If you do a simple google search regarding the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons’s (OPCW) investigation into the claims of chemical attacks in Douma, Syria, you are going to come up with a whole slew of conflicting information, many of which are coming from various news entities. Even in this day and age, this is a bit unusual as the arguments tend to circle around the interpretation of the facts presented, not the existence of the facts themselves. For example, people rarely argue what President Trump did or didn’t say, they usually argue over what he meant or how it was said, or something along those lines. Now we have the very existence of facts being disputed.
At approximately 2 p.m. on April 26, if you googled “OPCW,” two of the top news results are major Russian networks. Sputnik is a state-owned news agency, and their title reads “OPCW Finds No Chemical Weapons at Syrian Facilities Bombed by US – Russian MoD” (note that this title is worded in a way that sounds like fact that will be backed up in the article, but is actually a quote). TASS, also owned by the Russian government, contained a little less of a brazen title: “Russia, Syria to bring 17 eyewitnesses of events in Douma to OPCW.” However, to their credit, both articles mostly just repeat what was announced by Russian officials, like Chief of the Main Operational Directorate of the Russian General Staff Col. Gen. Sergey Rudskoy. While the Sputnik article outlines the differences in rhetoric coming out of the pentagon as opposed to what’s coming out of Russia regarding the ensuing missile attacks, there is no mention of the difficulties the OPCW has had in their investigation. At the end of the day, they all point toward the same message: the U.S.’s claims of a chemical attack is some kind of conspiracy.
On Thursday, Britain and France both called Russia’s allegations an “obscene masquerade” used to hide the use of chemical weapons on civilians.
When it comes to the OPCW, the truth is a little less dramatic than anyone seems to be offering to the public, and no definitive answer has been given. This is an investigation for empirical data — it’s a scientific investigation, not a message or a political statement (but regardless of the results, it will be used as such).
On the first location the OPCW was attempting to investigate, they took small arms fire and were unable to complete their necessary investigation. This was on April 21. On 25 April, they conducted another investigation in Douma and this time they were at least able to get in, though how thoroughly they were able to conduct the investigation has not been made public.
Any information, from any country, that claims or insinuates that the OPCW has come to a definitive conclusion is incorrect. Materials are currently being transported and sent back to the Hague in the Netherlands for analysis. The latest press release from their investigation says that, “The [Fact-Finding Mission] will continue to carry out its independent and impartial mission based on interviews with relevant people, its findings from the site visits, analysis of the sample results, as well as any other information and materials collected.”
There have been many obstacles in this investigation, and many conflicting sources of information. The U.S. has claimed to have blood and urine samples that prove the use of chemical weapons in Syria recently; the Russians have claimed they have proof of the opposite, and have sent a delegation to meet with the OPCW to discuss it. The issues with the OPCW taking fire on the ground could have very well prevented a thorough investigation, not to mention the initial delays where Russia and Syria stopped the OPCW from entering the area, due to “pending security issues,” and that they could interview 22 witnesses provided by Russia in the meantime.
Regardless of what anyone thinks of the effectiveness of the OPCW investigation, its outcome will likely have a significant impact on the international level.
Read the latest OPCW update on their mission here.
Featured image: Eleven-year-old Syrian Hasan Diab looks at his image on a screen during a press conference in The Hague The Hague, Netherlands, Thursday, April 26, 2018. The press conference was organized by Russia in a move to discredit reports of an April 7, 2018, chemical weapons attack in the Syrian town of Douma, after briefing members of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, (OPCW). Russian diplomats claim the Syrians were used in staged videos made in the aftermath of the attack. | AP Photo/Peter Dejong