Tag Archives: Fernando Arias

renewed calls for a full investigation into the OPCW Douma cover-up

On April 15th, OPCW Director-General Fernando Arias faced questions about the Douma cover-up from Mick Wallace and Clare Daley of the European Parliament. Both Wallace and Daley asked Arias why he has refused to address the Douma cover-up and meet with the dissenting inspectors. The meeting chair, former French cabinet minister Nathalie Loiseau, tried to cut-off the questions and even apologized to Arias for them being posed.  Arias then made a series of excuses and even false claims.

The following day, the Douma scandal was discussed at an Arria Formula Meeting of the United Nations Security Council. The invited briefers at the meeting included Hans von Sponeck and Lawrence Wilkerson, two veteran diplomats who have signed a Statement of Concern about the Douma scandal, alongside other notable voices including five former OPCW officials. In his comments, von Sponeck revealed that Arias, the OPCW chief, refused to read the statement and returned it to sender. In response, the ambassadors of the nations that bombed Syria in April 2018 – the US, UK, and France – tried to dismiss the Douma cover-up scandal as Russian propaganda and refused to offer any substantive comments on the issue.

The Grayzone’s Aaron Maté also presented evidence to the UNSC and embedded below is a powerful report by Maté on what took place and why it is vital to counter the lies of the OPCW and its new chief Fernando Arias:

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To mark ten year’s blogging, this is the third of my re-uploads from the WoC archive. Originally posted on May 19th 2019, was the Douma gas attack staged…? little by little the truth is coming out was the first of two articles (here is a link to the follow up) in which I presented some of the growing evidence disproving the official story surrounding the alleged Syrian chlorine gas attack in Douma and including the Twitter stream from BBC Syria producer, Riam Dalati, in which he claimed to have knowledge that the event was staged by terrorist faction Jaish al-Islam.

Do you remember these harrowing scenes shot inside a hospital in Douma from early April last year?

The footage of an alleged chemical attack is genuinely distressing. The children who have queued up to receive treatment are clearly suffering, and many have terrified looks in their eyes. However, within hours and with the actual arrival of journalists on the ground, the first reports differed markedly from claims presented in this video footage.

They did not find evidence to corroborate the story that poison gas had been released. Instead, they spoke to eyewitnesses who described the aftermath of conventional airstrikes, some of whom also talked about smoke and dust inhalation. (Here are extracts of these on-the-ground reports that I reposted at the time.)

“What you see are people suffering from hypoxia – not gas poisoning,” Dr Assim Rahaibani, an eyewitness working in the clinic, told Robert Fisk of The Independent. The same doctor also explained how although the patients were suffering from smoke and dust inhalation, “someone at the door, a “White Helmet”, shouted “Gas!”, and a panic began. People started throwing water over each other.” 1 This story was later corroborated by the eyewitness testimony of others including 11-year-old Hassan Diab (one of the children seen in the video) and by members of the hospital staff. 2

In short, what the video shows is real in one sense, but in another way this is a manufactured panic that was staged, repackaged and distributed all by the White Helmets group. In different circumstances, the footage would be called fake news because it is.

The tweet above was written by BBC Syria producer, Riam Dalati, and it first came to light in February before being swiftly deleted. “After almost 6 months of investigations”, Dalati claims, “I can prove without a doubt that the Douma Hospital scene was staged.”

Continuing in another tweet:

Truth is James Harkin got the basics right in terms of Douma’s “propaganda” value. The ATTACK DID HAPPEN, Sarin wasn’t used, but we’ll have to wait for OPCW to prove Chlorine or otherwise. However, everything else around the attack was manufactured for maximum effect.

In the same thread Dalati added:

I can tell you that Jaysh al-Islam ruled Douma with an iron fist. They coopted activists, doctors and humanitarians with fear and intimidation. In fact, one of the 3 or 4 people filming the scene was Dr. Abu Bakr Hanan, a “brute and shifty” doctor affiliated with Jaysh Al-Islam. The narrative was that “there weren’t enough drs” but here is one filming and not taking part of the rescue efforts. Will keep the rest for later.

As Zerohedge reported at the time:

Interestingly, the BBC’s Dalati had actually first hinted he knew that elements surrounding the Douma attack had been staged a mere days after the incident.

In a now deleted April 11, 2018 tweet, he had stated: “Sick and tired of activists and rebels using corpses of dead children to stage emotive scenes for Western consumption. Then they wonder why some serious journos are questioning part of the narrative.”

Thus far mainstream networks have not picked up on this latest bombshell admission from the BBC producer, but it will be interesting to see if there’s any formal response from the BBC based on the Russian foreign ministry’s request. 3

Click here to read the full report entitled “BBC Producer’s Syria Bombshell: Douma ‘Gas Attack’ Footage ‘Was Staged’” written by Tyler Durden.

