Syria: the lies unravel

17 May

This from Peter Hitchens in yesterday’s Mail.

Strange news from the OPCW in the Hague

A dissenting group of scientists and others recently published online what they say is a report prepared by an employee of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

You can access the report here.

It strongly suggests that supposed gas cylinders found in bombed buildings in Douma, Syria, were *not* dropped by helicopters on those buildings. May I stress that I offer no alternative explanation as to how they got there. I have no information on this. The condition of these cylinders was simply not consistent with the idea that they had been dropped from helicopters and had then pierced the roof of the building where they were found ….

Read in full.


This is my thirty-eighth post with Syria in the header. Many more have it in the body text. I’m by no means the first to decry the lies of those promoting war on that nation – mostly by funding terrorists,1 calling them rebels and describing the consequences as a civil war – but have been doing just that since 2015, and with mounting conviction.

More than any other issue, save maybe Russia, Syria opened my eyes to the extent of venality and cynicism in our rulers, and the corruption of mainstream media serving their agendas. On the latter, a mainstay of the war on Syria’s propaganda arm has long been Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons, of which we can say several things:

  • No evidence, or even a credible motive, has been offered for Damascus perpetrating any such attacks. (Critical note: “we have evidence” is not evidence.)
  • Each new allegation is elevated to seemingly proven status by saturation airing, by piggy-backing on earlier allegations – ‘the Assad regime has again used poison gas on its people’ – and by recurring use of sources which do not bear serious scrutiny. I mean NGOs compromised by funding from states seeking ‘regime change’. I mean a White Helmets compromised by the same but, worse by far, damned by terrorist links, fake videos and the abetting of war crimes. And I mean the Syrian Observatory on Human Rights, frequently the sole source of BBC and Guardian stories which blame Damascus but fail to tell us that SOHR is the one man show of a Syrian in Coventry, with likely Muslim Brotherhood ties, who last set foot in Syria in 2003.2
  • Both the liberal left and far left have taken MSM claims against Damascus at face value; the former with much hand-wringing, the latter with rabbit-from-hat calls for international solidarity against imperialist and local tyranny both. To be sure, the far left does not repeat the lies of omission, the glaring absences, of Guardian and BBC. It does not ignore the material drivers of the West’s wars, nor the hypocrisy and deceit in which those wars are packaged and sold. But their acceptance as factually correct of tainted evidence leaves SWP, Workers Power – and for that matter popular fronts like Stop the War – in their own way equally culpable.
  • The truth vacuum left by the above has been partially filled by assorted independent voices. They include outraged experts: former UN weapons inspectors (Scot Ritter, Ted Postol) … CIA officers (Philip Giraldi) … UK ambassadors (Craig Murray, Peter Ford) … and former Reagan appointees (Paul Craig Roberts, Stephen Cohen). They include lone wolves on the political right, with American Conservative taking rising exception, most recently on Julian Assange, to gaping holes in narratives spun by MSM and by Democrat and Republican alike – just as, in the UK, it falls to Hitchens, columnist for the reactionary and billionaire owned Mail, to ask the sensible questions. Last but not least they include a few brave academics led by “the three professors”: Tim Anderson in Sidney, Tim Hayward in Edinburgh and Piers Robinson at University of Sheffield.

On the last of those, I wrote of my one meeting over coffee with Professor Robinson in a post last December, First they came for the socialists … It was a good meeting and we’ve maintained contact ever since. (Piers, co-director of the Organisation for Propaganda Studies, was one of the first to congratulate me on the courtroom victory reported in Roddis v Sheffield Hallam Part 8. ) Through that connection, and his involvement in the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media, I learned two weeks ago of the leaked report linked in the Hitchens extract above.

