JAMES O’NEILL. The Douma “chemical attack”: still waiting for an apology.

On 7 April 2018 an alleged chemical attack took place in the city of Douma in the Syrian Arab Republic. Dramatic footage of the “victims” was widely broadcast throughout the western mainstream media. Particularly prominent were images of children foaming at the mouth and being hosed down. The footage for these dramatic depictions was almost entirely sourced from a group known as the White Helmets. They are invariably depicted in the western media as a form of civil defence organisation. They are in fact an arm of Britain’s MI6, trained by the British and financed by the UK and in the United States.

The alleged “chemical attack” was used by the US, UK and French governments to make a bombing attack upon Syrian targets. The bombing destroyed buildings and caused civilian casualties.

Speaking to a press conference on the Sunday following the air attacks, the then Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull made a series of unqualified assertions. He gave his government’s “strong support” for the military action and urged Russia to exercise its authority to ensure that the chemical weapons were destroyed. He further called on Russia to use its influence to ensure the “most recent chemical weapons attack is thoroughly investigated”.  He blamed the Assad government for the incident and described the military action by the US, UK and France as “targeted, proportionate and responsible”.

He even attempted to link the Douma incident with the Skripal events in Salisbury, England, using both as a stick with which to beat the Russians over the head. Both the timing of and the linking of the two incidents were not a coincidence. They were clearly part of a campaign to discredit Russia, whose intervention in the Syrian war proved a decisive turning point, to the chagrin of the “regime changers” in Washington and London.

As is now almost invariably the case there is a marked distinction between the political rhetoric and the actual situation, both in terms of the relevant international law and the facts on the ground. That has become glaringly obvious in the Skripal case, as has been well documented elsewhere.

Dealing briefly with the legal situation in the Syrian bombing, there is no such thing as a “targeted, proportionate and responsible” bombing of a sovereign state unless two pre-conditions are met. It must either be in self-defence, if the countries taking the action have themselves been attacked, and that was manifestly not the case; and secondly, in the alternative, it must be an action authorised by the United Nations Security Council.  That didn’t happen either.

As in so many of Australia’s military forays around the world, the legal basis for the Syria involvement is notably absent, although in this particular case their role was limited to being cheerleaders on the sidelines. Australia’s participation in the so-called coalition of forces allied to the United States, a serial offender against international law, has no legal foundation whatsoever.  The Australian government has had legal advice on the matter, and has had such advice since 2014. If it was confident of its legal position, why then does it continue to refuse to release that advice?

The facts on the ground do not support the Turnbull position either. Turnbull criticized Russia for using its Security Council veto to block motions to investigate chemical weapons crimes. In fact, both Russia and Syria asked the Organisation for the Prevention of Criminal Weapons (OPCW) to investigate the Douma incident.

The OPCW fact-finding mission began their investigation on 21 April 2018, two weeks after the alleged attack. Jihadist groups blocked their initial investigation and they were only able to enter the relevant areas with protection provided by the Syrian army and the Russian military police.

The OPCW Report of the investigation was released on 1 March 2019 although one will hunt in vain for an account of that report in the western mainstream media. The reason for the media silence is not difficult to discern. The OPCW Report effectively destroys the arguments advanced by US President Trump, UK Prime Minister May and Turnbull.

The OPCW’s investigation was hampered in significant ways. The White Helmets and their jihadist allies had either cremated or buried all the deceased “victims” of the alleged chemical attack. Those burial locations were not disclosed to the investigators. No autopsy material was therefore available.

The evidence of the medical staff in attendance at the Douma hospitals at the time began receiving “victims” prior to the timing of the alleged chemical attack. None had symptoms of chemical or nerve agent attack.

The OPCW investigation team carried out a number of analyses from areas said to have been affected by the chemical attack. Again, they found no traces of any banned chemical substances.

They were shown two yellow cylinders claimed to have been responsible for the casualties. Even that “evidence” was compromised as the two cylinders had been moved by the jihadists and were located in two places and in such a manner that they had no probative value.