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More recently, a suppressed OPCW report was made public by the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media. The following extracts are drawn from an excellent overview put together by Kit Knightly and published at Off-Guardian:

The report, signed by Ian Henderson (an investigative team leader for the OPCW), is an analysis of the two key locations which were used as evidence of the Syrian government launching a chemical attack using chlorine gas in Douma, last year.

These locations, referred to as Location 2 and Location 4 respectively, were made famous by these photographs:

Location 2 : ”The Patio”

Location 4: ”The Bed”

The photographs, “analysed” in depth by Bellingcat and other establishment mouthpieces, were claimed as the “smoking gun”, proof of the Assad’s guilt. However, the OPCW fact-finding mission appears to see things rather differently.

The report is fifteen pages long, detailed and thorough, but the most important paragraph is saved for the end (emphasis ours):

“In summary, observations at the scene of the two locations, together with subsequent analysis, suggest that there is a higher probability that both cylinders were manually placed at those two locations rather than being dropped.”

So there you have it, an apparently genuine OPCW report (kept from the public for as yet unclear reasons), which appears to support the prevailing view of the alt-news community: Douma was staged.

People like Vanessa Beeley and Piers Robinson et al, who have been relentlessly smeared in the mainstream media, have been shown to be right. Again. 4

Click here to read the full article entitled “Leaked Report: Douma ‘Chemical Attack’ Likely Staged” written by Kit Knightly.

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The corporate media has so far paid little attention to the leaked OPCW document. This can be justified, of course, if as the OPCW contend:

“the individual mentioned in the document has never been a member of the FFM [OPCW Fact-Finding Mission]”

However, the provenance of the document was in fact established by the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media prior to publicly releasing it. As they explain:

The report is signed by Ian Henderson, who is listed as one of the first P-5 level inspection team leaders trained at OPCW in a report dated 1998. We have confirmed that as the engineering expert on the FFM, Henderson was assigned to lead the investigation of the cylinders and alleged impact sites at Locations 2 and 4. We understand that “TM” in the handwritten annotation denotes Team Members of the FFM.

Moreover:

The engineering sub-team could not have been carrying out studies in Douma at Locations 2 and 4 unless they had been notified by OPCW to the Syrian National Authority (the body that oversees compliance with the Chemical Weapons Convention) as FFM inspectors: it is unlikely that Henderson arrived on a tourist visa.

And lastly:

The sub-team report refers to external collaborators and consultants: we understand that this included two European universities. This external collaboration on such a sensitive matter could not have gone ahead unless it had been authorised: otherwise Henderson would have been dismissed instantly for breach of confidentiality. We can therefore be confident that the preparation of the report had received the necessary authorisation within OPCW. What happened after the report was written is another matter. 5

Click here to read more from the briefing notes provided by the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media.

One mainstream journalist who did pick up and report on news of the leak is Peter Hitchens:

[A]s I said in my March 9th article ‘On the subject of the cylinders it [the OPCW’s final report] says physical evidence was ‘consistent’ with the view that the cylinders had passed through the concrete roof of the building in which they were found. […]

The leaked document differs sharply from this. So I set out first of all to discover if the OPCW disputed the claim that the leaked document came from within its organisation. As you will see from the response below (As it is mostly flannel, I have highlighted the key words), it does not dispute this. I also asked them to confirm that its named author was in fact an OPCW employee. As you will see from the response below, it declined to confirm the latter. I think, if it had wished to do so, it could have disowned the name person.

I have received the following reply from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons:

‘The OPCW establishes facts surrounding allegations of the use of toxic chemicals for hostile purposes in the Syrian Arab Republic through the Fact-Finding Mission (FFM), which was set up in 2014.

The OPCW Technical Secretariat reaffirms that the FFM complies with established methodologies and practices to ensure the integrity of its findings. The FFM takes into account all available, relevant, and reliable information and analysis within the scope of its mandate to determine its findings.

Per standard practice, the FFM draws expertise from different divisions across the Technical Secretariat as needed.  All information was taken into account, deliberated, and weighed when formulating the final report regarding the incident in Douma, Syrian Arab Republic, on 7 April 2018. On 1 March 2019, the OPCW issued its final report on this incident, signed by the Director-General.

Per OPCW rules and regulations, and in order to ensure the privacy, safety, and security of personnel, the OPCW does not provide information about individual staff members of the Technical Secretariat.

Pursuant to its established policies and practices, the OPCW Technical Secretariat is conducting an internal investigation about the unauthorised release of the document in question. (my emphasis, PH)

 At this time, there is no further public information on this matter and the OPCW is unable to accommodate requests for interviews.’

I thank the OPCW for confirming that the document is genuine. 6

[All emphasis retained from Peter Hitchen’s original article]

Click here to read Peter Hitchen’s full article entitled “Strange News from the OPCW in the Hague” published by the Mail Online.

