by Peter Hitchens
A leaked email last night dramatically indicated that the UN’s poison gas watchdog had butchered and censored a critical report on an alleged chemical attack in Syria. If substantiated, the revelations will be severely embarrassing for Britain, France and America, which launched a massive military strike in retaliation without waiting for proof that chemical weapons had actually been used.
Unconfirmed reports and videos, showing the corpses of adults and children foaming at the mouth in Douma, a suburb of Damascus, shocked the world in April 2018 and led to a joint Western attack on the supposed culprit, Syria, in which more than 100 missiles, including nearly 70 Tomahawk cruise missiles, were fired.
Although the reports and films could not be independently verified, as the alleged events took place in a war zone then under the control of brutal Islamist militants, Western governments, and many Western media, took them at face value.
President Donald Trump tweeted at the time: ‘Many dead, including women and children, in mindless CHEMICAL attack in Syria. Area of atrocity is in lockdown and encircled by Syrian Army, making it completely inaccessible to outside world. President Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing Animal Assad. Big price to pay. Open area immediately for medical help and verification. Another humanitarian disaster for no reason whatsoever. SICK!’
A leaked email last night dramatically indicated that the UN’s poison gas watchdog had butchered and censored a critical report on an alleged chemical attack in Syria. If substantiated, the revelations will be severely embarrassing for Britain, France and America, which launched a massive military strike in retaliation without waiting for proof that chemical weapons had actually been used. (Above, an RAF Tornado over Damascus during the coalition attack)
President Donald Trump tweeted at the time: ‘Many dead, including women and children, in mindless CHEMICAL attack in Syria.’ Britain’s then Premier, Theresa May, was equally confident of her facts, saying after the missile launch: ‘Last Saturday up to 75 people, including young children, were killed in a despicable and barbaric attack in Douma, with as many as 500 further casualties’
This image released early on April 8, 2018 by the Syrian Civil Defense White Helmets shows a child receiving oxygen through respirators following the alleged poison gas attack. However, a dissenting scientist, employed by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) says in a leaked email that investigations on the ground at Douma have produced no hard evidence that the alleged gas attack took place
Britain’s then Premier, Theresa May, was equally confident of her facts, saying after the missile launch: ‘Last Saturday up to 75 people, including young children, were killed in a despicable and barbaric attack in Douma, with as many as 500 further casualties. We have worked with our allies to establish what happened.
‘And all the indications are that this was a chemical weapons attack … We are also clear about who was responsible for this atrocity. A significant body of information including intelligence indicates the Syrian regime is responsible for this latest attack.’
But a dissenting scientist, employed by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) says in a leaked email that investigations on the ground at Douma have produced no hard evidence that the alleged gas attack took place.
It appears that these facts were deliberately suppressed in published OPCW reports.
The email makes no attempt to suggest what did happen in Douma. It simply points out that hard evidence, gathered and examined by non-political scientists, does not support the officially endorsed version. And it claims that this resulted in the OPCW redacting the report to the extent that its conclusions were misrepresented.
The revelation appears to be the worst instance of ‘sexing-up’ in support of war since the invasion of Iraq and Tony Blair’s doctored dossiers. A whistleblower has made public the astonishing email of protest which was sent to senior officials at the OPCW. It says that the independent scientists’ official report on the Douma incident had been slashed and censored so severely that it:
- Misrepresented the facts – by leaving out key information;
- Hid the fact that the traces of chlorine found on the site were merely tiny trace elements, in parts per billion, and in forms that could have been found in any household bleach;
- Contained major deviations from the original report submitted by impartial experts, so that it had ‘morphed into something quite different’;
- Suppressed a total mismatch between the symptoms allegedly displayed by victims at the scene, and the effects of the chemicals which were actually found. The symptoms seen on harrowing videos shown at the time of the incident simply did not match the symptoms which would have been caused by any material found at the site.
The Mail on Sunday has seen the email of protest which one scientist at the OPCW submitted to his superiors. It refers to the original expert report from Douma which the email says was savagely censored.
This original report, if it had been published as written, would not have supported widespread claims that poison gas was used at Douma on April 7, 2018. If any such gas was used, it was not a gas known to, or detected by the scientists who visited the scene, examined the buildings and soil and carefully checked the samples.
A source has told me that the OPCW report, which was eventually published on July 7, 2018, was stripped of a vital fact at the last minute: the traces of chlorinated material which were found at the site were so small, and so easily available, that they could simply not be said to show that chlorine gas was employed.
The Mail on Sunday has also been told that, in the days before the original document was due to be published, a second report shorn of many of its most important findings was prepared behind the backs of most of the OPCW scientists.
A source inside the OPCW says that this move was discovered at the last minute. It was then met with protests from scientists, including the email sent to two senior OPCW officials, which The Mail on Sunday has seen. The source says a compromise was offered in which the truth about the tiny traces of chlorine would be told, though the report would still be heavily redacted.
