Opinion from a Libertarian ViewPoint

Burying key evidence, new OPCW report covers up Douma’s unsolved deaths – The Grayzone

Posted by M. C. on March 29, 2023


After censoring experts who found that the victims in Douma could not have been killed by chlorine gas, the OPCW’s new IIT report continues the cover-up and baselessly accuses the Syrian government.

[Note: this article contains graphic images.]

On April 7th 2018, gruesome images of an alleged chemical attack emerged from the Syrian town of Douma.

Dozens of dead bodies, including children and infants, appeared heaped in piles inside of an apartment building. Others lay on the street in front as if trying to escape deadly gas. Strikingly, many of the victims displayed copious foam oozing from the mouth and nose. Along with their proximity to a clear escape route, these visible symptoms suggested that something extraordinarily poisonous had killed them instantly.

US officials immediately promoted the allegations of insurgent-tied groups that the Syrian army had killed the victims with chlorine gas or the nerve agent sarin, or even a combination of both. One week later, the US, along with the UK and France, bombed Syria in purported retaliation.

In public statements, however, experts raised doubts that chlorine caused the deaths in Douma. Leaked documents later revealed that German military toxicologists consulted by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in June 2018 went further. The Germans told the OPCW that the circumstances of the fatalities – apparent immediate death and collapse in piles at the center of two rooms, a failure to escape, and rapid profuse foaming at the mouth and nose – were inconsistent with chlorine poisoning.

The Germans’ findings had profound ramifications. While the Douma victims’ signs of rapid foaming were not consistent with exposure to chlorine gas, they were consistent with nerve agent exposure. But by that point, the OPCW’s chemical analysis had ruled out sarin or any other nerve agent as the killer because none of these chemicals were found at the scene or in biomedical samples from alleged victims.

If the rapid and profuse frothing was not the result of a nerve agent or chlorine poisoning, the possibility existed that there was no chemical attack at all – and that insurgents staged the incident to frame the Syrian government. The OPCW would be dealing with a faked chemical attack that triggered US-led airstrikes on Syria, and the unexplained deaths of 43 men, women, and children.

As The Grayzone has reported, the OPCW censored the German toxicologists’ input in a cover-up of findings that undermined allegations of a Syrian army chemical attack in Douma. More than three years since that suppression was exposed, the OPCW has never offered a rebuttal to the initial toxicology assessment, nor an explanation for why it was concealed. They have simply buried it.

In a new report on Douma released in January, the OPCW finally purports to offer a counter-narrative. The OPCW’s Investigation and Identification Team (IIT) claims that the “symptoms of the victims” in Douma “are, overall, consistent with exposure to chlorine gas in very high concentrations.”

The IIT shares this judgment as part of an effort to allege that the Syrian army killed the dozens of victims by dropping a chlorine gas cylinder on the apartment building — identified as Location 2 — where their bodies were filmed. (The Grayzone addressed the IIT’s claims about chlorine gas in a previous article). The victims would have been trapped and killed “within minutes,” the IIT report suggests, from exposure to a very high concentration of chlorine gas. By extension, the profuse foaming observed in victims’ mouths and noses would also have to have occurred immediately, or at most, within minutes.

In a statement, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his British, French, and German counterparts hailed the IIT’s findings and touted what they called “the independent, unbiased, and expert work of the OPCW staff.”

To advance its argument, however, the IIT continues to erase the original German toxicologists’ conclusions and engages in multiple acts of scientific cherry-picking. These include the following:

– The IIT has brought in a new toxicologist, without explaining why, who has contradicted the previously consulted experts by claiming that the symptoms of the Douma victims “are consistent with chlorine exposure.” There is no attempt to explain why the new expert’s opinion is more valid than the views of the numerous toxicologists who went before.

– Unlike previous experts, the new toxicologist has avoided ruling on any consistency of the frothing observed in videos and photographs of the deceased victims with exposure to chlorine gas — a controversy at the very core of the Douma deaths.

– The toxicologist sidesteps the frothing issue by instead focusing on whether uncorroborated and cherrypicked accounts of alleged witnesses were consistent with a chlorine attack. The IIT also avoids disclosing whether it considered the accounts of alleged witnesses who claimed to have seen immediate foaming at the Douma apartment building where the dead victims were filmed.

– On the only occasion when the toxicologist does weigh in on a possible cause of the frothing seen in the images, it is only to make the obvious and irrelevant assertion that the oral and nasal foam-like secretions (as well as miosis, a symptom of nerve agent poisoning, and skin discoloration) were “unlikely to have been as a direct result of ‘dust’ inhalation.”

The result is a continued OPCW cover-up of what has proved to be the Douma probe’s most important question: whether chlorine gas killed the dozens of victims filmed at the scene. Rather than provide an answer, the IIT report avoids the science and obscures the cause of 43 unsolved deaths.

Erasing the experts

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