On the basis of available evidence, the OPCW is a compromised intergovernmental body whose independence can no longer be relied upon. Previously the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media had concluded that:

“It is doubtful whether [OPCW’s] reputation as an impartial monitor of compliance with the Chemical Weapons Convention can be restored without radical reform of its governance and working practices”

On the basis of the latest disclosure, however, their revised statement concludes more forcibly addressing what it describes as “the hijacking of OPCW”:

The new information we have removes all doubt that the organization has been hijacked at the top by France, UK and the US. We have no doubt that most OPCW staff continue to do their jobs professionally, and that some who are uneasy about the direction that the organization has taken nevertheless wish to protect its reputation. However what is at stake here is more than the reputation of the organization: the staged incident in Douma provoked a missile attack by the US, UK and France on 14 April 2018 that could have led to all-out war.

The cover-up of evidence that the Douma incident was staged is not merely misconduct. As the staging of the Douma incident entailed mass murder of civilians, those in OPCW who have suppressed the evidence of staging are, unwittingly or otherwise, colluding with mass murder. 7

You can read the full report here, or see the embedded version below. You are encouraged to download it and share it widely:

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As the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media rightly assert, there were victims who were killed at Douma. The most graphic video footage shows literally dozens of corpses lying on top of one another, with some appearing to have a kind of froth on their mouths. These victims were originally said to have been sheltering in an underground shelter where the gas canisters were allegedly dropped, although it seems more probable that the scenes are from inside a flat. Embedded below is only uploaded version I can find on youtube – it forms the opening segment to a CNN bulletin [the footage runs from 30–60 secs]:

Back in 2013, Euronews interviewed Stephen Johnson, an expert in weapons and chemical explosives at Cranfield Forensic Institute, who had outlined inconsistencies in footage of patients’ symptoms released following the earliest alleged chemical attacks:

“There are, within some of the videos, examples which seem a little hyper-real, and almost as if they’ve been set up. Which is not to say that they are fake but it does cause some concern. Some of the people with foaming, the foam seems to be too white, too pure, and not consistent with the sort of internal injury you might expect to see, which you’d expect to be bloodier or yellower.”

As the evidence stacks up that the Douma gas attack was entirely staged, the most likely explanation is therefore a macabre one. Jonathan Cook puts it plainly:

An atrocity that appears to be corroborated again by BBC producer Riam Dalati in another of his follow-up tweets:

Russia and at least one NATO country knew about what happened in the hospital. Documents were sent. However, no one knew what really happened at the flats apart from activists manipulating the scene there. This is why Russia focused solely on discrediting the hospital scene.

Tyler Durden, in the same Zerohedge article, writes:

Dalati’s mention of activists at the flats “manipulating the scene there” is a reference to White Helmets and rebel activist produced footage purporting to show the deadly aftermath of a chemical attack inside a second scene — a bombed-out apartment showing dozens of dead bodies. 8

Click here to read Tyler Durden’s full article.

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One final thought as the corporate media turns a blind eye to the approach of the annual “private gathering” of our senior politicians, business leaders, and other movers and shakers at Bilderberg – with days to go the venue still remains a closely guarded secret – it is noteworthy (as I have noted previously) that Ahmet Üzümcü, the Director-General of the OPCW during the Douma investigation, was in attendance at the Bilderberg conference in Telfs-Buchen, Austria (June 2015) just short of three years prior to the Douma incident. His stay at this secretive conference with its strictly off-the-record political agenda meant rubbing elbows with top brass from Nato, CEOs of the major arms manufactures, and senior politicians including ministers of defence, which clearly compromises the independence and discredits claims of impartiality of this former chief of OPCW. There is a conflict of interests here that needs to be investigated.

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1 From an article entitled “The search for truth in the rubble of Douma – and one doctor’s doubts over the chemical attacks” written by Robert Fisk, published in The Independent on April 17, 2018. https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/syria-chemical-attack-gas-douma-robert-fisk-ghouta-damascus-a8307726.html

2 Witnesses of the alleged chemical attack in Douma, including 11-year-old Hassan Diab and hospital staff, told reporters at The Hague that the White Helmets video used as a pretext for a US-led strike on Syria was, in fact, staged.

“We were at the basement and we heard people shouting that we needed to go to a hospital. We went through a tunnel. At the hospital they started pouring cold water on me,” the boy told the press conference, gathered by Russia’s mission at the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in The Hague.

