WikiLeaks published more documents and emails from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) related to the alleged chemical attack in Douma, Syria on April 7th 2018. The alleged attack was blamed on the Syrian government. Before any real evidence was presented, the US, UK, and France responded to these allegations with an airstrike.
The new leaks provide further evidence that the OPCW suppressed evidence and altered the reports of their investigators who were on the ground in Douma. The sheer number of documents and whistleblowers will make it hard for mainstream media outlets to continue to ignore this scandal.
One of the leaked documents is a memo addressed to OPCW Director-General Fernando Arias from an unknown OPCW inspector who was a member of the fact-finding mission (FFM) sent to Douma. The memo is dated March 14th 2019, two weeks after the OPCW released their final report on the alleged chemical attack.
The memo says there are "about 20 inspectors who have expressed their concern over the current situation." The memo’s author goes on to say, "The FFM report does not reflect the views of all the team members that deployed to Douma. Only one FFM team member (a paramedic) of the so-called ‘FFM core team’ was in Douma. The FFM report was written by this core team; thus by people who had only operated in Country X."
WikiLeaks speculates that "Country X" is Turkey, since some OPCW inspectors were sent to Turkey to interview Douma survivors in refugee camps. It is safe to assume that "Country X" is not Syria, so, according to the author of the memo, the final OPCW report was prepared by people who never set foot in Douma.
Cylinders that allegedly released chlorine gas were found in two different locations in Douma. The memo’s author says he was assigned to analyzing these cylinders since he was part of the FFM in Douma and had the most expertise. But the author found that he was "excluded from the work, for reasons not made clear."
The first leak related to the Douma attack came out in May 2019. The leak was an unreleased engineering assessment of the two cylinders found in Douma dated February 27th 2019, just days before the final OPCW report was released.
The idea that the cylinders were dropped out of an aircraft is central to the allegation that the Syrian government was behind the attack. But the unreleased engineering report concludes, "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 delivered from aircraft." The final OPCW report completely ignores this assessment.
The Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media published the leaked engineering assessment back in May. That leaked assessment had one person’s name on it, Ian Henderson (who likely wrote the memo mentioned above.) When the Working Group published the engineering assessment, the OPCW told them that Henderson "has never been a member of the FFM." An email released by WikiLeaks in this new trove of documents disputes that claim by the OPCW, a claim that many have latched onto as a way to delegitimize the leak.
The leaked email is dated May 20th 2019, and addressed to Veronika Stromsikova, OPCW’s director of strategy and policy. The email’s author remains anonymous. The author of the email takes great issue with the OPCW denying Henderson’s involvement with the FFM.
The email states, "A member of the FFM team has been suspended from his post and escorted from the OPCW building in a less than dignified matter. After more than 12 years, I believe, serving the OPCW with dedication and professionalism, Ian Henderson’s personal and professional integrity have taken a knock in the most public of fora, the internet. A falsehood issued by the OPCW, that Ian did not form part of the Douma FFM team has been pivotal in discrediting him and his work."
Included in these new leaks was a copy of the interim report prepared by the FFM in June 2018. For comparison, WikiLeaks also published a copy of the redacted version of the report that was released by the OPCW. The reports support the claims of an email released by WikiLeaks this November from an OPCW whistleblower who was disturbed by the profound difference between the two reports.
One of the most important details left out of both the redacted report and the final report was that the symptoms of the alleged victims were not consistent with a chlorine chemical attack. The interim report says, "Some of the signs and symptoms described by witnesses and noted in photos and video recordings taken by witnesses, of the alleged victims are not consistent with exposure to chlorine-containing choking or blood agents such as chlorine gas, phosgene or cyanogen chloride."
Even the medical staff in Syria interviewed by the FFM did not think the victims were suffering from a chemical attack. The interim report reads, “Most of the medical staff present in the emergency department on the 7 April, who were interviewed, emphasized that the symptoms of the casualties were not consistent with those expected from a chemical attack.”
With regards to whether or not the cylinders were dropped from an aircraft, the interim report says, "The FFM team is unable to provide satisfactory explanations for the relatively moderate damage to the cylinders allegedly dropped from an unknown height … The view of the team is that further studies by specialists in metallurgy and structural engineering or mechanics are required to provide an authoritative assessment of the team’s observations."