The OPCW team was unable to say how the cylinders might have been used to release any toxins. Given that no toxic traces could be found anywhere, the likely inference is that the two cylinders were simply stage props.

What the OPCW team did find were traces of chlorine. Chlorine, however, is a common household substance and for that reason it is not on the list of banned chemical weapons. Chlorine would not in any case be likely to cause death, much less the significant casualty figures claimed.

The evidence of the medical professionals interviewed by the OPCW team was that the victims they treated at the hospital were suffering from the effects of dust and smoke inhalation. None had life threatening injuries and none died in hospital.

There was accordingly no basis in fact for the bombing by the US, UK and France (quite apart from its illegality) and therefore no justification for Turnbull’s unequivocal assertions of Syrian culpability and Russian complicity.

Perhaps the final word should go to a senior BBC TV producer, Riam Dilati.  On 13 February 2019 he tweeted:after almost 6 months of investigations I can prove without a doubt that the Douma hospital scene was staged”.

If our own media and politicians could show a similar degree of honesty and integrity, they would be offering Syria and Russia the long overdue apologies to which they are entitled.

That may however, be a long wait.

James O’Neill is a barrister at law and geopolitical analyst.  He may be contacted at joneill@qldbar.asn.au

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15 Responses to JAMES O’NEILL. The Douma “chemical attack”: still waiting for an apology.

  1. mcpherson robert says:

    If OPCW possibly want to do more than organise apologies for Russia and presumably Assad’s ‘over-seen’ military prisons –while a BBC TV producer (by seniority)– is going to provide the final word -then perhaps they could be as Methuselah equally as forthcoming and begin to explain to the UN – how they would arrive at professors are prone to commit suicide with a blunt pen knife. Does anyone monitor Swiss knives or the UK’s known chem gas reserves(??)

  2. Paul Malone says:

    A few additional key points from the OPCW report are worth noting. The report states (para
    2.11) that “ based on the information reviewed and with the absence of biomedical samples from the dead bodies or any autopsy records, it is not currently possible to precisely link the cause of the signs and symptoms to a specific chemical.”
    Secondly, according to a witness the panic set in the emergency department at the hospital
    when “a man who was not from the hospital entered, shouting “Chemical! Chemical!” and panic ensued. Bystanders then began undressing and washing people and proceeded to give inappropriate treatment.”

  3. Bob Aikenhead says:

    There were many accounts in Oz, UK and US media in the days following April 7 2018 detailing the use of poisonous/nerve gas in Douma by the Assad regime. How these accounts were produced is a matter worth investigating. Not by “reporters” – journalists on the scene reporting what they had seen and been told.
    There was one such reporter, Robert Fisk. His initial account, published April 17 2018 is strikingly similar to what we now read from the OPCW. It can be read at https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/syria-chemical-attack-gas-douma-robert-fisk-ghouta-damascus-a8307726.html

  4. James O'Neill says:

    I should make a small clarification. The reference to “bombs” should read ‘missiles’ of which approximately 100 were fired at Syrian targets. There was also an interim OPCW report published on 6 July 2018 which excluded the possibility of sarin having been used in the alleged attack; something the western media had loudly proclaimed at the time.
    The impossibility of the two yellow cylinders being used in the manner claimed has been scientifically debunked (Peter Hitchens Some Thoughts on the Latest OPCW Report 9 March 2019). A very similar yellow canister was found by the OPCW in a jihadist workshop, together with bomb making materials, including chemical substances (refer to OPCW Report).

    • James Haughton says:

