The BBC reportedly has exclusive proof that the Syrian government is continuing to produce chemical weapons in violation of a deal reached in 2013. Pursuant to that deal, the Syrian government was supposed to remove its entire stockpile, which the U.N. said had already been achieved in 2014.
According to a document provided to the BBC by a “Western intelligence agency,” chemical and biological munitions are being produced at three main sites near Damascus and Hama. The document also alleges that Iran and Russia are well aware of these activities.
Even though the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) monitors these sites, the document alleges that the manufacture of chemical weapons continues behind closed doors.
According to the BBC, the OPCW has confirmed that it has asked the Syrian authorities to declare the relevant parts of the sites per Syria’s obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). The Syrian authorities have declared sections of those sites, but the OPCW was not in a position to “confirm that the [Syrian] declaration is complete and accurate.”
In its report, the BBC then tied the information from the document into the wider issue at hand — that the Syrian government is deemed by Western powers to be the number one culprit behind the most recent chemical weapons attack at the beginning of April.
Most disturbing, however, is the fact that the BBC advanced this information with the following provisos buried in the final paragraphs of its report:
“The intelligence information about the suspected weapons manufacturing sites was shared with the BBC on condition the agency providing it would not be named.
“It does not give detail about how the alleged evidence was gathered.” [emphasis added]
It wouldn’t be surprising to most people if the Syrian government is still producing chemical weapons at those sites (or any other sites, for that matter). However, there is a glaring problem with these claims: What is the standard of proof? An unnamed “intelligence agency” shares information with a media network without providing any detail as to how it actually assessed or compiled its data?
This is the same media network that in 2013 reported on U.N. investigator Carla Del Ponte’s view that, in fact, Syrian rebels likely used sarin gas to attack civilians in the major attacks in 2013. So far, very little concrete evidence regarding the Syrian government’s culpability in any of the chemical weapons attacks throughout the conflict has emerged, including the most recent one in April. As such, it is no surprise that the BBC has to resort to these kinds of tactics.
Despite the disclaimer mentioned in the article, the title of the BBC report was “Syria government ‘producing chemical weapons at research facilities,’” though the editors likely knew full well very few people would even bother to read the first paragraph, let alone the last few paragraphs, which acknowledged the absurdity of the information presented.
A parallel can be drawn between this narrative and the numerous allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections. As noted by Glenn Greenwald in December, the allegations presented by the mainstream media regarding Russian interference were no substitute for concrete proof:
“There is still no such evidence for any of these claims. What we have instead are assertions, disseminated by anonymous people, completely unaccompanied by any evidence, let alone proof.”
Regardless of the accusation, the political nature of the issue at hand, and the parties involved, employing Greenwald’s words of warning are the only way to distinguish fact from fiction. If we don’t know the facts for sure, we shouldn’t promulgate them without question, especially given the ulterior motives of the corporate media and the agencies that advise them (in the case of Syria, the agenda of these parties is regime change).
Real journalism requires a much higher standard than that, assuming our job is to publish the truth. The stakes are high in Syria, and we can’t afford to let the U.S. government and allies employ a shoot-first-ask-questions-later mentality — the same kind we have seen cause such widespread catastrophe in countries such as Iraq and Libya.
As the New York Times was forced to admit in 2004, approximately a year after the U.S. invasion of Iraq:
“But we have found a number of instances of coverage that was not as rigorous as it should have been. In some cases, information that was controversial then, and seems questionable now, was insufficiently qualified or allowed to stand unchallenged. Looking back, we wish we had been more aggressive in re-examining the claims as new evidence emerged — or failed to emerge.”
This time, let’s question the propaganda before the invasion - not after it.