A leaked memo about a deadly chemical weapons attack in Syria in April 2018 differs from the official finding of the UN chemical inspections watchdog that the government of Bashar al-Assad was responsible.
The sixteen-page document does not refute the official UN finding, published in March, that there were “reasonable grounds” to believe, that the Syrian government was responsible for a chlorine bomb attack on an apartment building in the city of Douma on April 7, 2018 that killed dozens of people. But it does show at least one team of engineers at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) dissented from a fact-finding mission that concluded the bombs were dropped from an aircraft.
[Read/download the OPCW document here.]
The document was leaked to the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media, a group of British academics critical of U.S. intervention in Syria. The OPCW has acknowledged the authenticity of the document, titled “Engineering assessment of two cylinders observed at the Douma incident.”
The OPCW is a secretive organization, based in the Hague, that is funded by the United Nations and reports to the U.N. Secretary General. In 2013, the OPCW and the World Health Organization concluded chemical weapons had been used in five attacks in Syria but did not attribute responsibility to any party in the Syrian civil war.
The largest of these attacks occurred in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta on August 21, 2013. More than 1,000 people are thought to have died. Within weeks, U.S. and French intelligence agencies released reports saying the Syrian government had used sarin gas in the attack. The Assad government was the only party to the war known to possess sarin. The Assad government subsequently allowed the OPCW to remove and disable its stockpiles of chemical weapons.
The leaked OPCW memo has re-ignited the “false flag” narrative of Syrian chemical weapons attacks, touted by journalist Seymour Hersh and others. In this view, some of the chemical attacks attributed to Assad were actually staged by his enemies for the purpose of justifying Western intervention and/or provoking U.S. retaliation.
Hitchens, a right-wing columnist and brother of the late Christopher Hitchens, got the OPCW to confirm the document was authentic. He said it was “very shocking” that the findings of the memo were not referenced in the OPCW’s report.
Fisk, a leftist correspondent who visited Douma a few days after the attack, wrote, “I did not dismiss the possibility that gas had been used, but eyewitnesses and the head of the field hospital where the victims had been treated insisted they knew nothing of gas.”
“I think we’re being played,” said Carlson.
Hitchens and Fisk, opinionated reporters who are open to the false-flag narrative, which is appropriate. False-flag operations are known technique of U.S. and other intelligence agencies. As the declassified schemes of Operation Northwoods against Cuba shows, the planning for such operations can be quite elaborate.
Hitchens and Fisk did not say the memo confirmed the false flag narrative, only that it showed OPCW misconduct. Carlson’s ratings-driven, race-baiting shock schtick disqualifies him as a reliable reporter. RT’s headline that the memo “casts doubt” seems fair but the evidence is hardly “overwhelming” as Postol claims.
The OPCW study does not prove, or even contend, the April 2018 attack was a “false flag” operation. In fact, consistent with OPCW policy, the memo does not address who was responsible for the attack, only the nature of chemicals used and, primarily, the mode of delivery for two lethal bombs.
The author of the memo, identified as Ian Henderson, said the engineering team studied the cylinders of the bombs and the damage to the roofs of the two apartment buildings where the cylinders were found. They compared both the cylinders and the damage to photographs of other alleged chemical weapons attacks.
The team concluded the bombs carried chlorine and probably were not dropped from the air, because of the likely angle of impact.
The conclusion is carefully hedged, not categorical: “there is a higher probability that both cylinders were manually placed at the two locations rather than being delivered from aircraft.”
The finding that the bombs were dropped from the air necessarily implicated the Assad government because the Syrian rebels do not possess aircraft.
The conclusion that the attack was staged by enemies of the Assad government depends on several assumptions, none of which is found in the memo: 1) that the bombs were placed and detonated by the Assad’s enemies; 2) that the victims were killed elsewhere and their bodies moved to the apartment buildings; and 3) that the OPCW, the Syria White Helmets, and the international human rights groups that attributed the attack to Assad were witting or unwitting accomplices to the deception.
The leaked memo does not attempt to identify who placed the bombs, if they were manually placed.
Nor does the memo address the question of how the bombs were detonated if they were not dropped from the air. The victims in one building were taken to a nearby hospital where many of them they died. In the other building, the victims were found in two apartments on the lower floors.
If the bombs were planted where the cylinders were found–on the top floor of the buildings–the perpetrators would have had to pull off a complex feat. They would have had to enter a crowded apartment building wearing gas masks or protective clothing while carrying the bombs. And they would have had to escape from the upper floors on foot without detection, while most everyone around them was getting sick or dying.
Such a scenario is, of course, theoretically possible but there’s nothing in the leaked memo to support the notion.
The Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and the Media says the evidence only allows for two explanations of the April 2018 attack: an aerial attack by the Syrian government or a “managed massacre” perpetrated by Assad’s enemies on the ground and abetted by their international supporters.
In the latter scenario, the Working Group members, Paul McKeigue, Jake Mason, David Miller, and Piers Robinson, suggest that the victims found in their apartments were captured by jihadists before the alleged false flag attack, and killed some place else. The bodies were then supposedly doctored to simulate the effects of a chemical attack, and allegedly returned to their residences.
There is no evidence in the leaked OPCW memo that supports the “managed massacre” theory.
The Working Group says the position of the bodies supports their claim. But the Working Group does not cite any eyewitness testimony or photographic evidence about who transported and deposited 35 corpses in a crowded urban neighborhood where bystanders took scores of photos and several videos of the victims not long after the attack.
While Henderson’s document certainly challenges the FFM’s [Fact Finding MIssion’s] findings, claiming that it disproves them is – on current information – a step too far. Similarly, while it’s clear that the FFM rejected Henderson’s conclusions, the idea that this was done for political reasons is not supported by credible evidence. There could be far less sinister explanations – such as flaws in his analysis.
Finally, the leaked OPCW memo concerns one chemical attack. Last year Human Rights Watch documented 85 chemical attacks since the Syrian civil war started. Some of these were attributed to the rebels, most to the government. The memo sheds light on barely one percent of the chemical attacks in Syria.