3 From an article entitled “BBC Producer’s Syria Bombshell: Douma ‘Gas Attack’ Footage ‘Was Staged’” written by Tyler Durden, published in Zerohedge on February 14, 2019. https://www.zerohedge.com/news/2019-02-14/bbc-shocks-douma-gas-attack-scene-staged-producer-says-after-6-month-syria

4 From an article entitled “Leaked Report: Douma ‘Chemical Attack’ Likely Staged” written by Kit Knightly, published in Off-Guardian on May 14, 2019. https://off-guardian.org/2019/05/14/leaked-report-douma-chemical-attack-likely-staged/ 

5 From briefing notes provided by the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media, written by Paul McKeigue, David Miller & Piers Robinson.  http://syriapropagandamedia.org/working-papers/assessment-by-the-engineering-sub-team-of-the-opcw-fact-finding-mission-investigating-the-alleged-chemical-attack-in-douma-in-april-2018

6 From an article entitled “Strange News from the OPCW in the Hague” written by Peter Hitchens, published in the Mail Online on May 16, 2019. https://hitchensblog.mailonsunday.co.uk/2019/05/strange-news-from-the-opcw-in-the-hague-.html

7 From briefing notes provided by the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media, written by Paul McKeigue, David Miller & Piers Robinson.  http://syriapropagandamedia.org/working-papers/assessment-by-the-engineering-sub-team-of-the-opcw-fact-finding-mission-investigating-the-alleged-chemical-attack-in-douma-in-april-2018

8 From an article entitled “BBC Producer’s Syria Bombshell: Douma ‘Gas Attack’ Footage ‘Was Staged’” written by Tyler Durden, published in Zerohedge on February 14, 2019. https://www.zerohedge.com/news/2019-02-14/bbc-shocks-douma-gas-attack-scene-staged-producer-says-after-6-month-syria

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José Bustani, former head of OPCW, blocked by US, UK and France from giving testimony to UNSC – you can read it here

Ian Henderson, a veteran OPCW inspector who challenged a cover-up of his organization’s investigation of an alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria, recently testified before the United Nations Security Council. At the meeting, Henderson was both attacked and ignored by US, UK, and French diplomats whose governments bombed Syria over allegations that Henderson’s censored investigation undermined.

Click here to watch Ian Henderson’s testimony and to read my previous post on the subject.

At another UN Security Council gathering one week later [Monday 5th Oct], the US and its allies continued their censorship campaign by voting to block the testimony of the OPCW’s former chief, José Bustani, who had come to speak out in support of the whistleblowers. The Grayzone obtained Bustani’s prepared statement and has published it in full (it is also reproduced below).

On yesterday’s Pushback, host Aaron Maté, who delivered his own statement to the first UNSC meeting (again, see previous post), recapped on these extraordinary events with excerpts of Henderson and Bustani’s comments, as well as those of the Western ambassadors who tried to silence them.

Although the UNSC hearings were called to look into allegations of the OPCW’s cover-up specifically during its investigation into an alleged chemical attack on Douma in April 2018 – accusations that then served as a pretext for the bombing of Syria by the US, UK and France – Aaron Maté felt compelled to also repudiate prior allegations of the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons in Ghouta since this matter had been raised by the French ambassador to the UN, Nicolas de Rivière.

I strongly advice readers to watch the final section of this episode [beginning at about 39 mins] which reviews Ian Henderson’s closing statement at the end of the first UNSC meeting, including Henderson’s claim of earlier political interference hampering the OPCW’s original investigative role inside Syria.

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As the OPCW’s first Director General, Bustani experienced first-hand the costs of challenging pro-war narratives. In 2002, he was personally threatened by John Bolton and ousted as OPCW chief after he facilitated inspections that stood in the way of the Bush administration’s drive to invade Iraq.

In testimony that the UN did not allow to be submitted, Bustani voices support for the OPCW inspectors who found evidence that undermined the official narrative (but were censored by their superiors under US pressure) and urges the current Director General, Fernando Arias, to let them air their suppressed evidence in a transparent manner.

“At great risk to themselves, [the inspectors] have dared to speak out against possible irregular behaviour in your Organisation, and it is without doubt in your, in the Organisation’s, and in the world’s interest that you hear them out,” Bustani says. “Regardless of whether or not there is substance to the concerns raised about the OPCW’s behaviour in the Douma investigation, hearing what your own inspectors have to say would be an important first step in mending the Organisation’s damaged reputation. The dissenting inspectors are not claiming to be right, but they do want to be given a fair hearing.”

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A full transcript of José Bustani’s statement is reproduced below:

Mr Chairman, Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia, your excellencies, distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen,

My name is José Bustani. I am honoured to have been invited to present a statement for this meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss the Syrian chemical dossier and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. As the OPCW’s first Director General, a position I held from 1997 to 2002, I naturally retain a keen interest in the evolution and fortunes of the Organisation. I have been particularly interested in recent developments regarding the Organisation’s work in Syria.

For those of you who are not aware, I was removed from office following a US-orchestrated campaign in 2002 for, ironically, trying to uphold the Chemical Weapons Convention. My removal was subsequently ruled to be illegal by the International Labour Organisation’s Administrative Tribunal, but despite this unpleasant experience the OPCW remains close to my heart. It is a special Organisation with an important mandate. I accepted the position of Director General precisely because the Chemical Weapons Convention was non-discriminatory. I took immense pride in the independence, impartiality, and professionalism of its inspectors and wider staff in implementing the Chemical Weapons Convention. No State Party was to be considered above the rest and the hallmark of the Organisation’s work was the even-handedness with which all Member States were treated regardless of size, political might, or economic clout.

