Organisation for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons headquarters in The Hague. Image credit: Prensa Latina Ready Syria to Cooperate with Organization Against Chemical Weapons
Multinational bodies, like the Organisation for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) usually have authority and appearance of objectivity because of their international and representative nature. But I have been disappointed with some of the OPCW reports because they relied on hearsay and appeared to suffer bias. They also usually lack transparency and suffer from lack of data. I have discussed some of this in my articles Another shonky OPCW chemical incident report on Syria and OPCW on Salisbury poisoning – one step forward, two back?
It is probably inevitable that a theoretically objective or non-partisan organisation will, in practice, be influenced by political and geopolitical interests. Even so, I am shocked to discover that The OPCW may have resorted to cherry-picking evidence for their Final Report of the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) on the alleged chemical attack in Douma on 7 April 2018, released on 1 March 2019.
Paul McKeigue, David Miller and Piers Robinson who are members of Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media, revealed the cherry picking in their report Assessment by the engineering sub-team of the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission investigating the alleged chemical attack in Douma in April 2018.
OPCW sidelines its own fact-finding engineers
Specifically the Final OPCW report ignored the findings of their own Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) Engineering Subteam that was part of the original investigation on the ground. Instead, the OPCW later contracted unidentified experts who provided the engineering analyses included in the final report.
These unidentified experts produced a different conclusion to that reached by the FFM engineering subteam as described in a leaked dcouyment from the subgroup (Engineering-assessment-of-two-cylinders-observed-at-the-Douma-incident-27-February-2019-1). That, in itself, is not surprising – consider how in criminal cases prosecutors and defence can produce their own experts to make completely opposite arguments. But the OPCW should have at the very least acknowledged the two different conclusions from the two different groups. They should also have given more weight to the conclusions of the own subteam who were involved in the initial investigations rather than the contracted experts who relied only on second-hand data (and were possibly given a more limited mandate).
I wrote about the interim report on this alleged chemical attack and its misrepresentation by corporate media in my article Blatant misreporting of latest OPCW report on chemical weapons in Syria. The interim report considered the allegation that a chemical weapon had been used and concluded:
“No organophosphorus nerve agents or their degradation products were detected, either in the environmental samples or in plasma samples from the alleged casualties.”
The notorious chlorine gas cylinders
However, it left open the possibility that chlorine gas had been used and this was considered in the final report which considered the two chlorine gas cylinders found at the site of the alleged chemical attack.
The two engineering reports relate to these chlorine gas cylinders. Whereas the original Fact-Finding Mission engineering subteam concluded that the chlorine gas cylinders had most probably been manually placed at the scene the anonymous experts later contracted by the OPCW appear to favour an explanation involving delivery by an aircraft.
The arguments and conclusions of the anonyous contracted enegineering experts are contained in the final report – Report of the Fact-Finding Mission Regarding the Incident of Alleged use of Toxic Chemicals as a Weapon in Douma, Syrian Arab Republic, on 7 April 2018.
The above propaganda video from the White Helmets (allied with the jihadists in Douma) illustrates the position of this gas cylinder on a roof adjacent to a crater.
The anonymous contracted experts concluded the cylinder had been dropped onto the roof with sufficent kinetic energy to create the crater but not penetrate the roof. However the OPCW FFM subteam concluded from their modelling:
“that the alleged impact event or events leading to observed vessel deformation and concrete damage were not compatible.
A criss-cross pattern on the paintwork of the cylinder body, that had been attributed by some observers to the cylinder falling through the wire mesh, was inconsistent with the near-vertical angle of incidence that would have been required to create the crater.
Experts consulted to assess the appearance of the crater took the view that it was more consistent with a blast (from a mortar round or rocket artillery) than with an impact from the falling object. Similar craters were present in concrete slabs on top of nearby buildings.”
They concluded that the cylinder had more probably been manually placed in the location rather than dropped from an aircraft.
This cylinder has always appeared strange, lying on a bed in a room that was relatively undamaged.
The anonymous contracted experts concluded (or maybe assumed) the cylinder had been dropped from the air and come through the ceiling to land on the floor where it subsequently bounced onto the bed (see image below from the OPCW final report).
However the FFM engineering subteam concluded from their analyses and modelling:
“that the cylinder with intact valve and fins attached could not have fitted through the hole in the roof:
it was not possible to establish a set of circumstances where the post-deformation cylinder could fit through the crater with the valve still intact (whether or not an end-cap was assumed to have been fitted at the front end of the cylinder), and the fins deformed in the manner observed.”
I can understand how different assessment teams can come to different conclusions and it could well be that the anonymous contracted experts were asked to assume that the cylinders had been dropped and to model possible trajectories and dmagge. In contrast the intial FFM engineering team considered alternative hypotheses as well as air-dropped cylinders and specifically proposed the alternatives in their report.
Such modelling and conlcusions can’t help but involve a degree of speculation so it does not concern me that different conclusions were drawn. But I am very concerned that the OPCW final report ignored the findings of their own FFM engineering subteam. This indicates a degree of bias which should be unacceptable for such an international body.
The authors from the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media go as far as describing the issue as the hijacking of OPCW concluding:
“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.”
Other commentary on the OPCW FFM Engineering subteam report: