Syria and poison gas: OPCW final report manipulated

by Karin Leukefeld, Bonn and Damascus

cc The judgements on who is responsible for the human catastrophe following the violent conflicts in Syria, which have now been lasting for almost nine years, could hardly be more different. While NATO states are putting the Syrian government with its President Assad and his ally Russia in the dock, Syria and its ally Russia point to the violent interference of NATO states, other Arab states and last but not least – and for a long time massively supported by NATO states – Islamist terrorist groups such as al-Qaida or IS. Attempts to contain the violence and provide humanitarian aid for people in need – including the agreement of 5 March 2020 between the presidents of Russia and Turkey – are countered by the lack of will on the part of NATO states and so-called rebels to achieve real peace in Syria. The following article by the German journalist Karin Leukefeld, who is accredited in Syria, shows what these forces were and are prepared to do.

Politicians and media in Europe and the USA are concealing the public of the fact that the final report of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) on an alleged poison gas attack on the place Douma, Syria, in April 2018 does not correspond to the original investigation results. The report was “edited” to provide a result desired by an influential actor – the United States.
The original OPCW investigation team working in Douma had expressed “serious doubts” as to whether “there had been an attack with chemical weapons at all”. The team was put out of action. The substitute team, which then took over, came to the opposite conclusion and found “sufficient justification” for stating that “a toxic chemical (substance) had been used as a weapon”. This was probably “molecular chlorine”.
The incredible transformation of the original Douma investigation report raises serious questions, as it is unclear who the subsitute team is. It has not disclosed its investigations and results. Had it followed the required chain of control? Was it even on site in Douma? How had it reached its conclusion?

Dissenting opinion ignored

The internally expressed dissenting opinion of the original Douma inspectors was ignored by the authors of the interim and final report. The technical investigation results, which had been carried out for example by Ian Henderson, an experienced expert, are missing in both reports. Henderson had come to the conclusion that the two cylinders, which are said to have been dropped by the Syrian Air Force during the attack, might not had been fallen from a great height, but had been placed manually. After the Henderson report became public, he was accused of betrayal of secrets and was escorted out of the OPCW building. Henderson insists that he did not make the report public.
In the meantime, further documents have been published by WikiLeaks.
The three Western veto and nuclear powers in the UN Security Council, US, Great Britain and France, and also the German government, refer to any reports and questions on the revealed documents, correspondence and testimonies of the original Douma investigation team as “disinformation” and as an attempt to harm OPCW.

Defamation of highly qualified scientists

Currently, the OPCW Director-General has initiated proceedings of betrayal of secrets against two inspectors of the original Douma investigation team. An OPCW statement issued in early February stated, that these were “individuals who could not accept that their opinions were not supported by evidence.” After having realised that, they had “taken the matter into their own hands and violated their duty of (confidentiality) to the organisation”. The conclusions of these inspectors were “misleading, uninformed and wrong”, according to an OPCW statement.
The accusation and defamation of highly qualified and serious scientists and long-standing OPCW inspectors casts a harsh light on the organisation, which praises its highest standards. The basis of the OPCW is the Chemical Weapons Convention, which was signed by 192 UN member states. The work of the OPCW should make the world a safer place. However, the handling of the alleged chemical weapons attack in Douma shows that the organisation and its staff must be protected from the threatening manipulation of a number of states.

“I feel ashamed for this organisation”

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, OPCW, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on 10 December 2013. The then Director-General of the OPCW, Ahmet Üzümcü, proudly accepted the award and presented the medal and certificate for the cameras. But nothing has remained of the glamour of the hour. In the meantime, staff members describe a climate of fear and “intimidation” in the OPCW. A recently published document states:

“We live in a dangerous world, that’s why I must be very cautious when talking about matters related to the OPCW. The years I served as [blackened] were the most stressful and unpleasant ones of my life in professional terms.”

