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New Leaks Shatter OPCW’s Attacks on Douma Whistleblowers

Summary:
Facing accusations that it issued a doctored report alleging a chemical attack in Syria, the OPCW has released an inquiry attacking two whistleblowers as rogue actors. Leaked documents obtained by The Grayzone reveal serious distortions in the OPCW inquiry as well as a campaign of intimidation against internal dissenters. For the past year, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has been roiled by allegations that it manipulated an investigation to falsely accuse the Syrian government of a chemical weapons attack. An OPCW report released in March 2019 lent credence to claims by Islamist militants and Western governments that the Syrian military killed around 40 civilians with toxic gas in the city of

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Facing accusations that it issued a doctored report alleging a chemical attack in Syria, the OPCW has released an inquiry attacking two whistleblowers as rogue actors. Leaked documents obtained by The Grayzone reveal serious distortions in the OPCW inquiry as well as a campaign of intimidation against internal dissenters.

For the past year, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has been roiled by allegations that it manipulated an investigation to falsely accuse the Syrian government of a chemical weapons attack. An OPCW report released in March 2019 lent credence to claims by Islamist militants and Western governments that the Syrian military killed around 40 civilians with toxic gas in the city of Douma in April 2018. The accusation against Damascus led to US-led military strikes on Syrian government sites that same month.

But leaked internal documents published by Wikileaks show that OPCW inspectors who deployed to Douma rejected the official story, and complained that higher-level officials excluded them from the post-mission process, distorted key evidence, and ignored their findings.

After months of virtual silence, the OPCW has responded with an internal inquiry that lambasts two veteran officials who raised internal objections, attacking their credibility and qualifications. The OPCW’s self-described “independent investigation” describes the pair as rogue, low-level actors who played minor roles in the Douma mission and lacked access to crucial evidence. In a briefing to member states, OPCW Director General Fernando Arias dismissed them as disgruntled ex-employees. The two “are not whistle-blowers,” Arias said. “They are individuals who could not accept that their views were not backed by evidence.”

But a leaked document calls Arias’ assertions into serious question. Ian Henderson, one of the two inspectors, recently addressed a special session of the United Nations Security Council with his concerns about the Douma mission. Henderson submitted a supplemental written account that was distributed among participating UN member states and obtained by The Grayzone. It offers the most extensive and detailed account of the internal dispute over the OPCW’s Douma investigation to date. 

The full leaked testimony can be read here (PDF)

Henderson provides a thorough timeline that bolsters suspicions that the OPCW leadership covered up a staged deception in Douma. Combined with the available record – which includes other OPCW leaks, as well as Arias’ and the OPCW’s own statements – Henderson’s account firmly demonstrates that he and a fellow dissenting colleague occupied veteran leadership roles inside the organization, including during the Douma fact-finding mission. 

Henderson also exposes key gaps in the OPCW’s inquiry, which fails to specifically address the revelations that critical evidence was kept out of the OPCW’s published reports; that key findings were manipulated – and that all of this occurred under sustained US government pressure.

In addition to Henderson’s complete testimony, The Grayzone has obtained a chilling email from a third former OPCW official. The former official, who worked in a senior role, blamed external pressure and potential threats to their family for their failure to speak out about the corruption of the Douma investigation.

This official was not among the pair of dissenting inspectors targeted by the inquiry. The email corroborates complaints by Henderson and his colleague about senior management’s suppression of evidence collected by the team that deployed to Syria.

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