Although no longer at the helm by this time, I felt great joy when the OPCW was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2013 “for its extensive efforts to eliminate chemical weapons”. It was a mandate towards which I and countless other former staff members had worked tirelessly. In the nascent years of the OPCW, we faced a number of challenges, but we overcame them to earn the Organisation a well-deserved reputation for effectiveness and efficiency, not to mention autonomy, impartiality, and a refusal to be politicised. The ILO decision on my removal was an official and public reassertion of the importance of these principles.

More recently, the OPCW’s investigations of alleged uses of chemical weapons have no doubt created even greater challenges for the Organisation. It was precisely for this kind of eventuality that we had developed operating procedures, analytical methods, as well as extensive training programmes, in strict accordance with the provisions of the Chemical Weapons Convention. Allegations of the actual use of chemical weapons were a prospect for which we hoped our preparations would never be required. Unfortunately, they were, and today allegations of chemical weapons use are a sad reality.

It is against this backdrop that serious questions are now being raised over whether the independence, impartiality, and professionalism of some of the Organisation’s work is being severely compromised, possibly under pressure from some Member States. Of particular concern are the circumstances surrounding the OPCW’s investigation of the alleged chemical attack in Douma, Syria, on 7 April 2018. These concerns are emanating from the very heart of the Organisation, from the very scientists and engineers involved in the Douma investigation.

In October 2019 I was invited by the Courage Foundation, an international organisation that ‘supports those who risk life or liberty to make significant contributions to the historical record’, to participate in a panel along with a number of eminent international figures from the fields of international law, disarmament, military operations, medicine, and intelligence. The panel was convened to hear the concerns of an OPCW official over the conduct of the Organisation’s investigation into the Douma incident.

The expert provided compelling and documentary evidence of highly questionable, and potentially fraudulent conduct in the investigative process. In a joint public statement, the Panel was, and I quote, ‘unanimous in expressing [its] alarm over unacceptable practices in the investigation of the alleged chemical attack in Douma’. The Panel further called on the OPCW, ‘to permit all inspectors who took part in the Douma investigation to come forward and report their differing observations in an appropriate forum of the States Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention, in fulfilment of the spirit of the Convention.’

I was personally so disturbed by the testimony and evidence presented to the Panel, that I was compelled to make a public statement. I quote: “I have always expected the OPCW to be a true paradigm of multilateralism. My hope is that the concerns expressed publicly by the Panel, in its joint consensus statement, will catalyse a process by which the Organisation can be resurrected to become the independent and non-discriminatory body it used to be.”

The call for greater transparency from the OPCW further intensified in November 2019 when an open letter of support for the Courage Foundation declaration was sent to Permanent Representatives to the OPCW to, ‘ask for [their] support in taking action at the forthcoming Conference of States Parties aimed at restoring the integrity of the OPCW and regaining public trust.’

The signatories of this petition included such eminent figures as Noam Chomsky, Emeritus Professor at MIT; Marcello Ferrada de Noli, Chair of the Swedish Doctors for Human Rights; Coleen Rowley, whistle-blower and a 2002 Time Magazine Person of the Year; Hans von Sponeck, former UN Assistant Secretary-General; and Film Director Oliver Stone, to mention a few.

Almost one year later, the OPCW has still not responded to these requests, nor to the ever-growing controversy surrounding the Douma investigation. Rather, it has hidden behind an impenetrable wall of silence and opacity, making any meaningful dialogue impossible. On the one occasion when it did address the inspectors’ concerns in public, it was only to accuse them of breaching confidentiality. Of course, Inspectors – and indeed all OPCW staff members – have responsibilities to respect confidentiality rules. But the OPCW has the primary responsibility – to faithfully ensure the implementation of the provisions of the Chemical Weapons Convention (Article VIII, para 1).

The work of the Organisation must be transparent, for without transparency there is no trust. And trust is what binds the OPCW together. If Member States do not have trust in the fairness and objectivity of the work of the OPCW, then its effectiveness as a global watchdog for chemical weapons is severely compromised.

And transparency and confidentiality are not mutually exclusive. But confidentiality cannot be invoked as a smoke screen for irregular behaviour. The Organisation needs to restore the public trust it once had and which no one denies is now waning. Which is why we are here today.

It would be inappropriate for me to advise on, or even to suggest how the OPCW should go about regaining public trust. Still, as someone who has experienced both rewarding and tumultuous times with the OPCW, I would like to make a personal plea to you, Mr Fernando Arias, as Director General of the OPCW. The inspectors are among the Organisation’s most valuable assets. As scientists and engineers, their specialist knowledge and inputs are essential for good decision making. Most importantly, their views are untainted by politics or national interests. They only rely on the science. The inspectors in the Douma investigation have a simple request – that they be given the opportunity to meet with you to express their concerns to you in person, in a manner that is both transparent and accountable.

