An independent panel has issued a statement challenging the credibility of the OPCW's findings regarding an alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria.
An independent British civil society organization, Courage Foundation, convened a panel of persons with diverse professional backgrounds relevant to the assessment of a challenge directed at the reliability of a respected international institution—the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). The panel’s statement, carefully drafted by the collective efforts of the panel, reflects an acceptance of the lengthy presentation of the case against the reliability of allegations that the Syrian Government was guilty of a lethal chemical weapons attack on the Damascus suburb town of Douma (East Ghouta) on April 7, 2018. This claimed attack was relied upon by the U.S. Government to justify a retaliatory strike against Syrian targets.
The panel, of which I was a member, met in Brussels on October 14, 2019, examined documents, reports, and listened to testimony. It drafted the statement printed below after discussion, which was subsequently modified and edited by email exchanges among the panelists. The Courage Foundation has its offices in Great Britain and is an organization dedicated to support for whistleblowing activities. It did not interfere with or exert influence upon the deliberations of the panel, which occurred in closed executive sessions with no Foundation personnel present.
In my view, this inquiry into the authenticity of the allegations against the Syrian Government is important for its own sake, and beyond this, for the serious implications of the conclusion that, despite its reputation, the OPCW is not a trustworthy organization in carrying out its assigned role of impartially investigating and validating or invalidating charges of violations of the International Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC).
Not only did the panel find that OPCW tampered with the evidence to produce an outcome desired by the geopolitical actors involved in this instance, it tried to silence its own senior civil servants to such an extent as to produce what I would call ‘a reluctant but extremely credible whistleblower,’ a senior inspector with 17 years of experience with OPCW and a member of the team that carried out the on-site investigations of the Douma allegations. The credibility of this statement issued by the panel is strengthened, in my view, by having among its participants a former Director General of the OPCW.
Once again, as with Daniel Ellsberg, Edward Snowden, Julian Assange, and Chelsea Manning, as well as those still anonymous individuals exposing the wrongdoings of the Trump presidency, whistleblowing—and its protection and insulation from punitive actions—has become an indispensable dimension of sustainable democracies.
Not only is there a lack of transparency and accountability with respect to the undertakings of major national governments, but there is a deliberate manipulation of evidence and obstruction of procedures designed to protect the citizenry against abuses of state, and in the case of major states, especially the United States, to protect the public interest.
If you believe in substantive democracy, you will hail whistleblowers as heroes of our time, and exert a maximum effort to oppose the efforts of governments to punish, prohibit, and demonize this crucial means of bearing witness and truth-telling.
Finally, it should be observed that the retaliatory strike following the allegations preceded the OPCW investigation and involved an extremely legally doubtful use of international force in any event.
Of course, such issues are outside the mandate of the OPCW, whose functions are limited to monitoring compliance with the provisions of the international treaty. According to the UN Charter, such an international use of force is only legally justified as an act of self-defense against a prior armed attack or as a result of formal authorization by the Security Council. There is nothing in the CWC itself that allows parties to act as international vigilantes entitled to take unilateral punitive steps against violators.
In the course of Syrian civil strife since 2011, it has been treated as an issue of international vigilantism to regard ‘the red line’ related to the use of chemical weapons was crossed, to identify the perpetrator, and to justify a retaliatory use of force. The United States has claimed the authority to act in this manner, including determining on its own the scope, targeting, and scale of any retaliatory undertaking.
A version of this article was originally published at RichardFalk.WordPress.com on October 27, 2019.