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‘Chemical Weapons in Syria: BBC Panorama Relies on Questionable Research’ – Global Network for Syria

Peter Ford
21st Century Wire

A joint investigation by BBC Panorama and BBC Arabic claimed to show how chemical weapons have been used by the Syrian Government as part of a deliberate military strategy. Yet there are serious concerns over the investigation’s reliance on ‘broadly impartial’ sources — who are not named — and consequently the reliability of the report’s findings. 

The Panorama programme is called ‘Syria’s Chemical War’ and was first broadcast on Monday 15 October on BBC One at 20:30.

Members of the Global Network for Syria have issued the following response:

“Yesterday’s BBC Panorama programme was notable for its omissions. It was not clear, for example, whether evidence backing the claims of 106 uses of chemical weapons came from Syrian rebel sources. Given that sources are not named, the BBC may be relying on evidence from groups that are widely regarded as favourable to the opposition, such as the White Helmets, the Syrian American Medical Society, or the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organisations. 

The investigation ignored the interim findings of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) on the Douma incident, which contradict the BBC’s conclusions.  The OPCW found no evidence of the use of prohibited weapons in Douma and did not rule out that chlorine cylinders found at the site may have been planted. 

The programme showed former OPCW staff saying that not all of Asad’s stocks destroyed under OPCW supervision were necessarily accounted for. It neglected to point out, however, that the OPCW reported in 2014 that it had been unable to visit two sites where chemical weapons were stored and that both these sites were in rebel-held territory deemed unsafe for inspectors to visit. 

The programme also claimed to detect a pattern of Asad using chemical weapons in the final stages of sieges. But the report did not address questions raised by numerous military experts who ask why Syrian Government Forces, which were already winning the war, would deploy chemical weapons of limited usefulness, risking severe reprisals by the US-led Coalition.

There are further concerns regarding the lack of reference to Islamist fighters, who have used chlorine canisters as part of their “resistance”, and who have butchered not just Christians and Alawites but also hundreds of the civilians living under their control, as documented by the UN.

The war in Syria is complex, with many different layers to the conflict. It is crucial that any future investigation includes historical and geopolitical context, objective analysis, transparency about sources, and, at the very least, an acknowledgement that there are different points of view.”

Peter Ford, former British Ambassador to Syria
Dr Tim Anderson, University of Sydney
Lord Carey of Clifton
Baroness Cox
Lord Gordon of Strathblane
Dr Michael Langrish, former Bishop of Exeter
Lord Stoddart of Swindon

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