This is surely the minimum that they can expect. At great risk to themselves, they have dared to speak out against possible irregular behaviour in your Organisation, and it is without doubt in your, in the Organisation’s, and in the world’s interest that you hear them out. The Convention itself showed great foresight in allowing inspectors to offer differing observations, even in investigations of alleged uses of chemical weapons (paras 62 and 66 of Part II, Ver. Annex). This right, is, and I quote, ‘a constitutive element supporting the independence and objectivity of inspections’. This language comes from Ralf Trapp and Walter Krutzsch’s “A commentary on Verification Practice under the CWC”, published by the OPCW itself during my time as DG.

Regardless of whether or not there is substance to the concerns raised about the OPCW’s behaviour in the Douma investigation, hearing what your own inspectors have to say would be an important first step in mending the Organisation’s damaged reputation. The dissenting inspectors are not claiming to be right, but they do want to be given a fair hearing. As one Director General to another, I respectfully request that you grant them this opportunity. If the OPCW is confident in the robustness of its scientific work on Douma and in the integrity of the investigation, then it has little to fear in hearing out its inspectors. If, however, the claims of evidence suppression, selective use of data, and exclusion of key investigators, among other allegations, are not unfounded, then it is even more imperative that the issue be dealt with openly and urgently.

This Organisation has already achieved greatness. If it has slipped, it nonetheless still has the opportunity to repair itself, and to grow to become even greater. The world needs a credible chemical weapons watchdog. We had one, and I am confident, Mr Arias, that you will see to it that we have one again.

Thank you.

Click here to read the same transcript on The Grayzone official website.

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Ian Henderson, Theodore Postol and Aaron Maté testify at UN on OPCW Syria cover-up

“The convincing evidence of irregular behaviour in the OPCW investigation of the alleged Douma chemical attack confirms doubts and suspicions I already had. I could make no sense of what I was reading in the international press. Even official reports of investigations seemed incoherent at best. The picture is certainly clearer now, although very disturbing”

“I have always expected the OPCW to be a true paradigm of multilateralism. My hope is that the concerns expressed publicly by the Panel, in its joint consensus statement, will catalyse a process by which the Organisation can be resurrected to become the independent and non-discriminatory body it used to be.”

— José Bustani, first Director General of OPCW and former Ambassador to the United Kingdom and France.

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At an Arria-Formula Meeting of the United Nations Security Council, Aaron Maté of The Grayzone delivered remarks on the OPCW’s ongoing Syria scandal.

Veteran OPCW inspectors who investigated an alleged chemical attack in Douma, Syria in April 2018 say that their probe was censored and manipulated. Under direct US government pressure, the OPCW concealed evidence that pointed to the incident being staged on the ground, and instead released a report that suggested Syrian government culpability. The allegation against Syria led to the bombing of Syria by the US, France, and UK just days after the alleged Douma incident.

In his remarks, Aaron calls this “one of the most important, and overlooked, global stories in recent memory” and urges the UN and OPCW to let the OPCW inspectors air their concerns, and present the evidence that was suppressed.

Full transcript: https://thegrayzone.com/2020/09/29/gr…

(It is also reproduced in full below.)

Other briefers participating in the UN session included former OPCW inspector and whistleblower, Ian Henderson, a member of the Douma team, who offered a sincere, heartfelt closing statement embedded below – the same statement can also be watched in the full video (linked below) beginning at 3:00:00 hours:

Award-winning physicist Theodore Postol, MIT professor emeritus and former Pentagon adviser, was another who briefed the meeting and his slide presentation [20 mins long] based on evidence discrediting the alleged sarin attack at Khan Sheikhoun can be viewed by following the link below beginning from 33:00 mins.

The full video of the UN session can be viewed here: https://bit.ly/3ibKj4R

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Transcript of Aaron Maté’s full statement with original links retained:

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

My name is Aaron Maté. I am a journalist with The Grayzone, based in the United States. It’s an honor to speak to you today about what I think is one of the most important, and overlooked, global stories in recent memory.

The OPCW — the world’s top chemical weapons watchdog — is facing a serious scandal. Leaks from inside strongly suggest the OPCW has been severely compromised. The implications of this are grave.

It would mean that the OPCW was exploited to accuse the Syrian government of a chemical weapons attack in the city of Douma in April 2018. It would also mean that the OPCW was used to retroactively justify the bombing of Syria by several member states, just days after the alleged Douma incident. In short, it appears the OPCW was compromised to justify military strikes.

There are also indications that the OPCW has retaliated against two veteran officials who were part of the Douma investigation and challenged the censorship of the Douma evidence.

These two OPCW officials are highly regarded scientists with more than 25 years of combined experience at the organization. Yet instead of being protected, and given the chance to air their concerns, these two scientists have seen their reputations impugned by the OPCW leadership.

There is substantial evidence to back all of this up. I will summarize the key details.

