How to fabricate lies in war

“Berlin Group 21” presents investigations into the manipulated OPCW report about Douma

von Karin Leukefeld

High-ranking former UN officials and scientists who have been co-operating as “Berlin Group 21” since 2021, have submitted their investigations into the OPCW [i.e. Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons] report about an alleged attack with chemical weapons in Douma, Syria, in April 2018, to members of the European parliament. They found proof of manipulation, bias and censorship.

The investigation had been requested by Irish MEP’s Mick Wallace and Claire Daly, both members of the Independents 4 Change delegation. In the European Parliament they belong to the faction GUE/NGL The Left. An introductory note to the investigation states, its aim was to encourage independent analysis and discussion of this “serious controversy” in the EU parliament.1 Moreover, the OPCW member states and the OPCW administration should make an effort “... to resolve the current controversy [about the Douma report] in accordance with the CW [i. e., Chemical Weapons] Convention and the Charter of the United Nations”.
  Founding members of the “Berlin Group 21” are Brazilian ambassador José Mauricio Bustani (first Director-General of the OPCW which was launched in 1997), Professor Richard Falk (Emeritus Professor of International law, Princeton University and UN Special Rapporteur about the human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory), Dr h.c. Hans-C. von Sponeck (who has served in the UN for 32 years, as UN Assistant Secretary-General and Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq among other positions), and Dr Piers Robinson (Co-Director Organisation for Propaganda Studies who has analysed the role of media in conflicts, foreign affairs and interventions as exemplified by the 2003 invasion of Iraq and by the conflict in Syria ).

The prelude

After the whistle had been blown from within the OPCW about their meddling with the original fact-finding results at a Courage Foundation panel in October 2019, media outlets such as NachDenkSeiten have written about the controversial OPCW report on Douma time and again in recent years.2
  Information about an alleged chemical weapons attack had been spread by the “White Helmets” on 7 April 2018. They distributed dramatic images and video clips from an underground hospital in Douma to the world via social media. International television stations and agencies immediately jumped on the story. The “White Helmets” claimed the Syrian army had dropped gas-filled cylinders from a helicopter over residential apartment buildings and killed at least 40 people. The “White Helmets” also distributed images of corpses in a cellar. The USA, Great Britain, Paris and Berlin endorsed the allegations of the “White Helmets”.
  The Syrian army denied the claims and the Syrian government pleaded the OPCW to send a fact-finding mission (FFM). The UN security council agreed and the mission headed for Douma. However, when the OPCW inspectors were gathering in Beirut, preparing for their travel to Damascus, the USA, Great Britain and France bombed targets in Syria in the night of 14 April 2018, explicitly as a retaliation for Douma. This way the three permanent UN security council members and veto powers had already made it clear that they were not interested in the findings of this OPCW mission. The OPCW leadership, the UN Security Council and the UN General Assembly kept silent.
  Meanwhile the OPCW inspectors travelled to Damascus and began their work in Douma. They took soil samples, inspected the alleged sites of the attack and interviewed eye witnesses. They could not locate the corpses from the cellar in the “White Helmets” photographs. Their burial sites remain unknown. Back in The Hague, where the OPCW resides, they issued their interim report which has to be done within four weeks according to OPCW regulations. But then something strange happened. The team of Douma inspectors was dissolved and a new interim report started to circulate.

“Gravest concern”

Under the headline “Grave concern about the ‘redacted’ Douma report”3 one inspector of the OPCW Douma team approached his superiors in a letter on 22 June 2018. “I wish to express, as a member of the Fact-Finding Mission team that conducted the investigation into the alleged chemical attack in Douma on 7 April, my gravest concern at the redacted version of the FFM report”, the letter says. This letter as well as other internal documents on the issue were leaked between 2019 and 2020 to the internet platform WikiLeaks and published. “As far as I know, this was authorised by the ODG”, which stands for the Office of the (OPCW) General Director. It goes on: “I was struck by how much it misrepresents the facts …”, apparently no other member of the Douma team had the opportunity to even read the redacted report. “Many of the facts and observations outlined in a full version are inextricably interconnected and, by selectively omitting certain ones, an unintended bias has been introduced into the report, undermining its credibility. In other cases, some crucial facts that have remained in the redacted version have morphed into something quite different to what was initially drafted. With your permission I would like to focus on some especially disturbing aspects of the redacted report.”
  A summary of statements4 follows, which the whistle-blower felt were especially important: “The statement ‘The team has sufficient evidence at this time to determine that chlorine, or another reactive chlorine-containing chemical, was likely released from cylinders’, is highly misleading and not supported by the facts. … The original report has extensive sections regarding the placement of the cylinders at both locations … These sections are essentially absent from the redacted report. I am requesting that the fact-finding report be released in its entirety as drafted.” Should the redacted version be published the author “kindly asked” to add his differing remarks according to paragraph 62 section II of the verification appendix of the chemical weapons convention.
  The letter led to several reactions but neither was the OPCW leadership willing to publish the original Douma report, nor to add the memorandum of the whistle-blower to the redacted report. Ian Henderson und Brendan Whelan, the two OPCW whistle-blower who went public since, were threatened, pressurised, insulted and defamed by the OPCW leadership.
  The letter was just the starting point of a long controversy continuing to this day. Many more documents were leaked to WikiLeaks and published.5
  The Courage Foundation organised a panel at which the public was informed about the differing viewpoints regarding the OPCW Douma report. The statement they had issued drew international public attention to the case and lead to appeals to the OPCW General Director and OPCW member states to launch a new investigation. Without success.

