There is also an official body of evidence on the matter of chlorine and toxic gas. Of the 39 documented cases since 2013, the independent UN commission of inquiry says the regime was responsible; clear perpetration has not been established in the remaining six cases.
Whenever sarin was deployed in Syria, it came from regime stocks. This was revealed by matching samples with material handed over for destruction by Damascus to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). In addition, for years the UN Commission has documented targeted attacks by the regime and its supporters on civilian infrastructure, in particular hospitals, starving out civilians as a weapon of war, as well as the systematic killing of civilians in regime detention centres.
Reports by international NGOs such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and Doctors Without Borders confirm the use of these methods, which legally fall into the categories of war crimes and crimes against humanity. For this reason, international arrest warrants have been issued against Assad’s personal security adviser Ali Mamlouk and the head of the Syrian Air Force Intelligence Directorate Jamil Hassan.
Increasing belief in conspiracy theories
But nevertheless, a growing number of "critical citizens" are assigning greater credibility to conspiracy theories on the Internet than to an UN investigation that is required to meet scientific standards. For example, in the case of the sarin gas attack on Khan Shaykhun on 4 April 2017 that left more than 80 people dead. Although following evaluation of all evidence – time of day, impact crater, air raid, victims' symptoms, blood and ground samples – the OPCW and UN team of experts holds the Syrian government responsible for the attack, other accounts still persist.
If these are supported by respected journalists or scientists, they appear all the more credible, even if these experts are basing their views on dubious sources and their claims are clearly refuted by the inquiry report. The lack of confidence in established institutions and media is evidently so great, that individual "truth finders" are feted as courageous underdogs, regardless of the garbage they spout.
The same goes for German professors who claim all chemical attacks took place "under a false flag" therefore placing them beyond the reach of scientific examination. For the disseminators of fake news, people wielding convictions like these are especially effective propaganda instruments. A scientist who believes the lies he is spreading is the best thing that can happen to Russia Today, Sputnik or Fox News. After all, his abstruse claims serve the purpose of every disinformation campaign: to sow seeds of doubt until the truth appears as one of several possible versions.
In the Syrian conflict, editorial offices that only announce the positions of the warring parties without taking the trouble to compare them with facts that can be easily researched become part of the game. Interviewing expert A in the morning and expert B in the afternoon has nothing to do with neutral reporting, but rather exposes editors' own inability to recognise fake news.
So how can we enforce truth in war? By making the distinction: we must try to understand perceptions, discuss analyses controversially, but facts must be respected – even in Syria.
© Qantara.de 2018
Translated from the German by Nina Coon
This article first appeared in the taz newspaper on 17/18 November 2018.