And it goes on to:

“I feel ashamed for the Organisation and I am glad I left it. Honestly, I fear those behind the crimes that have been perpetrated in the name of “humanity and democracy”: they will not hesitate to do harm to me and my family, they have done much worse, many times, even in the UK … [blackened]."
"I don’t want to expose myself and my family to their violence and revenge. I don’t want to live in fear of crossing the street! I admire your work and your courage to go after the truth but to me the consequences of what I may say can be dire.”

The author of these lines, which were written at the end of June 2019 and published on The Grayzone internet portal in mid-February 2020, is not mentioned by name.
But the letter is clearly linked to the “doctored” official OPCW final report on the events in Douma, Syria, in April 2018, which was published on 1 March 2019 and concludes:

“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.”

International “leading media” turned this into:

  • “Chlorine likely to have been used in Douma attack” (BBC, 1 March 2019).
  • OPCW confirms poison gas attack in Douma” (“Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung” of 1 March 2019).
  • Chlorine was used in attack on Syrian rebel town of Douma” (“The Guardian” of 2 March 2019).

In fact, this report confirmed what the White Helmets1, the British, French, German and US heads of state had claimed – that toxic gas, probably chlorine, was used in Douma. And only the Syrian army, according to the publicly presented conclusion, could be responsible for this. The USA, Great Britain and France bombed Syria as “retaliation” even before the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) had reached Douma. The official OPCW report subsequently provided the proof and thus gave absolution to the attacks of the Western nuclear powers. The attacks were not legitimised by international law or the UN Security Council.

Results turned upside down

In a first interim report in July 2018, the inspectors of the actual OPCW Fact-Finding Mission to Douma had come to a very different conclusion from the official final report.

“[B]y the time of release of the interim report in July 2018, our understanding was that we had serious misgivings that a chemical attack had occurred,” said former OPCW inspector Ian Henderson, who was on site in Douma, at a hearing in the UN Security Council on 20 January 2020. “The findings in the final FFM report were contradictory, were a complete turnaround with what the team had understood collectively during and after the Douma deployments.”

Henderson spoke at an Arria-Formula meeting to which the Russian Federation had invited the UN Security Council. The meeting was chaired by Russian UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzja. These meetings, named after Venezuelan UN Ambassador Diego Arria (1991/93), provide an opportunity to discuss crises and contentious issues dealt with by the UN Security Council with experts or stakeholders from outside the UN. Originally these meetings were not open to the public, but since 2016 they have been frequently broadcast and archived on the UN’s own television channel.
Ian Henderson had been denied an entry visa by the US authorities, and was connected to the meeting in New York via video link. In addition, he had prepared a detailed written statement, which was distributed to the UN ambassadors present. This statement has also been submitted to the German government.
Henderson is a chemical engineer and expert in ballistics. He worked in the military and research field and was active for the OPCW for twelve years, several times in a leading position in Syria. His statement, distributed to UN ambassadors on 20 January 2020 and not intended for public view, was sent to the editorial staff of The Grayzone, who published it.
In it, Henderson describes in 43 points his role in the Douma Fact-Finding Mission, the investigations, the events at OPCW headquarters in The Hague after the return of the mission and how the team was marginalised. Point 9 states that in a “last-minute discussion” on how the analyses could be appropriately presented in the already “doctored” interim report, he was informed that “we have been told by the first floor that we have to make it sound like we found something”. The “first floor” stands for the office of the OPCW Director General.
Point 11 states that all participants of the Douma-FFM team were summoned on 5 July 2018 for a “briefing” from a US delegation consisting of three persons. There “they presented their findings that ‘proved’ the alleged chemical attack and death of victims”, Henderson said. He had attended the meeting.
Henderson was forced to conclude that his own ballistics report on the cylinders had not been taken into account in the interim report.
Point 31 reflects his efforts to “redress the situation internally in a way that would not damage the credibility of the T[echnical] S[ecretariat]”, which was responsible for the “doctored” Douma report. “I requested a meeting with the Director General [...]. The request […] was denied and I was informed by a senior manager that’ you will never get to the Director-General, and if you try and go around me to get to him, there will be consequences’”. He would identify the person verbally, in his presence, if asked to do so, Henderson said about this threat.
The aim of his numerous and exclusively OPCW-internal initiatives and inquiries was to clarify how the publication of the final report, which completely deviated from the original findings of the Douma team, could have come about. He wanted to ensure that inconsistencies and errors were identified and clarified in an internal technical discussion between the inspectors of the original Douma team and those who had written the interim and final report. Those responsible for the technical analysis were to explain how they had reached their conclusions in an internal meeting. Henderson called for a “scientific debate” in which the results of the investigation would be weighed and evaluated. Finally, an internal investigation was to examine the actions of the management responsible for monitoring FFM’s work. Ian Henderson in his oral statement to the UN Security Council:

“This needs to be properly resolved, we believe, through the rigours of science and engineering. In my situation, it’s not a political debate. I’m very aware that there is a political debate surrounding this.”

Against all the laws of physics

Ian Henderson was joined by the Syrian UN Ambassador Bashar Jaafari and Maxim Griegoriev, Director of the Foundation for the Study of Democracy. The latter presented interviews that he and his team had conducted in Douma after the alleged chemical weapons attack.
The Russian Ambassador to the OPCW, Alexander Shulgin, also had his say. He described the deviations in the interim and final report from the original investigations of the Douma team, which had actually taken the samples, interviewed eyewitnesses and summarised its findings in the first interim report, only to be excluded. Many people have now realised that the working methods of the Fact-Finding Mission and its control by the Technical Secretariat must be questioned, said the Ambassador. The background to this is that the FFM teams were only introduced specifically for Syria in 2014 and are subject to different control criteria than other OPCW missions. They are controlled by the Technical Secretariat, the Head of Cabinet and the Director-General.

However, all OPCW missions and their working methods had to be in line with the Chemical Weapons Convention and should not be instrumentalised by influential states such as the USA and its partners, said Ambassador Shulgin in a statement. The concerns repeatedly expressed about the contradictions surrounding the Douma report were based on logical considerations and common sense. However, instead of addressing the issues and contradictions, they came up against “categorical rejection from a number of Western countries, led by the USA,” said Shulgin. The OPCW was at an impasse. The Technical Secretariat was under the influence of the USA, Great Britain and their supporters. But each member country was at home in the OPCW, so that it could work there with confidence and professionalism.
Shulgin showed slides of photographs taken by the inspectors in Douma. They showed the alleged chlorine cylinders allegedly dropped by Syrian planes or helicopters, which killed more than 40 people. The examination of the cylinders did not support such claims, Shulgin said. The official report wanted to make you believe that “a cylinder filled with chlorine falls from a great height, hits through a 30 cm thick concrete roof, lands in a room where it gently hits the floor and then, contrary to all the laws of physics, floats on the bed and gently settles there without damaging any furniture. There must have been a lot of noise and shaking, but still, if you look at the photos, not even the plates on the shelf were moved.” All this raised questions to which one wanted to have answers. There were other questions about the chemical, toxicological tests, about the eyewitnesses‘ statements:

“Can our persistence in demanding answers to these questions be described as disinformation? How can one say that [...]? This is not disinformation, it is an invitation to have a serious conversation at expert level.”

In the ensuing discussion, the invitation was accepted only by the Chinese UN ambassador. Ambassador Wu Haito said that China had listened carefully to what was said. “It contains information worthy of greater attention. China supports a focused discussion on the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission’s report on the Douma incident which will help all parties to better understand the facts and the truth. Since the release of the Douma report there have been many doubts about it, causing great controversy. […] Important experts have questioned the conclusions of the report on public channels. […] UN Security Council members and the OPCW in particular should seriously address the issues raised by member states. Deliberately avoiding discussion of the doubts would only be counterproductive […].”