New investigation urgently needed

Now a new investigation was published and their authors justify their work with three important arguments: The families of the at least 40 people who did die in Douma have a right to know what caused the death of their relatives. The credibility of the OPCW and the trust of its member states in the organisation should be restored. Whistle-blowers who have been brave enough to point at maldevelopments have earned our respect and should be protected by the civil society. It was not just the OPCW who are to blame here – neither the UN general assembly nor the UN security council made any efforts to solve the controversy. The way the original report about an alleged chemical attack in Douma was handled and the subsequent – illegal, in terms of international law – bombing of targets in Syria by the USA, UK and France jeopardised international peace and security as outlined in the UN charter.6
  The “Berlin Group 21” (BG21) published their report in English. Their main conclusion was already expressed in the title: „A Review of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical WeaponsFact-Finding Mission Report into the Alleged Use of Chemical Weapons in Douma, Syria, in April 2018 – Evidence of Manipulation, Bias and Censorship”.
  This grave conclusion is backed-up by many documents, first-hand analyses from highly qualified expert sources. In addition, there are numerous internal messages from within the OPCW which were published by WikiLeaks.7

The investigation

In section one a brief background summary illustrates what actually happened on 7 April 2018 in Douma and describes how the Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) of the OPCW came into being as well as which role the United Nations played in this process. Section two gives a chronological order of events around the allegations of chemical weapons being used in Douma and the FFM mission. It starts in April 2018 and covers the time to December 2019 and beyond. Section three summarises the four OPCW reports about the alleged chemical weapons attack in Douma. This includes the original interim report by the FFM team who had been in Douma (June 2018), the redacted interim report (July 2018) and the FFM final report (March 2019). Finally, section four presents conclusions and some proposals for concrete measures “... in order to establish an accurate account of what happened in Douma as well as, more widely, to restore the credibility of the OPCW”.

Proving manipulation,
bias and censorship

In the annex the facts as presented by the four OPCW reports are listed in detail. Annex 1 deals with the statements of toxicology and forensic pathology, the “unjustified elimination of the original toxicology conclusion” and the “failure to explore significant evidence indicating alternative cause of death”. Annex 2 contains the witness testimonies, the ways where and how the witnesses had been interviewed and the “failure to resolve anomalous witness claims”. Moreover, erroneous assumptions about gas distribution are discussed. Annex 3 covers the insufficient chemical analyses and the “failure to explore significant evidence indicating alternative explanation for findings”. Annex 4 deals with ballistics. Its focus is on the strange and eye-catching position of two gas cylinders as well as the explanation for a hole in the roof which one of the cylinders allegedly had fallen through.
  The investigation was distributed to all members of the European parliament, to the leadership of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and its member states, the UN general secretary, the UN member states and to the UN security council. The German minister for foreign affairs received a copy, too. All recipients of the investigation are called upon “to resolve the current controversy in accordance with the Chemical Weapons Convention and the Charter of the United Nations.”

“Deeply disturbing”

“This document should be deeply disturbing to anyone who believes that the UN should be promoting respect for international law as a means to reduce global violence”, as Professor Theodore Postol writes in his foreword to the investigation of the “Berlin Group 21”. Postol is a professor of physics and used to teach at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Should the possible corruption around the OPCW report not be thoroughly investigated, he warns that “… this will surely result in a seriously diminished future global reliance on both the Chemical Weapons Convention and international law.” He predicts: “The future legitimacy of the UN and OPCW as enforcers of international law will simply cease to exist, if this level of overtly unprofessional and amateurish analysis is allowed to stand without being corrected. This will then be an unfortunate legacy left to the world by those who are now claiming to be the guardians of the truth.”  •

3 june-2018

First publication: of 7 August 2023
(Translation Current Concerns)

cc. On 17 August, Fritz Edlinger had on his video channel (International) under the title “The ‘Douma case’: The truth must come to light!” a conversation with the long-time UN diplomat Hans von Sponeck about the events and manipulations in the context of Douma, which we would definitely like to recommend to our readers:

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