The redacted report makes no mention of the allegation that the cylinders were dropped from an aircraft. Ian Henderson was likely tasked with investigating how the cylinder’s got there since the FFM could not draw any conclusion in their interim report.
One stark difference between the interim and redacted report was in the conclusion about the cylinders potentially being the source of a chemical attack. The interim report reads, "Although the cylinders might have been the sources of the suspected chemical release, there is insufficient evidence to affirm this."
Now the redacted report – keep in mind it was prepared in the same month as the interim – says, "The team has sufficient evidence at this time to determine that chlorine, or another reactive chlorine-containing chemical, was likely released from cylinders." The author of the email released by WikiLeaks this November, calls this new conclusion "highly misleading and not supported by facts."
In the final OPCW report, they settled on this conclusion, "it is possible that the cylinders were the source of the substances containing reactive chlorine." But this small change was just one of the issues the whistleblower had with the redacted report.
Another issue the whistleblower brought up was the conclusion that the traces of chlorine found in the samples they took was chlorine gas. The email reads, "the only evidence available at this moment is that some samples collected at locations 2 and 4 were in contact with one or more chemicals that contain a reactive chlorine atom." The email says a number of chemicals could contain that chemical and that "purposely singling one of chlorine gas as one of the possibilities is disingenuous."
The interim report said that the samples came in contact with a "reactive chlorine" but they could not determine what type of chemical it was. The final report released by the OPCW just says, "the FFM concludes that the objects from which the samples were taken at both locations had been in contact with one or more substances containing reactive chlorine." The final report leaves out any speculation of what sort of chemical it could be, leading the reader to the conclude that it must be gas.
Another document just released by WikiLeaks is a series of emails from one or more anonymous persons to Sami Barrek, the OPCW’s team leader for the FFM. The emails, dated July 5th 2018, show somebody telling Barrek that they are not happy with the vague language being used in the report, and are concerned with the absence of the levels of chlorine found in the samples.
One email reads, "Isn’t there a danger that leaving out the reference to concentration, is going to allow some readers to arrive at a simplistic conclusion. Presence of chlorine/chlorides ‘therefore it was an attack.’"
This series of emails gives credence to a story written by Jonathan Steele for Counterpunch in November. Steele spoke with an OPCW whistleblower named "Alex", likely the leaker of the email published last month by WikiLeaks that refuted OPCW’s redacted report. Steele wrote, "According to Alex there were huge internal arguments at the OPCW before the Interim report was released. Chlorinated organic chemicals (COCs) are present in the natural environment so one crucial point in discovering what actually happened at Douma was to measure the amount in the locations where the two cylinders were found and in the other parts of the two buildings and the street outside."
The levels of chlorine are important, since, according to Alex, some chlorine is found naturally in most environments. Alex told Steele, "if the finding of these chemicals at the alleged site is to be used as an indicator that chlorine gas was present in the atmosphere, they should at least be shown to be present at levels significantly higher than what is present in the environment already."
Steele’s story includes an account that could be the real reason why the OPCW has decided to ignore so many of its inspectors. According to Alex, the OPCW was visited by US officials from an unknown US agency in July 2018. Steele writes, "The Americans told them emphatically that the Syrian regime had conducted a gas attack, and that the two cylinders found on the roof and upper floor of the building contained 170 kilograms of chlorine."
The WikiLeaks release came out the same day ex-Newsweek journalist Tareq Haddad published a detailed account on how his former employer refused to publish his story on earlier OPCW leaks. Haddad bravely resigned from Newsweek and decided to tell his story. With the exception of Fox News and the Daily Mail, virtually no mainstream outlets have covered this story honestly.
The airstrike against Syrian forces was the largest attack on Damascus by Western powers since the war started in 2011. If the reason for the airstrike turned out to be a false flag staged by the Syrian opposition, it would be a massive blow to the war’s accepted narrative.
The differences between the interim report, redacted report, and the final report could be explained away by the OPCW, if not for the whistleblowers coming forward. An interim report certainly could draw vastly different conclusions than a final report released almost a year later, but why so much protest from the people involved? And why did the team that actually went to Syria have so little say?
Dave DeCamp is assistant editor at Antiwar.com and a freelance journalist based in Brooklyn NY, focusing on US foreign policy and wars. He is on Twitter at @decampdave.