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Don’t Forget To Close The Door On Your Way Out

Marc Garlasco has been suspended with pay from his senior military analyst role with HRW, following the revelations of his Nazi fetish broken by the blogosphere.

A leading human rights group has suspended its senior military analyst following revelations that he is an avid collector of Nazi memorabilia.

The group, Human Rights Watch, had initially thrown its full support behind the analyst, Marc Garlasco, when the news of his hobby came out last week. On Monday night, the group shifted course and suspended him with pay, “pending an investigation,” said Carroll Bogert, the group’s associate director.

“We have questions about whether we have learned everything we need to know,” she said.

The suspension comes at a time of heightened tension between, on one side, the new Israeli government and its allies on the right, and the other side, human rights organizations that have been critical of Israel. In recent months, the government has pledged an aggressive approach toward the groups to discredit what they argue is bias and error.

Injected suddenly into that heated conflict, word of Mr. Garlasco’s interest seemed startling to many. The disclosure ricocheted across the Internet: Mr. Garlasco, an American, was not only a collector, he has written a book, more than 400 pages long, about Nazi-era medals. His hobby, inspired he said by a German grandfather conscripted into Hitler’s army, was revealed on a pro-Israel blog, Mere Rhetoric, which quoted his enthusiastic postings on collector sites under the pseudonym “Flak88” — including, “That is so cool! The leather SS jacket makes my blood go cold it is so COOL!”

It was a Rorschach moment in the conflict between Israel and its critics. The revelations were, depending on who is talking, either incontrovertible proof of bias or an irrelevant smear.

The Mere Rhetoric posting said Mr. Garlasco’s interests explained “anti-Israel biases.”

The administration of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also weighed in, but its views on groups like Human Rights Watch were already clear. Mr. Netanyahu’s policy director, Ron Dermer, told The Jerusalem Post in July, “We are going to dedicate time and manpower to combating these groups; we are not going to be sitting ducks in a pond for the human rights groups to shoot at us with impunity.”

After the report about Mr. Garlasco came out, Mr. Dermer called it “perhaps a new low.”

At first, Human Rights Watch, a global organization with headquarters in New York, issued an unequivocal statement of support for Mr. Garlasco, saying he “has never held or expressed Nazi or anti-Semitic views.”

Ms. Bogert at the time said his work has been “extensively reviewed, lawyered, scrutinized, pulverized by our program and legal staff, and we have not in six years ever had cause to question his professional judgment.”

Mr. Garlasco, who worked at the Pentagon helping to target bombs in the second Persian Gulf war, has since traveled the world for Human Rights Watch, investigating and writing reports of the alleged use of white phosphorus munitions in Gaza, cluster munitions in Russia and Georgia, and other military practices in Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon.

Ms. Bogert called the attacks on Mr. Garlasco and her group “a distraction from the real issue, which is the Israeli government’s behavior.”

But some who firmly support Human Rights Watch were left unsettled by the researcher’s extracurricular activities.

Helena Cobban, a blogger and activist who is on the group’s Middle East advisory committee, asked on her blog, Just World News, if Mr. Garlasco’s activities were “something an employer like Human Rights Watch ought to be worried about? After consideration, I say Yes.”

Other groups say they have felt more heat from the Israeli government and its allies. “Recently we have seen a new attitude, a stepping up,” said Sari Michaeli, press officer for the group B’Tselem, which recently came under harsh criticism from the Israeli military for a report that concluded that civilians made up more than half of the Palestinian casualties in the Gaza offensive.

Mr. Garlasco declined to be interviewed. But on Friday he posted an essay with the Huffington Post in which he called the Nazis “the worst war criminals of all time,” explaining that he was simply a “military geek” whose interest grew out of his own family’s history.

“I’ve never hidden my hobby, because there’s nothing shameful in it, however weird it might seem to those who aren’t fascinated by military history,” he wrote. “Precisely because it’s so obvious that the Nazis were evil, I never realized that other people, including friends and colleagues, might wonder why I care about these things.”