The media response, with the honourable exception of Hitchens, whose views on many issues could not be further from mine, is silence. Ditto the far left’s. As ever on matters Syria, it falls to lone bloggers to do what they can to alert the world to this (excuse the pun) bombshell:

Caitlin Johnstone, in Consortium

The OPCW has begun responding to queries by the press3 about a leaked document that contradicts official OPCW findings on an alleged chemical weapons attack last year in Douma, Syria. The prepared statement they’ve been using in response to these queries confirms the authenticity of the document …

… To be clear … [on] the assessment signed by an OPCW-trained expert, the cylinders alleged to have dispensed poison gas which killed dozens of people in Douma did not arrive in the locations that they were alleged to have arrived at via aircraft dropped by the Syrian government, but via manual placement by people on the ground, where photographs were then taken and circulated around the world as evidence against the Syrian government which was used to justify air strikes by the U.S., U.K. and France.

Kit Knightly, in OffGuardian

The report spells out, in unambiguous language, that the two chlorine gas canisters were likely planted, rather than dropped from a helicopter.

“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 dropped.”

This finding adds to the pile of evidence which makes it appear very likely the whole event was staged. The only question was whether the document could be confirmed genuine. And now it has been.

Peter Hitchens, for a long time the only mainstream voice to express any doubts about the “official narrative” on Douma, wrote to the OPCW to ask about the leaked report.

He wrote a column about it. We suggest you read it, but the most important passage, taken directly from an OPCW statement, is this:

Pursuant to its established policies and practices, the OPCW Technical Secretariat is conducting an internal investigation about the unauthorised release of the document in question.

Note the language. Nowhere is it disputing either the findings of the document, nor the veracity. Instead, they are “conducting an investigation” into its “unauthorised release”.

Last and most importantly, the aforementioned Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media:

The report is signed by Ian Henderson, listed as one of the first P-5 level inspection team leaders trained at OPCW in a report dated 1998. We’ve confirmed that as the engineering expert on the FFM (Fact Finding Mission), Henderson [led] the investigation of cylinders and alleged impact sites at Locations 2 and 4. We understand “TM” in the handwritten annotation denotes Team Members of the FFM.

In response to an enquiry on 11 May 2019, the OPCW press office said “the individual mentioned in the document has never been a member of the FFM”. This is false. The engineering sub-team could not have been … in Douma … unless they had been notified by OPCW to the Syrian National Authority (which oversees compliance with the Chemical Weapons Convention) as FFM inspectors: it is unlikely Henderson arrived on a tourist visa.

The OPCW press office also attempted to suggest that the report of the engineering sub-team was not part of the FFM’s investigation. This statement also is false. The sub-team report refers to external collaborators and consultants: we understand that this included two European universities. This external collaboration on such a sensitive matter could not have gone ahead unless it had been authorised: otherwise Henderson would have been dismissed instantly for breach of confidentiality. We can therefore be confident that the preparation of the report had received the necessary authorisation within OPCW. What happened after the report was written is another matter.

As it happens, in a post I wrote eighteen months ago, on the flawed worldviews informing liberal left coverage of Syria, I made clear that:

I don’t share Monbiot’s faith in the impartiality of United Nations agencies and, yes, that does include the OPCW. If you deem, as I do, the western powers guilty of a dirty war on Syria whose real drivers – like those in Yugoslavia, Iraq, Libya and Yemen – had little to do with their sanctimonious rationales, you’ll likely share my scepticism …

Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media draws much the same conclusion. In Section 4, The Hijacking of OPCW, it says:

… our last Briefing Note concluded … that “It is doubtful whether [OPCW’s] reputation as impartial monitor of compliance with the Chemical Weapons Convention can be restored without radical reform of its governance and working practices”. The new information we have removes all doubt that the organization has been hijacked at the top by France, UK and the US. We have no doubt that most OPCW staff … do their jobs professionally, and that some who are uneasy about [its current] direction nevertheless wish to protect its reputation. However what is at stake here is more than the reputation of the organization: the staged incident in Douma provoked a missile attack by the US, UK and France on 14 April 2018 that could have led to all-out war.

