There is a huge commotion in the blogosphere about the fact that Marc Garlasco, the senior military affairs specialist at Human Rights Watch, has long sustained a hobby of collecting and writing about Nazi memorabilia.
I’ve thought this over lot since I first learned about it yesterday. Is collecting and writing a long book about Nazi memorabilia in his spare time something an employer like Human Rights Watch ought to be concerned about?
After consideration, I say Yes.
Now, it’s true that here in the US we have very strict protections for free speech. Thus, collecting Nazi uniforms and insignia and even wearing them in public– as Garlasco apparently was in this photo— is not illegal here. (Wearing them in public would be illegal in Germany and several other places.)
But to have him doing work on human rights in the daytime, while carrying on with this intensively pursued hobby in the evening? That is bizarre, and disturbing.
Even more so when you realize that a lot of the work he has done has involved dealing with Israeli officials and citizens, and analyzing the IDF’s operations.
It would be like employing someone to do child-protection work by day who goes home and collects pictures of naked or suggestively-clad children by night. For allegedly “artistic purposes”.
As Ron Kampeas of JTA wrote about Garlasco’s very enthusiastic pursuit of his hobby, “Ewwwww.”
Now, as y’all no doubt know, I’m on the Middle East advisory committee of Human Rights Watch. And I’ve been very disturbed indeed by the attacks the young, aggressively rightwing Israeli organization NGO Monitor has launched against the work HRW has done on the IDF’s combat behavior.
But right now, I’m looking at this page on NGO Monitor’s website, and agreeing with much of what they have there on this topic.
One thing (scroll down to Footnote 1) they have is a copy of a defense of Garlasco’s actions that someone– reportedly representing HRW– has posted into several blogs in recent days.
For NGO-M to post that text is a real service, since I haven’t been able to find an HRW response anywhere else– including on their own website. (I have a request outstanding to HRW Exec. Director Ken Roth for an interview on this issue.)
That reportedly-from-HRW text concludes thus:
- Garlasco is the author of a monograph on the history of German Air Force and Army anti-aircraft medals and a contributor to websites that promote serious historical research into the Second World War (and which forbid hate speech). In the foreword he writes of telling his daughters that “the war was horrible and cruel, that Germany lost and for that we should be thankful.”
To imply that Garlasco’s collection is evidence of Nazi sympathies is not only absurd but an attempt to deflect attention from his deeply felt efforts to uphold the laws of war and minimize civilian suffering in wartime. These falsehoods are an affront to Garlasco and thousands of other serious military historians.
Well, I’m not sure about Garlasco’s record as a “serious military historian.” By all accounts, his book, title “The Flak Badges”, seems to be an aid for collectors of such badges, not a work of serious military history.
I also share some of the concerns his critics have voiced about the actual military expertise Garlasco brought to the job at HRW, when he moved there after having worked in the Pentagon for eight years. Between 1995 and 2003 he had various jobs as a civilian employee of the Pentagon, doing military intelligence work including some work on targeting US cruise missiles.
But as I noted on JWN last year (including here), he made some serious– and very basic– mistakes during the Russian-Georgian war in identifying which country various cluster-bomb remnants came from… Even more disturbingly, perhaps, the HRW powers-that-be were frustratingly slow in correcting the incorrect accusations he originally made against Russia on this score, which were used by all the political forces in the west that were trying to mobilize public and even perhaps military support for Georgia at the time…
The crying shame of the latest revelations is, of course, that HRW is one of the most politically powerful of the numerous human-rights organizations that over the past nine months have compiled detailed documentation of the many laws-of-war violations committed by Israel (and some by Hamas) during last winter’s Israeli assault on Gaza.
So this whole series of revelations about Garlasco’s “hobby” threatens to distract a lot of attention from the well-documented claims that many excellent organizations– not just HRW– have pulled together about those violations.
And what happened to the people in Gaza last winter– and what continues to happen to them now, for goodness’ sake, as Israel still prevents them from engaging in even basic rebuilding of their shattered homes and lives– is a whole lot worse than “Ewwwww.”