On the “White Helmets”, Humpty Dumpty and Alice in Wonderland

The three UN ambassadors of the Western nuclear and veto powers USA, France and Great Britain did not respond to the “serious invitation to debate at expert level”. Their statements were marked by attacks on Russia and Syria, the invited experts were ignored, ridiculed. The British UN ambassador described Ian Henderson’s findings as “private”. The low level of these highly paid diplomats’ statements was an insult to every intellect.

A lesson about US-American-British-French-German understanding of diplomacy

The Deputy US Ambassador to the United Nations, Cherith Norman Chalet, stated in an article “The United States categorically objects to Russia’s blatant attempt to use a Security Council meeting to weaken the credibility of the OPCW and its findings on the Douma attack. This is a brazen disinformation campaign, waged in advance of the anticipated release of the OPCW Investigation and Identification Team’s first report. It is also one more data point in a consistent pattern of Russian efforts to exploit the platform of the Security Council to further its own political and military agenda in Syria, propping up a murderous dictator at the expense of the Syrian people. When Russia and Syria dislike the findings of the UN or the OPCW, they use meetings like this one to undercut those organisations and the facts that they provide. We must defend the credibility and the findings of the OPCW and the UN from disinformation.”

Finally, the US ambassador went on with the “White Helmets”. “The United States is proud to support the vital, life-saving work of the ‘White Helmets’ who risk their lives day-in and day-out to rescue their fellow Syrian civilians from attacks by the Syrian and Russian forces […] These false accusations leveled here today by the Russian Federation and their briefers are false. They are disinformation and, they are a worrying sign that the Syrian authorities and Russia are continuing to target ‘White Helmets’ for future attacks.” All members of the UN Security Council and the entire United Nations. were called upon to continue the work of the OPCW against the baseless attacks from Russia and the “Assad regime”.

The US ambassador had paved the way and the ambassadors of France, Great Britain and Germany followed. France and Great Britain referred to the torture prisons, to alleged undeclared Syrian chemical weapons and the poison gas attacks near Damascus in 2013 with 1,300 dead, for which the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his regime were responsible. Russia supported the dictator and was itself responsible for the poison gas attack in Salisbury, UK, against Sergei Skripal and his daughter. Both praised the “White Helmets”, followed by the German UN Ambassador Christoph Heusgen, who also praised them. He said he wanted to take the opportunity and repeat “how much we appreciate the work of the ‘White Helmets’ and respect their sacrificial commitment”. UN Ambassador Heusgen distinguished himself by a particularly condescending tone in his remarks. “You promised at first to take us on an exciting journey […] when I listened to your presentation I had to think of Alice in Wonderland. This belongs in literature to the genre of fantasy and absurdity.”

“While Alice in Wonderland is a great fiction, what we heard today is a very sad fiction”, he said, addressing to the chairman of the meeting, the Russian UN diplomat Vassily Nebenzja.

“The journey, or as the representative of the Assad’s government said, the history did not start in Douma,” Heusgen continues. “I can only underline this […]. The history is […] that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons against his own people […]. Until today Syria has not fulfilled its declaration of compliance with the Chemical Weapons Convention, and has not yet explained its chemical weapons arsenal.”2

“The question is, which is to be master – that’s all”

Ambassador Nebenzja reacted to the statements of the US-American-French-British-German ambassador’s phalanx with a famous British nursery rhyme:3

“Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall: Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. All the King’s horses and all the King’s men couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty in his place again,” reminded Vassily Nebenzja and added: “That is exactly what happened with the FFM report. Exactly that. There was an original report, then there was Humpty Dumpty, and there was another report. And that’s why we are sitting here today.”