The cover-up of evidence the Douma incident was staged is not merely misconduct. As the staging of the Douma incident entailed mass murder of civilians, those in OPCW who have suppressed the evidence of staging are, unwittingly or otherwise, colluding with mass murder. We think that in most jurisdictions the legal duty to disclose the cover-up of such a crime would override any confidentiality agreement with an employer. We would welcome legal opinions on this, given publicly, by those with relevant expertise. OPCW employees have to sign a strict confidentiality agreement, and face instant dismissal and loss of pension rights if they breach this agreement. We would welcome any initiative to set up a legal defence fund for OPCW staff members who come forward publicly as whistleblowers. (Emphasis added.)


I’ll close with two references. One, as comedian Robert Newman noted in his masterful 2006 History of Oil, Nuremberg found the waging of aggressive war an international crime for which many went to the gallows. Nuff said.

Two, the Media Lens book, Propaganda Blitz, reviewed here, uses as metaphor a strategy that brought Hitler rapid gains in countries – Poland, France, Denmark, Netherlands and Norway – where effective control could be established in days or even hours, but came famously unstuck (despite Stalin’s ineptitude) in the vast wintry spaces of the USSR.

Early in the book the Media Lens authors define propaganda blitzes as:

… fast moving attacks intended to inflict maximum damage in minimal time … based on allegations of dramatic new evidence …communicated with high emotional intensity and moral outrage … apparently supported by an informed corporate media/academic/expert consensus … reinforced by damning condemnation of anyone daring even to question the apparent consensus … characterised by tragicomic moral dissonance.

As with military blizkreig, propaganda blitzes require that success be rapid. Targets must not be allowed time to reason. One aspect of the dirty war on Syria meriting greater attention is that, while it is assumed the point of propaganda is to support the military, the relationship may be two-way. As Russia’s entry effected a decisive shift in Assad’s fortunes, an official narrative that had seemed unassailable began to lose traction. My views on that country and the nature of the dirty war on it have not altered in four years – except to harden – yet my sense is of being less isolated than in 2015. Indeed, one man I’d clashed with on Syria confided, after April 2018, that he too was finding the Douma claims hard to swallow.

Trust me. Just as military defeat in Vietnam effected a shift – too late, alas, for the millions of Vietnamese innocents slain – in mainstream thinking on the nature of that imperialist war, so will military defeat in Syria lead to a similar shift on this one.

* * *

  1. Those who recoil in disbelief at the suggestion the three most belligerent nations – USA, UK and France, all the apparent targets of Islamist terror – would collude with salafism really do need to brush up their knowledge of history. Since WW1, when the fall of the Ottomans coincided with the rising importance of oil, colonial and then imperialist powers – Israel too – have repeatedly collaborated with Islamism, the better to control the Middle East.
  2. To keep down the link count I’m for once not backing up my claims on these things. I’ve done that in other posts and the diligent will do their own research.
  3. Caity’s “queries by the press” do not, unfortunately, equate to press coverage.

6 Replies to “Syria: the lies unravel

    • Thanks Ron. Appreciated. (Excuse my slight edit, to make your link open a new window rather than leave this page.) It is an excellent read.

      Comments? One, I recall a good video on Youtube and/or FB a year or so back, asking “how many ‘last hospitals’ does Aleppo have?”

      Two, your piece indirectly reminds us what is at stake. Bashar al-Assad’s ruthless father, Hafez, used brutal methods but did build, with Muslim Brotherhood fighting him all the way, a tolerant secular state (vital in a land of many faiths), literacy levels higher than the West’s, a welfare state (or there wouldn’t be any “last hospitals”) and, underwriting it all, state ownership under Baa’thist control (flawed, but infinitely better than what would follow Assad’s fall) of key sectors of the economy. On that last, as with Iraq and Libya, a prime motive for ousting Baa’thism (explicit in Iraq, strongly influential in Libya) has been, as always, to privatise the economy and open it up for “foreign investment”. (Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine predates Libya and Syria but charts in meticulous yet highly readable detail how privatisation was driven through after the fall of the USSR, the end of apartheid in SA and, most relevant, the fall of Saddam.) I don’t say this is the sole or even prime goal here – it’s pipped on the one hand by the oil pipeline aspect, on the other by the bigger agenda of slowing Sino-Russian influence and One Belt One Road. But too many of those who denounce the closure of yet another UK school, and creeping marketisation in academia and NHS, take too parochial a view. Privatisation is the global project of tiny elites, for which tens of millions – hundreds of millions even – have paid with their lives.