Yaron Ezrahi, a professor of political science at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, said he did not believe that Mr. Garlasco’s interest in memorabilia could support allegations of “premeditated bias.” He said, however, that Human Rights Watch’s credibility might have been wounded because Mr. Garlasco’s hobby “has armed the right-wing fanatics” who “work day and night to demonize any individual or organization that raises questions about the military practices of Israel when they end up even with unintended civilian casualties.”

And that is one thing that seems to especially trouble Ms. Cobban, who said in an interview that the controversy played into the hands of the government and its helpers in the fight.

“They have been given this deus ex machina gift,” she said, “about the discovery of Garlasco and his out-of-hours hobby.”

While I admit to feeling satisfied while reading the article, I can’t help but question why the New York Times felt the need to interview, of all people, a left-wing Israeli professor, to the exclusion of even one of the bloggers (yours truly included) who investigated Garlasco’s hobby.

Then again, this is the New York Times we are talking about.

In the meantime, all is not lost for Garlasco. He now has some more time to put back some cold ones.

Update: Anti-Israel blogger Richard Silverstein is predictably peeved about this latest development. In his latest post entitled Human Rights Watch Suspends Garlasco for Inconvenient Hobby (I kid you not), he claims Garlasco’s only fault is “having a hobby that few outsiders can comprehend as meaningful or interesting,” and repeats the absolute falsehood that Israel’s foreign ministry was involved in uncovering Garlasco’s Nazi obsession.

Personally, I think the whole Garlasco affair is starting to make Human Rights Watch look like a character in opera bouffe.  Marc Garlasco, the group’s senior military analyst, the guy who visits battlefields to determine what types of atrocious munitions have been used to kill innocent civilians in pointless conflicts, collects World War II memorabilia, including badges of Nazi anti-aircraft units (in which his grandfather served).  Apparently this is enough to land you in hot water in this crazy world we live in–that is if your every move is under scrutiny by the pro-Israel smear industry in the form of NGO Monitor (with a little help from Avigdor Lieberman’s Israeli foreign ministry).

The N.Y. Times reports today that HRW has, as I expected, quivered in its boots and suspended Garlasco from his job.  I don’t really understand why you would suspend someone from his professional assignment when his only fault is having a hobby that few outsiders can comprehend as meaningful or interesting. Garlasco has made no statement either supporting Nazism or condemning Israel or Jews.  In fact, he has harshly criticized the Nazis in the introduction to a book he wrote on collecting such historical artifacts.  The main charge, aside from the distortion (continued in the Times’ inaccurate headline, Rights Group Assailed for Analyst’s Nazi Collection) claiming he collects Nazi memorabilia, is that his hobby is somehow weird or ghoulish.

My hope is that HRW is suspending Garlasco with the intent on resolving this matter quickly and reinstating him.  The ostensible reason for suspending him is to investigate the matter more fully.  I presume someone will want to go over his 8,000 posts contributed to a few collectors discussion forums, to ensure he never said anything that might be further damaging to HRW.  Thus far, nothing I have read is in the least incriminating.

Once again I take strong issue with the role Helena Cobban has played in this matter.  As I wrote yesterday, normally I find Helena’s instincts to be impeccable on matters political and journalistic.  But not this one.  For the life of me, I don’t understand how allowing yourself to be interviewed on this matter by the N.Y. Times and speaking harshly against Garlasco sheds anything other heat on the matter, rather than light.

In addition, it seems to me that one of Helena’s main issues with Garlasco is that, as a military man, he comes from an entirely different cultural milieu than she (who is a pacifist Quaker).  But think of this–doesn’t HRW need military experts with military backgrounds and yes, perhaps odd (to us) military hobbies?  How else can it get the goods when something like the Gaza war occurs?  Are we going to send Quaker pacifists to examine shell casings and serial numbers?  I have pro-Israel readers of this blog applauding Helena for her stand.  Isn’t there something wrong with this picture??

