s hard to see how the opinions of outside experts who had not been to the sites could override the opinions of OPCW’s own engineering team who had made their own inspection on site. The best way for OPCW to clear this up would be to make all the documents that were used to prepare the Final Report of the Fact-Finding Mission, including the full reports provided by outside experts, publicly available for review. “
David Miller, a member of the working group, stated:
“this leak shows there is significant dissent inside the OPCW. We hope that others will come forward with further elements of the story on how the OPCW has performed its role in this and other alleged chemical attacks. It is essential to note any such disclosures can be done in confidence.”
The alleged chemical attack on Douma in April 2018 was the pretext for airstrikes on Syria by France, UK and US. The final report on the alleged attack published by the OPCW left unexplained why its Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) had made no engineering assessments during its visit to Douma in April 2018, when experts could have inspected the sites with cylinders in position, rather than six months later when inspection was no longer possible and assessments had to rely on images and measurements obtained by others. A Briefing Note by the Working Group on Syria Propaganda & Media highlighted this as an obvious anomaly.
OPCW staff members have communicated with the Working Group.
We have learned that an investigation was undertaken by an engineering sub-team of the FFM, beginning with on-site inspections in April-May 2018, followed by a detailed engineering analysis including collaboration on computer modelling studies with two European universities.
The report of this investigation was excluded from the published Final Report of the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission, which referred only to assessments sought from unidentified “engineering experts” commissioned in October 2018 and obtained in December 2018.
A copy of a 15-page Executive Summary of the report entitled “Engineering Assessment of two cylinders observed at the Douma incident” is posted here. (Anyone who wishes to post their own link to the document is kindly requested to download the document and link from their own server, so as not to overload the Working Group’s.)
The Working Group has provided a commentary on the document: see ‘Assessment by the engineering sub-team of the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission investigating the alleged chemical attack in Douma in April 2018‘, by Paul McKeigue, David Miller and Piers Robinson.
Some of the commentary’s key points:
- As the Working Group has repeatedly emphasised, evidence can be evaluated only by comparison of competing hypotheses. A key weakness of the published FFM Final Report was that no competing hypotheses were considered. The FFM’s unpublished Engineering Assessment does not make this error: competing hypotheses are clearly set out in advance.
- The conclusion of the Engineering Assessment is unequivocal: the “alternative hypothesis” that the cylinders were placed in position is “the only plausible explanation for observations at the scene”.
- These findings establish beyond reasonable doubt that the alleged chemical attack in Douma on 7 April 2018 was staged.
- This raises the question of where and how did the victims seen in the images recorded at location 2 die?
- The conclusion appears inescapable that the staging of the Douma incident entailed mass murder of at least 35 civilians to provide the bodies at Location 2.
Furthermore, we note the Douma incident was the first alleged chemical attack in Syria where OPCW investigators were able to carry out an unimpeded on-site inspection. Since previous OPCW Fact-Finding Missions did not include on-site inspections, the finding that the Douma incident was staged may cast doubt on the findings of those earlier FFMs.
“A huge international news story broke last week,” writes Peter Hitchens, in the Mail on Sunday today, “but I doubt you will hear about it anywhere else.”
While the story resounds around sections of the alternative media and Twitter, attracting also the concern of some well known people including Susan Sarandon and Roger Waters, mainstream journalists have ignored it.
This silence is a chilling testimony to the state of news reporting – and thus of democracy itself – today. For the significance of the story is hard to overstate. As Hitchens continues:
“It seems very likely that the decision we, France and the USA made in April 2018 to bomb Syria was based on a mistake as big as the fictional weapons of mass destruction in Iraq in 2003.
The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the international body which examines alleged incidents of the use of poison gas, has just confirmed to me that a devastating leaked document from its Dutch HQ is genuine.
The document, written by one of the OPCW’s most experienced investigators, shows that it is highly unlikely that gas canisters found at the scene of an alleged poison gas attack in Douma, Syria, were actually dropped from helicopters – as has been widely believed and claimed. The claim is crucial to the case for bombing Syria.”
As Hitchens continues, the OPCW is “a valuable organisation, containing many fine people, with a noble purpose”, but he, like Working Group members, is troubled by the question whether it has been “placed under pressure, or even hijacked, by political forces which seek a justification for military intervention in Syria?”
“Given a decision between war or peace, affecting the whole planet, could one day hang on its judgments, I think the world is entitled to an inquiry into what is happening behind its closed doors.”
In early 2002, a year before the invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration was putting intense pressure on Bustani to quit as director-general of the OPCW — despite the fact that he had been unanimously re-elected to head the 145-nation body just two years earlier. His transgression? Negotiating with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq to allow OPCW weapons inspectors to make unannounced visits to that country — thereby undermining Washington’s rationale for regime change.
In 2001, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell had penned a letter to Bustani, thanking him for his “very impressive” work. By March 2002, however, Bolton — then serving as under secretary of state for Arms Control and International Security Affairs — arrived in person at the OPCW headquarters in the Hague to issue a warning to the organization’s chief. And, according to Bustani, Bolton didn’t mince words. “Cheney wants you out,” Bustani recalled Bolton saying, referring to the then-vice president of the United States. “We can’t accept your management style.”
Bolton continued, according to Bustani’s recollections: “You have 24 hours to leave the organization, and if you don’t comply with this decision by Washington, we have ways to retaliate against you.”
There was a pause.
“We know where your kids live. You have two sons in New York.”
Bustani told me he was taken aback but refused to back down. “My family is aware of the situation, and we are prepared to live with the consequences of my decision,” he replied.
The United States succeeded today in ousting the director of the global agency charged with ridding the world of chemical weapons after an intense diplomatic campaign that made a number of countries uncomfortable.
José M. Bustani, a Brazilian diplomat who was unanimously re-elected last year as the director general of the 145-nation Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, was voted out of office today after refusing repeated demands by the United States that he step down because of his ”management style.” No successor has been selected.
”I clearly made some people in Washington very uncomfortable because I was too independent,” Mr. Bustani said afterward. ”They want somebody more obedient.”
The American motion to fire Mr. Bustani was approved by 48 nations, while 7 voted against and 43 abstained. Most European nations voted with the United States, except for France, which abstained. Mexico, one of the countries that voted no, called the maneuver ”illegal” because there was no provision in the rules to dismiss the director general.
Diplomats said the many abstentions reflected the unease of a number of countries over the action. They said it had opened the door further for other international bodies to come under attack.
The United States, which is responsible for 22 percent of the agency’s budget, had threatened to cut off funding until Mr. Bustani left.