      Three, the piece’s final paragraph points to the credulity with which Western audiences – aided by a largely unconscious Orientalism both anti Arab and anti Slav – lap up tales of atrocities which make no sense other than as comic book, evil-for-evil’s-sake Dr No style villainy:

      ‘And the “hospitals” that were bombed? Do we really think that the Syrian or Russian air-forces would waste their bombs on civilians, when there are armies of Al Qaeda terrorists attacking Syrian soldiers and villages on the frontline with missiles and car bombs, and even chemical weapons and cluster bombs? Can we believe anyone who tells us that – now?”

      Neatly put.

  1. This ” Syria Bombs its own people ” is a rerun. A previous attempt to provoke further attacks on Syria by way of a false flag – a 2016 bomb demolition scenario – was itself neatly demolished by Patrick Armstrong

    Its one of many onslaughts on Syria – onslaught on human lives, onslaught on families, onslaught on truth, onslaught on environment, onslaught on the fourth estate by the fourth estate. Carried out by highly qualified strategists who are either unaware of the evil they create, or are attracted to it. And believe they can feist this evil on others yet somehow remain untouched themselves

    • Thanks DavidKNZ. As with Ron, I’ve tweaked your link so it opens a new window.

      I’m glad you raise Bellingcat. I considered doing so but wanted to keep word count down in the post. Imperialism’s useful idiot? Or something darker? The dirty war has no shortage of Eliot Higgins’s – aka Bellingcats. There are Guardian reporters like Olivia Solon, leaping to the defence of the White Helmets in what my one time Workers Power comrade, Paul Mason, called a ‘forensic take down’ of their critics, i.e. folk like us. (The name for youthful trots turned empire cheerleaders in middle age is Legion.)

      Some de facto endorsers of the narrative on Assad don’t even renounce their socialist claims. Again I could name a few, but I’ll stick with the self styled Unrepentant Marxist, Louis Proyect. Nuff said.

  2. Hi Philip…
    Thanks for the reply… I think, something darker.
    Bellingcat is one among many – as you say, their name is legion.
    They seem to me to be fighting a battle for the minds and souls of us mere mortals, and in doing so, substitute ideology for a shared humanity. And it doesn’t seem long before the ideology slips – it seems inevitably – into Evil.
    Evil is a topic that has been the metaphorical graveyard of many a fine philosopher. And the graveyard of many a hapless passerby- whether by ‘collateral damage’ or ISIS executions.
    But rather than recoil in horror and retreat to a place of safety to await the inevitable arrival of the next incarnation, it seems necessary to look clearly at the vast wish for destruction that seems to underpin them all
    It also seems necessary to have tools that allow one to note, but not be affected by some pretty dark terrain.
    Early on, at school, the music master burst out with a cameo on Albert Schweitzer. Intrigued, I used my first pay to buy the book. That introduced me to a template of a well lived rational life, which has served me in good stead over the decades. Interestingly in his 80s, he wrote a pamphlet ‘Peace of Atomic War’ which resulted in the cessation of atmospheric testing. He was rewarded with a CIA investigation, parts of which remain redacted to this day .
    And then there’s music: .Joscho Stephan and Gypsy Jazz; the Goldberg variations, Johnny Emmanuel, the sublime Yeol Eum Son with Mozart . Reminders of Life 🙂

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