Notice how Silverstein is so keen to smear Israel, he automatically accepts Garlasco’s defense of his “inconvenient” hobby. Those of us involved in uncovering Garlasco’s obsession took the time to do painstaking research, and build a strong case questioning Garlasco’s objectivity when dealing with Israel. Silverstein’s modus operandi is to begin with the position that Israel is behind all evil, and work his way back from there. And he has no problem making palpably false statements and accusations.

Update: NGO Monitor deals with the real issue arising from Garlasco’s Nazi fetish.

Human Rights Watchs reported suspension of its senior military expert, Marc Garlasco, is a belated recognition of the need for an independent investigation, not only of the individual involved, but more importantly, of HRW’s management. As an organization that claims to promote human rights, the moral implications of Garlasco’s central role in the campaigns against Israel (as documented in NGO Monitor’s 100-page study on HRW), and related issues should also be included.

Beyond Garlasco’s activities and statements surrounding his Nazi memorabilia collection, this investigation should examine the HRW employment process, and the credibility of the numerous reports and related activities in which he played a central role. In particular, this detailed and external review should examine the veracity of reports on Israel which Garlasco co-authored and presented at press conferences, and which included repeated condemnations using terms such as “war crimes”, “violation of international law”, etc. These allegations promoted the campaign to isolate Israel internationally, including the formation of the Goldstone mission.

For a number of years, NGO Monitor has identified numerous claims in Garlasco’s reports and statements on Israel that were false, inaccurate, distorted, and biased. Since 2003, when Garlasco joined HRW, the title and role of “military expert”, and the credibility given to his allegations, were justified on the basis of his seven years in the US defense establishment, in which he claims to have fulfilled numerous positions.

NGO Monitor has not found any independent sources to support Garlasco’s claim to the type of expertise and knowledge of weapons and technology that are invoked in the various reports he has co-authored at HRW. Indeed, the available biographical information on Garlasco’s career prior to employment at HRW is consistent with the view that his expertise is far below the level required for the claims made in his HRW reports. This highlights the need to examine the process and decision making which led to Garlascos employment at HRW.

The specific HRW reports and statements which were based on Garlasco‘s claim to military expertise include:

As NGO Monitor analyses have demonstrated, each of these cases includes technical “evidence” which is clearly false. Examples include the claims regarding weapons systems discussed in the white phosphorous (“Rain of Fire”) and drone reports (“Precisely Wrong”) concerning the Gaza war, and the extensive discussion of tunneling detection technology in the 2004 report (“Razing Rafah”).

There are also many examples of entirely speculative claims in Garlasco’s reports for HRW in which technical language is used to support unverifiable testimony from Palestinians in Gaza, or people in Southern Lebanon who may have links to Hezbollah.

Analysis of HRW’s credibility and moral standing should also examine the roles of clearly biased individuals in the Middle East division, such as Joe Stork and Sarah Leah Whitson – both of whom were active in anti-Israel activities. Whitson led HRW fundraising efforts in Saudi Arabia, emphasizing allegations of Israeli war crimes (including Garalascos false claims on white phosphorous), and attacked critics (“pro-Israel pressure groups”).

NGO Monitor’s President, Prof Gerald Steinberg said “Garlasco’s statements in various chat forums and other platforms dealing with Nazi memorabilia explain the anti-Israel bias that is reflected in his reports, as shown in NGO Monitors systematic analyses. Evidence of this bias and its implications must also be included in this investigation of HRW’s Middle East activities and Garlasco’s role in this area.

HRW’s reliance on Garlasco’s supposed ‘expertise’ raises enormous questions over the credibility of their activities.  It reflects an organization that has consistently placed ideology above professionalism and universal human rights values.”

About the author

Picture of David Lange

David Lange

A law school graduate, David Lange transitioned from work in the oil and hi-tech industries into fulltime Israel advocacy. He is a respected commentator and Middle East analyst who has often been cited by the mainstream media
Picture of David Lange

David Lange

A law school graduate, David Lange transitioned from work in the oil and hi-tech industries into fulltime Israel advocacy. He is a respected commentator and Middle East analyst who has often been cited by the mainstream media
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