The OPCW’s Fact-Finding Mission, or FFM, deployed to Syria and what is known as Country X to investigate the Douma incident in April 2018. They interviewed scores of witnesses and visited several key sites. They examined gas cylinders found at the scene, took chemical samples and hundreds of photos, and conducted detailed measurements.

Upon their return from Syria, the FFM team drafted an extensive and detailed report of their findings. But what the investigators found in Douma is not what the OPCW released to the world. And that is because the investigators who were on the ground in Syria were overruled, and had their findings censored.

The key facts about this censorship are, to my knowledge, undisputed:

1) The investigators’ initial report, which was due for imminent publication, was secretively re-edited to produce a version that sharply deviated from the original. Both versions – the original and the altered report – have been published by Wikileaks.

Comparing both reports we see that key facts were removed or mis-represented. Conclusions were also rewritten to support the allegation that a chlorine gas attack had occurred in Douma.

Yet the team’s initial, original report did not conclude that a chemical attack occurred. In fact, their report had presented the possibility that victims in Douma were killed in an incident that was “non-chemical related.” Though unstated, the reader could easily infer from this that the militants who controlled Douma at the time had staged the scene to make it falsely appear that a chemical attack had occurred.

2) Then there is the toxicology assessment. Four experts from an OPCW and NATO-member state conducted a toxicology review.

They concluded that observed symptoms of the victims in Douma, “were inconsistent with exposure to chlorine, and no other obvious candidate chemical causing the symptoms could be identified.”

This finding was kept secret, and are inconsistent with the conclusions of the final report.

3) There were also chemical tests of the samples collected in Douma. These samples showed that chlorinated compounds were detected at what amounted to trace quantities in the parts-per-billion range.

Yet this finding was also not disclosed. Furthermore, it later emerged that the chemicals themselves did not stand out as unique: most, if not all, could have resulted from contact with household products such as bleach — or come from chlorinated water or wood preservatives.

Crucially, the control samples collected by the inspectors to give context to the analysis results were never analyzed.

4) Because of other leaks, we now know that this censorship was protested from the inside. The chief author of the initial report, identified by the OPCW as Inspector B, was among those who deployed to Syria for the entire Douma mission. Records show he was also, at the time, the OPCW’s top expert in chemical weapons chemistry.

On June 22nd, 2018 Inspector B protested the secretive redaction in an e-mail expressing his “gravest concern.” I will quote him: “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.”

5) After that e-mail of protest, and just days before a substitute, stop-gap interim report was published on July 6, something very unusual occurred. A U-S government delegation met with members of the investigation team to try to influence them. The US officials encouraged the Douma team to conclude that the Syrian government had committed a chemical attack with chlorine. It is worth noting here that the US delegation promoted this chlorine theory despite the fact that it was still not publicly known that no nerve agents had been found in Douma.

The Douma investigators reportedly saw the meeting as unacceptable pressure and a violation of the OPCW’s declared principles of independence and impartiality. Under the Chemical Weapons Convention, State Parties are explicitly prohibited from seeking to influence the inspectors in the discharge of their responsibilities.

6) Inspector B’s intervention thwarted the imminent release of the doctored report.

But at that point, the OPCW officials began to manage the issuance of a new negotiated report, namely, the so-called interim report that was released on July 6 2018.

Although this interim report no longer contained some of the unsupported claims that senior OPCW officials had tried to insert, it still omitted key facts found in the original, uncensored report.

7) Around that time, the investigation saw a drastic change. The protesting Inspector B – who had written the original report — was sidelined from the investigation. OPCW executives then decreed that the probe, from that point forward, would be handled by a so-called “core team.”

This new “core” team made formal the exclusion of all of the inspectors who had conducted the investigation in Syria, except for one paramedic. It was this so-called core team—and not the inspectors who had signed off on the original report—that generated the OPCW final’s report of March 2019.

8) That final report sharply differed from what the OPCW inspectors reported in the suppressed initial report. The final report concluded that there were “reasonable grounds” to believe that a chemical weapons attack occurred in Douma and that “the toxic chemical was likely molecular chlorine.” Many crucial facts and evidence redacted from the original report continued to be omitted.

9) The final report also saw a major discrepancy when it comes to witness testimony. The witnesses interviewed offered sharply contrasting narratives – yet only those witnesses whose testimony supported the use of chemical weapons, were used to inform the report’s conclusions.

It is also worth noting the imbalance in witness locations: although the alleged chemical incident took place in Syria, twice as many witnesses were interviewed in Country X.

10) One inference drawn from the OPCW’s final report was that gas cylinders found in Douma likely came from military aircraft. But a leaked engineering assessment assigned to a sub-team of the FFM found otherwise.

The OPCW leadership has yet to offer a substantive explanation for why such critical evidence was excluded and why the original report was radically altered.

The OPCW Director General Fernando Arias justified the conclusions of the final report and excused alleged fraudulent scientific behavior by incorrectly stating that “the FFM undertook the bulk of its analytical work” during the last seven months of the investigation – or after the interim report that was published in July 2018.

