On 23rd October, The Courage Foundation released the landmark findings of its investigation into the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons’ (OPCW) suppression of vital evidence in its investigation of the alleged 7th April 2018 chemical weapons attack in Douma, Syria.
The Foundation’s expert panel met with a member of the OPCW’s Douma fact-finding mission, who provided the an “extensive presentation, including internal emails, text exchanges and suppressed draft reports” – in its resultant report, the team were unanimous in expressing alarm “over unacceptable practices in the investigation of the alleged chemical attack in Douma”, and concluded each of the key evidentiary pillars of the investigation (including chemical analysis, toxicology, ballistics and witness testimonies) were flawed and bear little relation to the facts”.
“We became convinced key information about chemical analyses, toxicology consultations, ballistics studies, and witness testimonies was suppressed, ostensibly to favour a preordained conclusion. We’ve learned of disquieting efforts to exclude some inspectors from the investigation whilst thwarting their attempts to raise legitimate concerns, highlight irregular practices or even to express their differing observations and assessments —a right explicitly conferred on inspectors in the Chemical Weapons Convention, evidently with the intention of ensuring the independence and authoritativeness of inspection reports,” the panel said in an official statement.
The bombshell findings went entirely unreported in the mainstream media, however – until award-winning veteran journalist Jonathan Steele managed to slip a reference past the BBC censors five days later.
Steele was invited onto the World Service’s Weekend programme to discuss the elimination of Daesh leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi – but partway through, he made a startling intervention, noting he’d attended the briefing given to the Foundation by the OPCW whistleblower, one of the inspectors sent to Douma in April 2018 “to check into the allegations by the rebels that Syrian aeroplanes had dropped two canisters of chlorine gas, killing up to 43 people”, who “claims he was in charge of picking up the samples in the affected areas, and in neutral areas, to check whether there were chlorine derivatives there”.
Amazingly, host Paul Henley didn’t change the subject or terminate the conversation, instead asking Steele for more information.
“[The investigator] found there was no difference. So it rather suggested there was no chemical gas attack, because in the buildings where the people allegedly died there was no extra chlorinated organic chemicals than in the normal streets elsewhere. And I put this to the OPCW for comment, and they haven’t yet replied. But it rather suggests a lot of this was propaganda,” Steele said.
“Propaganda led by?” Henley probed.
“By the rebel side to try and bring in American planes, which did happen. American, British and French planes bombed Damascus a few days after these reports. This is the second whistleblower to come forward. A few months ago there was a leaked report by the person who looked into the ballistics, as to whether these cylinders had been dropped by planes, looking at the damage of the building and the damage on the side of the cylinders. And he concluded the higher probability was these cylinders were placed on the ground, rather than from planes,” Steele explained.
“This would be a major revelation…Given the number of people rubbishing the idea these could have been fake videos at the time,” Henley noted.
“Well, these two scientists, I think they’re non-political — they wouldn’t have been sent to Douma if they’d had strong political views by the OPCW. They want to speak to the Conference of the Member States in November, next month, and give their views, and be allowed to come forward publicly with their concerns. Because they’ve tried to raise them internally and been — they say they’ve been — suppressed, their views have been suppressed,” Steele concluded.
It would be wrongheaded to assign too much significance to the broadcast – after all, Steele’s comments were made unbidden over the course of a minute or so on an hour-long programme listened to by an unknown number of people (although BBC World Service does boast an audience of 319 million globally overall).
However, it notably marks the first time the whistleblowing of internally-silenced OPCW investigators has ever been mentioned in the mainstream media – and a small but growing number of journalists, including the British Mail on Sunday’s Peter Hitchens, and Italian La Repubblica’s Stefania Maurizi, have begun questioning the organisation on how and why these dissenting views came to be suppressed, albeit to little avail as yet.
With more people enquiring, the OPCW will become ever-more unble be to avoid commenting on the scandalous suppression of evidence contrary to what was increasingly clearly a preordained conclusion of the Assad government’s culpability for the apparent chemical weapons attack.