Two whistle-blowers from the world’s chemical weapon watchdog raise serious concerns about the impartiality of the OPCW. The whistle-blowers indicate that the findings of the OPCWs report into the alleged 2018 Douma chemical weapons incident do not align with the evidence/analysis compiled by the investigation team. The Australian Government should seek a formal investigation into these matters at next week’s OPCW Conference to maintain the credibility of this important international institution.
The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (the OPCW) is an international organisation, with a 193 member states, responsible for administering the Chemical Weapons Convention, a United Nations treaty. The OPCW is empowered to formally investigate allegations of chemical weapons use; these investigations are technical in nature and seek only to establish whether chemical weapons have been used but not who is responsible for their use.
On 7 April 2018 it is alleged that a chemical weapons attack took place in Douma, a suburb of Damascus, in Syria. Immediate reports suggested that the dozens of people were killed with hundreds of people taken to hospital with symptoms consistent with exposure to a chemical agent. In response and without a United Nations Security Council Resolution, the United States, United Kingdom and French fired more than a 100 missiles into Syria on 14 April 2018, supposedly targeted at Syrian Government chemical weapon facilities. This strike occurred before an OPCW investigative team had arrived in Douma.
The OPCW Fact Finding Mission (FFM) released an Interim Report which concluded that a toxic chemical containing chlorine was used and that a large number of people had been exposed to an ‘inhalational irritant or toxic substance’. Robert Fisk was one of the first Western reporters on the scene in Douma, interviewing locals and a doctor at the hospital where the footage of allegedly ‘gassed victims’ was obtained. According to the doctor, the victims were suffering from oxygen deficiency caused by the artillery fire from the Syrian military and huge clouds of resulting dust. It wasn’t until one of the infamous ‘White Helmets’ arrived and shouted ‘gas’ that a panic set in.
The OPCWs Final Report of March 2019 concluded that two gas canisters found at two separate locations in Douma must have been dropped from the air. As the rebels did not have helicopters or aircraft this lead to a conclusion that the Syrian military, and by extension, its government was responsible.
In May 2019 an engineering assessment from the engineering sub-team of the FFM was leaked. The OPCW confirmed that the leaked document was legitimate. The assessment concluded that the cylinders were not dropped from a helicopter or aircraft. This implies the Syrian Government was not responsible for the alleged chemical weapons attack, suggesting the event was staged by the rebels/terrorists. It is claimed that this engineering report was suppressed by OPCW management; it is certainly not included or mentioned in the OPCWs Final Report.
The second whistle-blower claims that evidence was suppressed and a new report was written by senior OPCW management under pressure from US officials that contradicted the investigation team’s findings. The whistle-blower, a member of the Douma investigation team, is quoted as stating that most of the investigation team ‘felt the two reports on the incident, the Interim Report and the Final Report, were scientifically impoverished, procedurally irregular and possibly fraudulent’. Requests for an internal investigation into these concerns were refused. The first Director General of the OPCW, Jose Bustani, has also raised concerns stating that there is ‘convincing evidence of irregular behaviour in the OPCW investigation of the alleged Douma chemical attack.’
These disturbing reports add to other concerns about OPCW reports on previous incidents, such as the alleged 2017 Khan Sheikhoun sarin attack where the Syrian Government was blamed. The US also fired missiles at Syrian targets after this event. Significant doubt on Syrian culpability for this attack has been reported from a number of sources including Seymour Hersh and Professor Theodore Postol, one of the world’s leading weapon experts. Professor Postol completed a detailed scientific analysis of the alleged incident and concluded that the alleged attack never occurred. Interestingly, a peer-reviewed academic paper accepted for publication on the Khan Sheikhoun incident by Postol and others was recently was pulled from publication for unknown reasons.
It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that certain countries, or groups of countries, are influencing the outcomes of investigations into alleged chemical weapons use, not to find the truth, but rather to further their own geopolitical aims or justify unilateral actions. Next week the OPCW is holding its 24th Session of the Conference of States Parties in The Hague where all member states are represented. This is a prime opportunity for the Australian Government to seek a formal investigation into recent OPCW Reports where there is a prima facie case suggesting that the organisations impartiality has been compromised. The importance of this cannot be overstated as evidenced by the disastrous turn for the worse that global security has taken since the last time false Weapons of Mass Destruction claims were made.
Cameron Leckie served 24 years in the Australian Army.He is currently studying Agricultural Engineering.