      O’Neill instantly spins from claiming that the OPCW report debunks Turnbull to claiming that the OPCW report has itself been debunked! Which is it?
      Readers should note that, according to O’Neill, “scientific debunking” consists of a blog report of an email from an anonymous person claiming to be an engineer, who had no first hand access to the evidence, but who has (to quote verbatim) “looked at the pictures”. If this is a “scientific debunking” then we would have to conclude that the 9-11 attack, the Sandy Hook massacre, the moon landing, climate change, Obama’s US Birth Certificate, and the safety of vaccines have all also been “scientifically debunked”. Is this the standard of proof that whatever court O’Neill practices law in considers acceptable? By contrast, Annexes 6 and 7 of the OPCW report are devoted to tracking, in detail, with first hand evidence, the ballistics of the falling cylinders, and demonstrating that the damage observed could not have been caused in any other way. They also show photographs of the dents in the floor and furniture (p.62) that Hitchin’s anonymous “engineer” claimed were not visible. Perhaps this “engineer” would be better served consulting an optometrist than posing as a bombing expert.
      Not content with spinning his own previous spin, O’Neill attempts to mischaracterise further parts of the OPCW report. The OPCW found that the workshop which the Syrian authorities claimed the rebels/jihadists/whoever had used for making chemical weapons had “no indication of either facility being involved in their manufacture”. They were used for making conventional explosives and propellants (gunpowder). This, O’Neill is shocked to discover, uses “chemical substances”. After his claims that chlorine gas is safe, I’m starting to wonder if he even knows what a chemical is. The OPCW did find a yellow cylinder which they specifically said was different from those found at the chemical attack sites and drew no conclusions about, not even whether it contained chlorine or not, but they doubted that, if it was chlorine, it was being used for either conventional or chemical weapons manufacture “Chlorine gas is generally not a common chlorinating agent in the production of chemical weapons agents, except when used in conjunction with phosphorous trichloride, which was not present. Subsequently, the presence of a cylinder reported as containing chlorine gas is not indicative of the production of explosives” (p.68).
      In view of these repeated misrepresentations and lies it is hard to see why Mr O’Neill should be given any credence whatsoever.

  5. James Haughton says:

    O’Neill’s disingenous spin is reprehensible and almost every point he makes is contradicted by the OPCW’s report.
    The OPCW report clearly states:
    “Regarding the alleged use of toxic chemicals as a weapon on 7 April 2018 in Douma,
    the Syrian Arab Republic, the evaluation and analysis of all the information gathered
    by the FFM—witnesses’ testimonies, environmental and biomedical samples analysis
    results, toxicological and ballistic analyses from experts, additional digital
    information from witnesses—provide reasonable grounds that the use of a toxic
    chemical as a weapon took place. This toxic chemical contained reactive chlorine.
    The toxic chemical was likely molecular chlorine.” Chlorine may not be a “banned chemical substance” under the convention but is nevertheless highly toxic. Anyone claiming that it is “not likely to cause death” clearly knows nothing about its history as the first lethal chemical weapon used in WWI: https://www.theguardian.com/science/blog/2016/sep/16/chlorine-the-gas-of-war-crimes
    Furthermore despite your claims of no deaths caused by the substance the hospital staff stated: “The three bodies that reached Point One on the night of 7 April had profuse foaming from the mouth, pale colour of the skin and a strong odour emanating from their clothes. The 40 bodies taken to Point One on the morning of 8 April arrived in groups, transported by the SCD. They were described as having a blue colour of the skin and foaming from the mouth; some had dust on their clothes. The bodies with a similar odour to those mentioned above were buried later the same day.” Additional digital evidence of deaths from exposure to a toxic chemical was reviewed by the OPCW and treated as credible.
    The OPCW, far from being unable to establish where the cylinders came from, clearly showed that damage to the buildings and cylinders was consistent with the cylinders being dropped from the air. “The analyses indicated that the structural damage to the rebar-reinforced concrete terrace at Location 2 was caused by an impacting object with a geometrically symmetric shape and sufficient kinetic energy to cause the observed damage. The analyses indicate that the damage observed on the cylinder found on the roof-top terrace, the aperture, the balcony, the surrounding rooms, the rooms underneath and the structure above, is consistent with the creation of the aperture observed in the terrace by the cylinder found in that location. ”
    I could go on, but it is clear that O’Neill is massively distorting the OPCWs work in pursuit of his own agenda.

