Tag Archive | "Syria: Khan Sheikhoun"

How like sarin is a sarin-like substance?


NOVANEWS

nikki-haley-chemical-attack-syria-united-nations

By Tim Hayward 

The OPCW has analysed samples from Khan Sheikhoun in April containing what they have identified as ‘sarin or a sarin-like substance’. They know that much, even if they are not sure how it got there or who is responsible.

But how much actually is that? Throughout the OPCW report we find the cumbersome expression sarin or a sarin-like substance. Why not just sarin, pure and simple?

All a non-chemist like me can understand from this is that we are dealing with some nasty stuff, but there is no definite confirmation it is sarin pure and simple. Of course, a non-chemist also has no idea how impure a sample or how different a molecule would need to be to count as merely of a substance like sarin; nor would we know how much more impure or different it could be before becoming unlike sarin. So we non-chemists could easily be bamboozled in these matters.

One thing we do know is that the sarin the Syrian government produced and gave up for destruction in 2013 was referred to by all concerned as sarin, pure and simple. To produce sarin with military grade purity is not easy. To produce improvised versions, however, is within the capacity of insurgents in Syria.

Given that there are already open questions about motive, means and opportunity, as I indicated in my previous blog, then if there is doubt about even the weapon as well, the case for blaming Assad looks decidedly uncertain. In fact, regarding the weapon, as I mentioned in the blog before last, the OPCW could not ascertain the method of delivery or therefore the ‘hardware’ used. So it becomes crucial for those who would prosecute a case against Assad to say that the chemical was one the opposition could not have had access to.  So crucial has it become that the UK’s Ambassador Adams has said it: ‘There is no evidence to suggest that any party to the conflict in Syria, other than the Syrian Government, has access to a complex nerve agent such as sarin.’

Still, just saying it does not make it true if the report you are relying on does not say it is true. And – it bears repeating – the OPCW does not say anything that clearly rules out the possibility of opposition responsibility for the incident.

It bears repeating because to accept the unsubstantiated claim as a pretext for sending more bombs, death and destruction against the people of Syria would be a heinous act. Anybody who pronounces on the matter without striving to be scrupulously honest and clear about what they are saying will be complicit in that act.

 

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Khan Sheikhoun: why it is sensible to be sceptical still


NOVANEWS
By Tim Hayward 

The OPCW fact finding mission (FFM) has now reported on the chemical incident in Khan Sheikhoun, Syria, in April 2017. Although heavily trailed in previews, by Bellingcat and others, as presenting virtually a smoking gun implicating the Syrian government, the report itself is so hedged with caveats that one could perhaps say there is so much smoke that we can’t even see a gun.

Certainly, the report cannot specifically verify any weapon involved, as the FFM ‘was unable to retrieve any items from the site which would indicate the means of dispersal of a chemical. After analysing photographs and video supplied by witnesses, the FFM could not establish with a great degree of confidence the means of deployment and dispersal of the chemical.’ (6.19)[1]

I know nothing about chemical weapons but I know a little about how reports get written. A number of people collaborate in piecing together the evidence and analysis that goes into the long document. One voice then has to come clearly through the summary that goes out to press, even though different glosses are possible. Since a certain gloss, given some extra spin, has been making the rounds in the media, I think it worth pointing out how one could interpret it quite differently.

The OPCW tell us they could not visit the site of the reported incident (since it is in the control of very dangerous men) and could not therefore get high value evidence (3.11).[2] The evidence they examined included samples that were sent (via those dangerous men) to Turkey without the FFM being able to document a verifiable chain of custody (3.46).[3] So how the samples came to be contaminated or by exactly what (since it apparently could have been a ‘Sarin-like substance’ or Sarin) is a matter of surmise. They tried to piece together a narrative on the basis of witness statements from people on the ground who were among, if not of, the dangerous men. ‘It was not possible to corroborate’ the narrative that was inferred from those testimonies (5.10); and the narrative was in fact contradicted by statements taken by the Syrian authorities (5.10).

Commentators who had sight of the report during its embargo period, like Bellingcat, worked very quickly to bring out publications aimed at convincing us the report provided a refutation of those of us who are sceptical about the narrative of Syrian Government responsibility for the Khan Sheikhoun incident.

It seems to me, though, that the caveats are extremely significant. Especially given that in order to feel safe in disregarding those caveats one has to put a good deal of faith in the honesty and integrity of the people in control of the area of the incident. I find this hard to do, given that everyone considers them not even safe to visit.

[Readers will notice that in this brief comment I have not referred to the victims of the incident. The cause of death of all those people should presumably be a matter for criminal investigation, which was not the purpose of the OPCW mission. It is a matter of very grave concern indeed.]

