Rights Analyst Suspended Over Nazi-Era Collection

Marc Garlasco i i

hide captionMarc Garlasco, a senior military analyst for Human Rights Watch, has been suspended pending an investigation into his Nazi-era German military collection.

Ahmad Gharabli/AFP/Getty Images
Marc Garlasco

Marc Garlasco, a senior military analyst for Human Rights Watch, has been suspended pending an investigation into his Nazi-era German military collection.

Ahmad Gharabli/AFP/Getty Images

Human Rights Watch has suspended a senior military analyst after pro-Israeli bloggers questioned his objectivity based on the fact that he is a collector of and expert on Nazi German military memorabilia.

The analyst, Marc Garlasco, is a former Pentagon analyst who has worked on Human Rights Watch reports critical of the Israel Defense Forces, such as "Rain of Fire: Israel's Unlawful Use of White Phosphorus in Gaza."

The New York-based human-rights watchdog group issued a statement last week stressing that Garlasco's suspension with pay was "not a disciplinary measure." The organization "stands behind Garlasco's research and analysis," the statement said.

Carroll Bogert, the associate director of the organization, said the suspension would be in force while Human Rights Watch carries out an investigation. "We have questions as to whether we've learned everything we need to know," Bogert said.

Critics of Human Rights Watch have suggested that Garlasco's enthusiasm for Nazi-era badges and uniforms goes beyond historical interest and makes him a Nazi sympathizer or anti-Semite.

Garlasco, 39, is the author of a 2008 reference book called The Flak Badges of the Luftwaffe and Heer and a contributor to Web sites that cater to collectors of military paraphernalia. Human Rights Watch points out that in the foreword to a monograph on military memorabilia, Garlasco expressed thanks that Germany was defeated in World War II.

Garlasco declined to comment for this story, referring instead to that foreword and to a defense that he wrote for the Huffington Post on Sept. 11. In that essay, he wrote that his hobby might be "unusual and disturbing to some," but that he felt it made him "a better investigator and analyst."

"To suggest it shows Nazi tendencies is defamatory nonsense," Garlasco wrote, "spread maliciously by people with an interest in trying to undermine Human Rights Watch's reporting."

Helena Cobban, a Middle East analyst and a member of the Human Rights Watch Middle East advisory board, takes issue with Garlasco's claim that his hobby makes him a better investigator, calling it "highly misleading" to suggest that it makes him a serious military historian or better investigator.

On her blog, Just World News, Cobban notes that on Web sites where Garlasco contributed, he interacted with "people who clearly do seem to be Nazi sympathizers," something she called "extremely disturbing," although she stressed that it did not prove that Garlasco was a Nazi sympathizer himself.

Critics have pointed out that Garlasco's screen name on sites such as German Combat Awards is Flak88. The name apparently comes from the 88 mm German anti-aircraft gun used during World War II. But critics note that because "H" is the eighth letter of the alphabet, "88" is sometimes used by neo-Nazi groups to represent "Heil Hitler."

They point to one post, in which Garlasco included a photo of himself wearing a shirt bearing an Iron Cross, and another in which he wrote "That is so cool! The leather SS jacket makes my blood go cold it is so COOL!"

Human Rights Watch says that Garlasco's collection focuses on American as well as German military objects, and not on items from the Nazi Party or the SS.

The Israeli government said in July that it was going to take a harder line on groups critical of its human-rights policies.

While not citing specifically Human Rights Watch and the Garlasco controversy, Ron Dermer, policy director for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said the government would devote "time and manpower to combating these groups." Dermer said that "every NGO [nongovernmental organization] that participates in this adds fuel to the fire and is serving the cause of Hamas."

Dermer made his remarks shortly after an Israeli organization called Breaking the Silence issued a booklet in which a group of Israeli soldiers testified about their experiences in the Gaza operation. The booklet challenged the Israeli military's practices during the operation, accusing the military of firing on targets that had no military purpose, firing phosphorus munitions toward populated areas, and killing civilians with small-arms fire.

A group of 10 Israeli rights groups protested in August that the government was attempting to "instill fear and silence or alarm vital organizations" that were engaging in free public discourse.

Cobban complains that the flap over Garlasco has drawn attention from something she says is far more important, the release on Tuesday of the Goldstone Commission report to the United Nations Human Rights Council.

That report found that both Palestinians and Israelis committed war crimes during the December 2008-January 2009 operation in the Gaza Strip. It accuses the Palestinians of war crimes for firing rockets into southern Israeli towns, and it accuses Israel's Defense Forces of war crimes for responding with disproportionate firepower and failing to avoid civilian deaths.

It also says that Israeli policies toward Palestinians in the Gaza Strip "could lead a competent court to find that the crime of persecution, a crime against humanity, has been committed."

Human Rights Watch was "a little slow," Cobban says, in suspending Garlasco while it investigated his connections to the world of Nazi memorabilia collectors. Now, she says, "they're in a better position to take part in the public discussion in this country on what our government should be doing with regard to the Goldstone report."

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