Anyone who should have read “Alice in the Mirrorland”, perhaps also remembers the part where Alice and Humpty Dumpty talk about the meaning of words: “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.” “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master – that’s all.”4

“Poison gas attacks” as a reason for war

“Today, everyone knows that the weapons of mass destruction, which were used as a pretext for the Iraqi war 2003, were never found. They did not exist,” stated the British Journalist Peter Hitchens from the British “Mail on Sunday” in a short video. “Do you think you’ll ever find out if this were to happen today? Probably not.” Since the Iraqi war, the media and politics have prevented that anything like this would ever become known. Hitchens has spoken, researched and reported at length about the alleged poison gas attack on Douma, Syria. He has reviewed the documents, spoken with witnesses, researched and written.
The matter was so important “because the alleged attack with chemical weapons had been used as a pretext for a missile attack by Great Britain, France and the USA” on Syria. The OPCW, which had conducted the investigation “could one day play a central role when it comes to the question whether we are going to start another war”. Millions of people would not be able to get this information, so Hitchens: “You should worry more about things you are told and about things you arenottold”. 

1  This civil protection organisation, founded in Turkey in 2014, is active exclusively in areas under the control of the armed Syrian opposition. A member of this organisation was the first to report about the alleged poison gas attack in Douma in April 2018.
2  On 4 January 2016, the OPCW confirmed that the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile is completed:
3  (; explanations about, among other things, “Humpty Dumpty arguments.”:
4  From: Caroll, Lewis. Alice in Mirrorland, sequel of Alice in Wonderland. “There’s glory for you!” “I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory,’” Alice said. Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. “Of course you don’t – till I tell you. I meant ‘there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!’” “But ‘glory’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knock-down argument,’” Alice objected. “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.” “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”. “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master – that’s all.”

First published: 25.2.2020, reprinted with kind poermission of the author
(Translation Current Concerns)

ef. Independent journalist Karin Leukefeld was born in 1954 in Stuttgart and has studied ethnology, islamology and political sciences. She has been reporting from the Extended Middle East for daily and weekly journals as well as German state sponsored radio programmes since the year 2000. She was accredited in Syria in 2010 and has been reporting on the Syria conflict since then. Since the beginning of the war in 2011 she moves back and forth between Damasucs, Beirut, other places in the Arab world and her hometown Bonn. She has published several books, such as “Syrien zwischen Schatten und Licht – Geschichte und Geschichten von 1916-2016. Menschen erzählen von ihrem zerrissenen Land (Syria between light and shadow – history and stories 1916-2016. People narrate about their war-torn country.)” (2016, Rotpunkt Verlag Zürich); “Flächenbrand Syrien, Irak, die Arabische Welt und der Islamische Staa” (Surface fire Syria, Iraq, the Arab world and the Islamic state.) (2015,3rd edition 2017, PapyRossa edition, Köln). Her new book will be released soon: “Im Auge des Orkans: Syrien, der Nahe Osten und die Entstehung einer neuen Weltordnung” (In the eye of the hurricane: Syria, the Middle East and the rise of a new world order (2020, PapyRossa edition, Cologne).


Russian-Turkish agreement on ceasefire in Idlib

km. On 5 March 2020 in Moscow the presidents of Russia and Turkey, Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan, agreed to a ceasefire in the contested northern Syrian region of Idlib.

After six hours of negotiations, the two presidents made a statement to the press.1 Afterwards, the foreign ministers of both countries read out the agreement, which consists of only three points. It emphasises that Syria’s territorial unity must be preserved. In addition, a ceasefire was agreed for Idlib on 6 March, 2020 at midnight. Details of a withdrawal of heavy weapons from the front are to be worked out within seven days. The weapons are to be pulled six kilometres away on each side. Russian and Turkish soldiers then will conduct joint patrols along the highly competitive M4 motorway that runs along the front.

Both presidents emphasised that the ceasefire should provide a corridor for humanitarian aid to those trapped in Idlib. The Russian President expressed his condolences that Turkish soldiers had died in Idlib, and the Turkish President stressed the importance of good relations with Russia for his country. In general, the appearance of the two presidents in front of the press demonstrated that, despite major differences of opinion on fundamental issues, it is possible to find important points on which two states can agree politically with the appropriate wil.   



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