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[1] All references are to paragraphs in the Report Of The Opcw Fact-Finding Mission In Syria Regarding An Alleged Incident
In Khan Shaykhun, Syrian Arab Republic April 2017.

[2] ‘During an investigation, complete, direct, and immediate access to the alleged initiation site provides the greatest opportunity to collect high value evidence.’ (3.11)

[3] ‘Typically, samples from an incident would be collected by the investigating team immediately after the incident, using approved procedures and equipment, including full documentation of the chain of custody of the samples. As noted earlier, the team 
was constrained due to the inability to access the site of the alleged incident and the amount of time that had passed between the alleged incident and receipt of samples by the team (depending on the source, between 1 week and 2 months after the incident). As a result, the team was unable to:

(a) assess the geography and conditions of the location of the alleged incident; (b) directly select sampling points and items;
(c) conduct on-site collection of samples; and
(d) implement a complete chain of custody, by the team, for samples from source.’ (3.46)

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Investigation into Khan Sheikhoun: Rules-based order tested by Western scheming


NOVANEWS

Image result for Khan Sheikhoun CARTOON

By Dr Alexander Yakovenko 

There is still no proper reaction by the OPCW to the alleged use of sarin in Khan Sheikhoun in Syria on 4 April.

Unfortunately, the work of the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) to Syria is shrouded in secrecy. What is clear is that it continues to operate in a remote mode, using Internet data mostly concocted by the radical elements of the Syrian opposition, including the notorious “White Helmets”.

From the scarce information one can gather that the samples taken from those injured or dead were tested in the OPCW-licensed laboratories in Britain and Turkey and established to be sarin or sarin-like substance. However, the samples were not taken at the site of the incident. Hence, the basic principle of the investigation, that of the chain of custody, hasn’t been observed. There are no answers on that from our Western partners. As there is no clear evidence that those people were from Khan Sheikhoun and not from somewhere else.

Equally dubious is the questioning of the “witnesses” by the FFM. One can’t be sure they were residents of Khan Sheikhoun. Moreover, those “witnesses”, as we understand, are mostly supporters of the opposition or their family members. Their impartiality is questionable. However, information is available, including provided by the Swedish Doctors for Human Rights, which demonstrates that those photo- and video- materials were clearly staged.

It looks like the FFM, so far, is not doing its job properly. That the FFM team, in terms of its composition, is absolutely dominated by the countries hostile to Damascus, is another fundamental flaw. This is in sharp contrast to the established international practice. According to the UN Secretary-General decision the UN-OPCW Investigation Mechanism mustn’t include representatives of the UNSC P5, as well as Syria’s neighbors. And yet the heads of both FFM segments are British citizens, albeit no one can in earnest assume the British position in the Syrian conflict as unbiased. Why not act by the book and why afraid of the truth being established in due course? The proposal to have a special investigation, with due oversight of the international community, was voted down by the West.

There’s still time to conduct a proper, full-fledged investigation. According to the UN Secretariat, the security situation in Khan Sheikhoun is quite acceptable. The Syrian side is also ready, in the interests of this investigation, to put a ceasefire in force along the way of the OPCW staff’s travel to the site. The Director-General of the OPCW Technical Secretariat stated his willingness to send the OPCW experts to Khan Sheikhoun.

The Syrian Government is also ready to ensure a totally secure environment for the FFM staff to visit Shayrat airbase. We insist on such a visit. The US Administration explained its Shayrat missile attack by the alleged storage of sarin at this airbase. It is necessary to verify this allegation.

It is a fair assumption that sarin could have been used in Khan Sheikhoun. The question is who did it and how the toxic substance was delivered. A few versions exist. As the information is accumulated there is more and more grounds to think that the terrorists controlling this area blew up the home-built sarin munition on the ground which resulted in civilian casualties. The “White Helmets” acted too hastily to stir public outrage and posted in-advance prepared materials on the Internet. However, they made several bad mistakes which point to the staged nature of those materials.

The definitive answer to what really happened in Khan Sheikhoun can only be provided by a full-fledged investigation in full compliance with the OPCW verification provisions. It is too serious a matter for peace in the region and a wider world for the OPCW to fail this test of credibility. Those who have taken over the FFM investigation are all to eager to manage the truth in their vested interest. Otherwise they wouldn’t obstruct efforts to open it up for due scrutiny. It is this tactics of pushing the UN Security Council to act on the basis of forged evidence and flawed investigation, that undermines the rules-based world order.

It has to be borne in mind that the British Foreign Secretary recently hypothesized on joining another US action in Syria in response to another chemical incident, which means that an order for it has already been placed. A lot is said about the disastrous lack of trust in international relations. Unilateral actions and takeovers of international bodies by the West further undermine it.

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