Disinfo: OPCW discredits whistleblowers to defend own Damascus-blaming narrative

Summary

Two former senior OPCW inspectors revealed that the watchdog had tried to cover up inconvenient evidence in the Douma investigation, which did not suit the mainstream Damascus-blaming story. Veteran inspector Ian Henderson and another former employee known as ‘Alex’ challenged the organization’s narrative which too strongly implied the government’s responsibility, but the OPCW has since tried to discredit them.

Henderson, who led the probe on the ground in Douma, had concluded that cylinders were likely manually placed on the ground, indicating the attack could have been staged by anti-government militias to frame the Syrian government — but his evidence was dismissed without explanation.

Disproof

The story fits a broader set of conspiracy narratives attacking the independence and integrity of the OPCW; lending credence to the claim that the 2018 Douma attack was staged; and absolving the Syrian regime of responsibility for chemical attacks in general.

The OPCW did not "cover up" any evidence it had access to. A press statement by the organisation confirms that "all information was taken into account, deliberated, and weighed when formulating the final report regarding the incident in Douma." According to the OPCW's director-general, the organisation has been targeted by a disinformation campaign aiming specifically to "undermine the official reports of the Fact-Finding Mission about investigations in Syria."

Furthermore, the OPCW's Douma report could not possibly suit any "mainstream Damascus-blaming story." The FFM's mandate was limited to ascertaining "whether there were reasonable grounds to believe that chemical weapons were used" at the site (p. 8, note 9). The claim also contradicts Sputnik's earlier reporting, which stated that the OPCW had "stopped short of apportioning the blame" for the Douma incident. See here for a related debunk.

Henderson did not lead the probe on the ground in Douma. In fact, an internal OPCW investigation provides just enough information to establish that neither he nor "Alex" even visited the site with a fact-finding mandate (see paras. 13 and 23). Henderson's leaked engineering assessment never claims that the cylinders were "likely manually placed on the ground," and it does not leap to the conclusion that their manual placement was evidence of a staged attack. The claims contained in that document were considered by the FFM and addressed in the final Douma report (Annex 6, pp. 55-6).

publication/media

  • Reported in: Issue 192
  • DATE OF PUBLICATION: 09/04/2020
  • Language/target audience: English
  • Country: Syria
  • Keywords: false flag, Douma, OPCW, Chemical weapons/attack, Syrian War, Bashar al-Assad

Disclaimer

Cases in the EUvsDisinfo database focus on messages in the international information space that are identified as providing a partial, distorted, or false depiction of reality and spread key pro-Kremlin messages. This does not necessarily imply, however, that a given outlet is linked to the Kremlin or editorially pro-Kremlin, or that it has intentionally sought to disinform. EUvsDisinfo publications do not represent an official EU position, as the information and opinions expressed are based on media reporting and analysis of the East Stratcom Task Force.

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