A close review of the final report demonstrates that this is far from the case. As the dissenting inspectors have noted, by the time the interim report was released, 31 of the 44 samples were analyzed, 34 of the 39 interviews had been conducted and analyzed, and the toxicological study was already done but the conclusions excluded.

In the nearly eight months after the Interim Report was released, only 13 new samples were analyzed along with 5 additional interviews.

Comparing the text of the final report to the original report is also instructive. The final report copy and pastes much of the text of the original report – the one difference is that inconvenient evidence was removed, and un-supported conclusions were added.

But even if it were true that the bulk of the analysis was done after the interim report, the fact the OPCW would have conducted the bulk of its work after July 2018 would not in any way explain or justify the alleged scientific fraud committed before it. In fact, it would only raise the possibility that more fraud occurred.

Instead of addressing the discrepancies and cherry-picked facts, the OPCW Director General Fernando Arias has also denigrated the two members of the Douma fact-finding mission team who challenged the manipulation of facts and evidence.

The Director General has falsely portrayed them as rogue actors, with only minor roles in the investigation and incomplete information.

Yet these two inspectors are unlikely candidates to suddenly go so rogue. Inspector A has been identified as Ian Henderson – he is here today. The second inspector is known only as Inspector B. They served with the OPCW for 12 and 16 years, respectively.

Internal OPCW appraisals of their job performance offer effusive praise. In 2005, a senior OPCW official wrote that Henderson has consistently received “the highest rating possible.… I consider [him] one of the best of our Inspection Team Leaders.”

In 2018, an OPCW superior wrote that Inspector B, “has contributed the most to the knowledge and understanding of Chemical Weapons chemistry applied to inspections.” Another manager described B as “one of the most well regarded” team leaders, whose “experience of the organisation, its verification regime, and judgment are unmatched.”

It is important to also stress that the internal concerns go beyond Douma team members. Earlier this year, I heard from an OPCW official who voiced outrage at the treatment of Henderson and Inspector B. I quote this person now:

“It is quite unbelievable that valid scientific concerns are being brazenly ignored in favour of a predetermined narrative. The lack of transparency in an investigative process with such enormous ramifications is frightful. The allegations of the two gentlemen urgently need to be thoroughly investigated, and the functionality of the organisation restored.”

Now fortunately, the two inspectors involved in this Douma controversy have offered a path to transparency and to resolving this scandal. Earlier this year, they each wrote letters to the OPCW Director General asking for their concerns to be heard.

The inspectors have received support from several prominent figures, including the OPCW’s First Director General, Jose Bustani. In October 2019, Bustani took part in a panel that heard an extensive presentation from one of the Douma investigators.

Mr. Bustani wrote: “The convincing evidence of irregular behaviour in the OPCW investigation of the alleged Douma chemical attack confirms doubts and suspicions I already had. I have always expected the OPCW to be a true paradigm of multilateralism. My hope is that the concerns expressed publicly by the Panel, in its joint consensus statement, will catalyse a process by which the Organisation can be resurrected to become the independent and non-discriminatory body it used to be.”

I hope that Mr. Bustani’s words will be heeded. As a first step, the OPCW can simply do what it has refused to do so far: meet with the entire Douma team, and let them present the evidence that was censored. It is very concerning that despite the allegations here, the OPCW Director General has never met with members of the Douma team – not just the two dissenting inspectors that are known, but the entire team. If the OPCW is confident in its conclusions, then it should have no issue with at least hearing a dissenting point of view.

The importance of addressing this issue extends far beyond repairing the OPCW’s reputation. Syria is a country that is now trying to rebuild from a devastating, nearly decade-long proxy war that caused massive suffering, destruction and death. But as Syria is trying to rebuild, it now faces a new kind of warfare in the form of crippling economic sanctions. In justifying the sanctions, the US government has cited, among other things, allegations of chemical weapons use by the Syrian government. The US government also says that the Syrian government is the target of these sanctions. But it is the Syrian people who feel the pain. The UN rapporteur on sanctions says that, “unilateral sanctions applied to Syria have visited untold sufferings on ordinary people.” The World Food Program warns that Syrians living under economic blockade now face “mass starvation or another mass exodus.”

The use of the OPCW to justify warfare on Syria – whether in the form of military strikes in 2018 or economic strangulation today in 2020 – is additionally tragic in light of the OPCW’s own history. It was just seven years ago that the OPCW was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for its work eliminating chemical weapons, including in Syria. That was a towering achievement, and a hopeful moment for those who seek a world at peace. How unfortunate then, to see the world’s top chemical weapons watchdog now potentially being comprised to lodge unproven allegations against Syria and justify warfare against it.

The OPCW inspectors who have been silenced and maligned are trying to defend their organization’s noble legacy from political exploitation. It is my hope that they will be heard. Thank you.

||| The Grayzone |||

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