Syrian chemical dossier and the OPCW: the Jose Bustani Case

Updated: May 26

Manas Agarwal,

Research Intern,

Internationalism Research.

“In the nascent years of the OPCW, we faced a number of challenges, but we overcame them to earn the organization a well-deserved reputation for effectiveness and efficiency, not to mention autonomy, impartiality, and a refusal to be politicized”. - Jose Bustani.

The former Director-General of Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), Mr Jose Bustani exposes the dark secrets behind the organization's cover-up of an alleged chemical attack at Douma in Syria.

Mr Bustani was invited to brief the UNSC on the cover-up of the scandal involving the disputed Syrian chemical weapon attacks in Douma. United States of America, United Kingdom and France blocked his testimony on the organization's cover-up in the UN Security Council. OPCW inspectors later found the evidence that the western powers allegedly dropped chemical weapons in Douma and accused the Syrian government of doing so but were censored by their superiors in the organization under the pressure of the United States of America. The inspectors Bustani is referring to are Dr Ian Henderson, and a whistleblower known as “Inspector B” whose report on the Douma attacks found that “…these findings establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the alleged chemical attack in Douma on 7 April 2018 was staged”. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has released a statement on the leaks from two OPCW whistleblowers.

The leaks include a variety of documents ranging from email exchanges between the members of one of the Syrian Fact Finding Missions (FFM) and the entire engineering reports on the April 2018 Douma chemical weapon attacks in Syria, and may very well reveal something between gross incompetence and negligence to something a little more sinister.

In March 2019, the OPCW released the official and final report on the Douma attacks, concluding that the metal cylinders coated in the chlorinated chemical residue were dropped from an aircraft, signifying Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s culpability in the attacks, since the Wahabi militia which Douma was controlled by had no access to aircraft. However, someone from within the organization leaked an independent report that came to a wildly-different conclusion. This leaked report seemed to be destined, quite sinisterly, to never see the light of day. It concluded that “The dimensions, characteristics and appearance of the cylinders, and the surrounding scene of the incidents, were inconsistent with what would have been expected in the case of either cylinder being delivered from an aircraft.” Douma was the site of just one of several alleged chemical gas attacks, but if the leaked report is correct, any further claim of chemical weapon use by the Syrian military should not be taken at face value. Such incidents are not something which we are witnessing for the first time.

Mr Jose Bustani, in his term, faced similar threats from Mr John Bolton and was subsequently ousted as OPCW chief after he conducted inspections that stood in the way of the Bush administration’s drive to invade Iraq. His removal was subsequently declared as illegal by the International Labour Organization’s Administrative Tribunal. He reiterated the non-discriminatory nature of the Chemical Weapons Convention and the need for mechanisms to enhance the robustness and integrity within the organization. The final report of the OPCW reflects the suppression of evidence, biased use of data and the exclusion of key investigations. In November 2019, an open letter of support for the Courage Foundation declaration was sent to the OPCW to, ‘ask for their support in taking action at the forthcoming Conference of States Parties aimed at restoring the integrity of the OPCW and regaining public trust.’ The signatories of this petition included eminent figures such as Noam Chomsky, Emeritus Professor at MIT; Marcello Ferrada de Noli, Chair of the Swedish Doctors for Human Rights; Coleen Rowley, whistle-blower and a 2002 Time Magazine Person of the Year; Hans von Sponeck, former UN Assistant Secretary-General; and Film Director Oliver Stone to name a few. The OPCW has still not responded to those requests, nor to the ever-growing controversy surrounding the Douma investigation. This leads us towards the fraudulent and questionable practices being undertaken by the authorities to suit the interests of those in power. Transparency and confidentiality are the bedrock of the organization and they must be strengthened at any cost to ensure development and progress of all. Trust is what binds the organization together. If the Member States do not trust the fairness and objectivity of the work, then its effectiveness as a global watchdog for chemical weapons is severely compromised.

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