preliminary report published Friday by the Organization for the
Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) found no
traces of any nerve agent at
the site of a suspected chemical attack in the Syrian city of Douma.
The OPCW report states this unambiguously
organophosphorous nerve agents or their degradation products were
detected in the environmental samples or in the plasma samples taken
from alleged casualties."
Like dozens of others,
the story uncritically promoted the
Ghouta Media Centre alleged that a helicopter had
dropped a barrel bomb containing sarin,
and another organisation claimed that a hospital had been hit by
With images of
women and children foaming from the mouth and nose circulating on
social media, the death toll from Saturday evening’s attack on the
town was said to have risen to at least 49, with some observers
saying more than 150 people have been killed.
This as the White House
said it had "very high confidence" the Syrian government
carried out the attack, basing its assessment, as MSNBC reported at
the time, in part on
the following: "blood
and urine samples obtained by the U.S. from victims of the chemical
strike tested positive for chlorine gas and
a nerve agent."
A significant body
of information points to the regime using chlorine in its bombardment
of Duma, while some additional information points to
the regime also using the nerve agent sarin.
Throughout April and
subsequent months, journalists and pundits continued to
connect the suffering of victims in Douma with the deadly sarin nerve
as one NPR piece with the emotionally gripping headline, Syrian
7-Year-Old: 'I Want To Be A Doctor So I Can Help In A Chemical
U.S. says it's highly confident that evidence points to the use of
chlorine and possibly a
nerve agent, perhaps sarin."
The White House began
building its case against Assad upon this
mysterious blood and urine "data",
ultimately leading to President Trump unleashing over
100 tomahawk missiles on Damascus, was nowhere
to be found in the OPCW's findings released Friday.
reporting in the days after events at Douma:
again, Friday's OPCW preliminary report, which unlike most others
among its assessments included a verified
full OPCW chain of custody for most
samples as its investigators actually studied the site (notably, the
April 2017 Khan Sheikhoun alleged CW attack
site was never visited
by investigators), reads as
labs conducted analysis of prioritised samples. The results show
organophosphorous nerve agents or
their degradation products were detected in the environmental samples
or in the plasma samples taken from alleged casualties. Along with
explosive residues, various
chlorinated organic chemicals were found in samples from two sites,
for which there is full chain of custody. Work by the team to
establish the significance of these results is on-going. The FFM team
will continue its work to draw final conclusions.
You remember straight after Skripal attack a huge neo-con push to bomb Syria due to alleged nerve agent attack on jihadi held Douma? Before Robert Fisk arrived and found it untrue? Now OPCW confirm no nerve agent. Some chlorine compounds found but origin and significance unclear.
The word "chlorine"
is only used twice in the
OPCW interim report,
both in characterizations of social media and does not contain any
declaration "confirming" chlorine allegations, in spite of
current media reports wrongly suggesting the OPCW has found victims
at Douma that died from chlorine exposure.
both Reuters and
the BBC were
forced to quickly correct their reporting of Friday's OPCW document,
as both initially claimed that OPCW investigators confirmed chlorine
used at Douma, whereas the document reads various
chlorinated organic chemicals were found in samples from two
following correction: Corrects
to “various chlorinated organic chemicals” instead of chlorine;
and the BBC changed
its headline from
"chlorine gas" to "possible chlorine").
chlorinated organic chemicals" are unsurprising. Chlorine
is widely used for water purification and cleaning and "chlorinated
organic chemicals" will be found in any household.
In the technical
the OPCW report note that one of its laboratory found "Dichloroacetic
acid", "trichloroacetic acid", "chloral hydrate",
"trichlorophenol" and "chlorphenol" in some of
the samples its fact finding mission took at the claimed incident
are all substances that are no surprise in any upbuild environment
and especially within any home.Dichloroacetic
for example "a trace product of the chlorination of drinking
likewise "a minor side-product of the chlorination of water when
organic residues such as humic acids are present". The other
substances are also not uncommon and of various household uses.
importantly, the interim report does not include indications of
quantities or concentrations in which these common substances were
found, making it impossible to conclude further whether they were
part of a chemical attack or were weaponized.
OPCW report for example, concludes of a separate alleged chemical
attack site in
the same report: "the
FFM [Fact-Finding Mission] cannot
confidently determine whether or not a specific chemical was used as
a weaponin the
incidents that took place in the neighbourhood of Al-Hamadaniyah and
in the area of Karm al-Tarrab."
The report did have this
interesting line, however: "The
FFM noted that the persons affected in the reported incidents may, in
some instances, have been exposed
to some type of non-persistent, irritating substance."
Fisk identified the
doctor by name — Dr. Assim Rahaibani — which is notable
given the fact that all early reporting from Douma typically relied
on "unnamed doctors" and anonymous opposition sources for
early claims of a chlorine gas attack (which had quickly morphed
into an unverified "mixed" chlorine-and-sarin attack).
with my family in the basement of my home three hundred metres from
here on the night but all
the doctors know what happened. There
was a lot of shelling [by government forces] and aircraft were always
over Douma at night–but on this night, there was wind and huge dust
clouds began to come into the basements and cellars where people
began to arrive here suffering from hypoxia, oxygen loss. Then
someone at the door, a “White Helmet”, shouted “Gas!”, and a
panic began. People started throwing water over each other. Yes, the
video was filmed here, it is genuine, but what you see are people
suffering from hypoxia–not gas poisoning.”
pro-rebel outlet said 'mass asphyxiation' after shelter collapse
The doctor's testimony
was consistent with that of the
well-known Syrian opposition group Syrian Observatory for Human
Rights (SOHR), which
initially reported based on its own pro-rebel sourcing that
heavy government bombardment of Douma city resulted in the
collapse of homes and underground shelters, causing civilians in
hiding to suffocate.
According to SOHR,
which has long been a key go-to source for mainstream media over the
course of the war, "70
of them [women and children] have suffered suffocation as a result of
the demolition of home basements over them due to the heavy and
Though outlets from The
Guardian to The
Washington Post to The
New York Times had
quoted SOHR on a near daily basis throughout the pior six years of
war, the anti-Assad opposition outlet's reporting of
mass asphyxiation due to collapse of shelters remained notably
absent from the same publications.
the mass asphyxiation theory is speculation at this point (we weren't
there and neither were the hundreds of journalists claiming while
writing from hundreds or thousands of miles outside Syria that "Assad
gassed his own people"), it will be interesting to see what the
future full and complete OPCW report includes.
But at least at this
still somewhat early point in what will likely be a continued lengthy
have absolute scientific confirmation from the OPCW that the White
House once again lied us into bombing yet another Middle East country
based on spurious "nerve agent" claims.