This original report, if it had been published as written, would not have supported widespread claims that poison gas was used at Douma on April 7, 2018. If any such gas was used, it was not a gas known to, or detected by the scientists who visited the scene, examined the buildings and soil and carefully checked the samples. (Above, a baby has its face wiped following the alleged chemical attack in Douma)
Western support for the Syrian rebels against the Assad regime in Damascus has been politically awkward, as many of these rebels are Islamist extremists, in some cases linked to Al Qaeda. Claims that Assad has used poison gas against his own people have been important in persuading the Western public to back the policy. (Above, President Assad last week)
The scientists accepted this. But even this promise was then broken, and a third version of the document was issued which left out the vital fact. The wording of this report was so vague that news organisations around the world concluded – incorrectly – that it said that chlorine gas had been used or might have been used. If the key material had been left in, they could not have done this.
Since then, dissenting scientists have sought for months to find a way of setting the record straight, inside the OPCW. But all their efforts have failed, leading to the leak of the email.
It has been a long struggle. The original email of protest was sent to senior executives at the OPCW (whose names we know but have been asked not to publish) on June 22, 2018. The third (interim) report was published on July 6, 2018. A fourth report, even more mealy-mouthed, but still heavily censored, emerged in March this year.
The leak follows other alarming developments concerning the OPCW’s report on Douma, which suggest an organisation in severe crisis. Last May, another leak from the OPCW’s HQ in the Hague cast grave doubt on claims that gas cylinders found at the Douma site had been dropped from the air, a vital part of the Western case against Syria.
An OPCW engineering and ballistics expert called Ian Henderson (who was not the leaker) had strongly suggested that two gas cylinders found in Douma and examined by the OPCW’s Fact-Finding Mission had been ‘manually placed’.
This vital detail too was left out of the OPCW’s own published report, which implied strongly that they had been dropped from the air. This was crucial as Syrian government helicopters were the only aircraft in the area. On this occasion the OPCW revealed that the Henderson document was genuine, probably unintentionally, by announcing a leak inquiry on May 16.
Shock: How we reported the blitz launched by Western allies
The OPCW – whose member nations meet in The Hague for a major conference tomorrow – is also in severe turmoil after reports of further whistleblowing on the radical US website Counterpunch. Its account was written by the veteran journalist Jonathan Steele (formerly a senior foreign correspondent at The Guardian, twice named International Reporter of the Year), based on the account of a whistleblower who he codenamed ‘Alex’.
‘Alex’ said that dissenting experts, protesting against the doctoring of their work, were invited to a meeting with three American officials who were ‘cursorily introduced without making clear which US agencies they represented’. He recounted that the three ‘told them emphatically that the Syrian regime had conducted a gas attack.’
The Mail on Sunday approached the OPCW for comment on the protest email on Wednesday, November 13, more than ten days ago. We supplied them with a complete text. Despite several further requests by phone and email, the OPCW had not responded by last night.
The OPCW has been in severe disarray before, precisely because its rulings are so sensitive.
In 2002, in the lead-up to the Iraq war, the OPCW’s then director, the Brazilian diplomat Jose Bustani, was forced from office by intense US pressure. The US’s then ambassador to the UN was the ferocious pro-war hawk John Bolton, famed for his brusque and bullying manner to subordinates.
He is thought to have objected to Bustani’s plans to get Iraq to agree to OPCW inspectors going there to search for WMD. These inspections might have got in the way of US plans to go to war against Iraq at all costs, a decision which had already been made by the White House.
The same John Bolton was Donald Trump’s National Security Adviser at the time of the alleged outrage in Douma and the missile attacks on Syria, which took place a week later. He left the post in September after falling out with President Trump.
The OPCW is nominally independent, but its annual budget of roughly £75 million is supplied by member states, with much of the money coming from the USA and EU and NATO members, many of them heavily committed to supporting the rebels in Syria.
Western support for the Syrian rebels against the Assad regime in Damascus has been politically awkward, as many of these rebels are Islamist extremists, in some cases linked to Al Qaeda. Claims that Assad has used poison gas against his own people have been important in persuading the Western public to back the policy.
Counterpunch asked the OPCW’s media office to explain why the chlorine levels were excluded from the interim and final reports but they did not respond.
The OPCW is nominally independent, but its annual budget of roughly £75 million is supplied by member states, with much of the money coming from the USA and EU and NATO members, many of them heavily committed to supporting the rebels in Syria. (Above, Douma on April 6, 2018)
The leaked email in full
Sent: 22nd June 2018 08:27
Subject: Grave concern about the ‘redacted’ Douma report
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.
(Key passages emphasised by Mail on Sunday)