    • James O'Neill says:

      I am happy to debate Mr Haughton’s views in an appropriate forum. The expert scientific evidence I have read says, inter alia, that the damage to the ceiling and the lack of damage to the cylinders is inconsistent with them having been dropped from the air (as alleged). This and other inconsistencies in the OPCW report are discussed by Peter Hitchens http://www.hitchensblog.mailonsunday.co.uk 9 March 2019.
      I do not have an “agenda” other than to try and establish what went on. It is more than our mainstream media or the politicians are prepared to do. The inescapable point remains however, that Mr Houghton ignores, is that the barrage of missiles fired by the 3 “coalition” parties was before there had been even the beginning of an inquiry, and was a blatant violation of international law.

      • James Haughton says:

        I hate to break it to you Mr O’Neill, but a blog report of an email from an anonymous person who claims to be an engineer who had no access to the evidence but “looked at the pictures” is not “expert scientific evidence”, not even in whatever court you allegedly practice law in.
        The “inescapable point” is that there was, in all probability, an attack from the air using chlorine gas as a chemical weapon, which, as the Jihadists had no air power, means it came from the Syrian Republic forces or possibly the Russians. I make no claim to know what an appropriate response under international law to such attacks is, but I do know that lying about the content of OPCW reports won’t help to work it out.

    • David Macilwain says:

      Having visited Douma hospital a month after its liberation from terrorist group Jaish al Islam and their “White Helmets” colleagues, spoken to Syrian and Russian officials and soldiers and hospital staff, I can assure you that there is nothing “disingenuous” about James O’Neill’s analysis, unlike the presentation of the staged Douma “gas attack” on our own mainstream media and those across the Western world.
      But there is a lot of catching up to do before those media and the millions of people taken in by the myth about the President who gasses his own people can get anywhere near understanding the truth of the eight year war ON Syria. That truth being, amongst other things, that the Syrian army never used Chlorine or Sarin, even against terrorist groups. The absence of a single autopsy, both in Douma and Khan Shaikoun and Ghouta, proves beyond reasonable doubt that the OPCW failed to produce real evidence that chemical weapons were used by any party in Syria.
      It would be best to investigate just what the White Helmets have been up to in Syria for the last four years, at the behest of the UK and US governments, before endorsing the claims they and their “activist” friends have made. Russian investigator Maxim Grigoriev investigated their activities personally in Syria, and found 1st hand evidence of numerous war crimes committed by the WH, including the use of corpses in their staged videos, and the kidnapping of injured children for organ removal in Turkey. He presented his findings at the UN in December.

    • Eric Blairiser says:

      Jeez, Haughton, with all the talk in those, unbiased of course, online articles (linked to in Annex 2) of government helicopters dropping ‘barrel bombs’, wouldn’t you think there might also have been in Annex 2 a link or two to a video or two showing the helicopter(s) carrying their dastardly deeds? Nope, not a one, not even from the White Helmets, those ever-so-altruistic ‘volunteers’ who usurped the title of ‘Syrian Civil Defence’ from the real SCD. Kinda makes you wonder, doesn’t it? Well, not you, perhaps, but anyone with more than half a brain. And, of course, there’s no way you yourself have any sort of agenda, right? LOL

      • James Haughton says:

        Personally, if I saw a helicopter that I knew was about to bomb me, my reaction would not be to stand there and film it.

  6. Kien Choong says:

    Hi, thank you, very interesting. At the time of the (alleged) chemical attack, the Trump administration (if I recall correctly) had just announced the US was going withdraw from Syria. So it didn’t make sense (to me) that the Assad regime would so foolishly launch a chemical attack, which would only serve to delay any US withdrawal. It seemed plausible that the alleged chemical attack was something that Syrian rebels might want to orchestrate (or make up), in order to discourage US withdrawal.

    • Hal Duell says:

      I think you brought up an important point by asking why Assad would be so foolish as to stage a chemical attack just when America was making noises of leaving.
      The same question can be asked about the chemical attacks in Ghouta a few years earlier. At the time a team of UN inspectors were then in Damascus, and it would have been foolish for Assad to stage a chemical attack.
      But both incidents served quite well as false flag incidents. And it worked. America got to hang around a bit longer, and the world got to watch the White Helmets, those movie stars.

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