In which the explanation given by HRW for the Pentagon military planner/collector of Nazi memorabilia on its payroll is shown to be a disingenuous cover story
Jonathan Foreman of The Times (London) has written an outstanding report and analysis, “Nazi Scandal Engulfs Human Rights Watch.” Last year, a prominent Human Rights Watch (HRW) staff member, Marc Garlasco was forced to resign his post after it was reported that he is an avid collector of Nazi-era military memorabilia.
The Times article masterfully weaves together several multiple related story threads, all of which help to explain not just the Garlasco story, itself, but also why HRW has lost so much of its credibility as a human rights organization. I spotted three story threads, but there’s probably others as well:
Thread 1: the role that Marc Garlasco played within HRW and what that tells us about the organization. Prior to taking a job with HRW, Garlasco helped the U.S. military select targets in Iraq, where he made numerous mistakes that led to civilian deaths.
According to The Times, HRW was happy to have Garlasco around because of his mitiltary expertise, but also because he helped to diversify their office culture. In essense, he was their token gun nut. ...
September 11, 2009
NEW YORK - I'm used to taking heat for my job as a military analyst for Human Rights Watch, because our findings that this government or that armed group has violated the laws of war frequently provoke accusations that we're biased or siding with the enemy.
Now I've achieved some blogosphere fame, not for the hours I've spent sifting through the detritus of war, visiting hospitals, interviewing victims and witnesses and soldiers, but for my hobby (unusual and disturbing to some, I realize) of collecting Second World War memorabilia associated with my German grandfather and my American great-uncle. I'm a military geek, with an abiding interest not only in the medals I collect but in the weapons that I study and the shrapnel I analyze. I think this makes me a better investigator and analyst. And to suggest it shows Nazi tendencies is defamatory nonsense, spread maliciously by people with an interest in trying to undermine Human Rights Watch's reporting.
I work to expose war crimes and the Nazis were the worst war criminals of all time. But I'm now in the bizarre and painful situation of having to deny accusations that I'm a Nazi.
The Second World War turned my grandfather, who was conscripted and served on an anti-aircraft battery, into a staunch pacifist. He couldn't understand why I went to work at the Pentagon, where I was on 9/11, of learning from his experiences - the horrific stories he told me late in life of seeing the bodies he shot down fall out of the sky. It wasn't until he died that I really took his lessons to heart, and decided to use my military expertise to try to lessen the horrors of war.
So I left my government career and joined Human Rights Watch to use my expertise in weapons systems and targeting to push soldiers to protect civilians, to uphold the laws born in the ashes of the Second World War. My first investigation took me to the bomb craters in Iraq and brought me face-to-face with the survivors and other victims of the strikes I helped plan. It was a traumatic experience and provoked much soul-searching. I thought often of my grandfather.
As an American child, I learned that Germans were the bad guys; as I got to know my grandfather, I realized that not all Germans were Nazis. Because of him, and my great-uncle, a gunner on an American B-17 bomber, I developed an interest in German and American war memorabilia, and I wrote a long monograph, published last year, on German Second World War Air Force and anti-aircraft medals.
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. 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. Thousands of military history buffs collect war paraphernalia because we want to learn from the past. But I should have realized that images of the Second World War German military are hurtful to many.
I deeply regret causing pain and offense with a handful of juvenile and tasteless postings I made on two websites that study Second World War artifacts (including American, British, German, Japanese and Russian items). Other comments there might seem strange and even distasteful, but they reflect the enthusiasm of the collector, such as gloating about getting my hands on an American pilot's uniform.
I told my daughters, as I wrote in my book, that
September 10, 2009
On September 8, Omri Ceren (MereRhetoric) published a fully documented report clearly showing that Human Rights Watch’s “senior military expert” and coauthor of numerous reports condemning Israel, Marc Garlasco, is an avid collector of Nazi memorabilia. This revelation follows NGO Monitor’s research report on HRW’s pattern of false and unsupported claims in relation to Israel, and lack of professionalism and anti-Israel activism among some HRW officials, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa division.
In the wake of the Garlasco revelations, HRW has issued several defenses  which claim Garlasco is a “student of military history”; that he also collects US AirForce memorabilia; and that the objects involved are “not from the Nazi Party or the SS, as falsely alleged.”
HRW’s justifications of this deeply disturbing revelation ignores the core moral issues, particularly given Garlasco’s central role in HRW’s extensive condemnations of Israel (see list and links below), which exploit the values of universal human rights. Garlasco is deeply immersed in the world of Nazi memorabilia, demonstrating HRW’s total insensitivity to the implications of relying on a “military expert” who flaunts Nazi symbolism to lead the demonization of Israel.
This issue adds to the other factors that demonstrate the urgent need for a detailed and independent investigation of HRW’s publications (particularly on Israel), employment practices, decision making process, agenda setting, methodologies, and bias.
HRW’s defense seeks to justify Garlasco’s behavior by claiming,
According to HRW’s response,
HRW’s defense also claims that Garlasco collects
Most disturbingly, Garlasco’s screen moniker is Flak88. While this is the name of a German anti-aircraft gun (alarming on its own), the number 88 is a code for “Heil Hitler” and is used by neo-Nazis to identify themselves. The same screen name, Flak 88, was adopted by a poster at the white power website, stormfront.org. It is reasonable to conclude that Garlasco would have been fully aware of this symbolism when he chose this name. He even uses it on his license plate (a practice which is banned in Germany) and as a screen name on websites unrelated to his Nazi collection.
It is bizarre enough for a “human rights” activist to choose the name of a gun as an internet screen name and for his car license plate. Coupled with the neo-Nazi iconography, however, the adoption of “Flak88” as Garlasco’s alter ego is evidence at the very least of highly questionable moral judgment.
HRW explains that Garlasco
Nazi memorabilia sites frequently use the cover of “military history”, invoke family histories, and claim that participants also collect Allied memorabilia. In a situation analogous to the Garlasco case, one poster on a related internet site suggests ways a fellow poster could overcome criticism of collecting Axis memorabilia:
…I decided that the best way to do it is to show that you are a "military historian" and in that fact show that you not only collect German and Japanese militaria, but American, British or anything generally related to World War II. That shows that you are interested in the conflict rather than "just the bad guys".
If you are like me, then you started collecting after receiving some individual pieces of militaria from a grandfather or vet. I think making a point of starting to research these artificats and hearing the vets stories is what got you interested in the hobby is also a very innocent and honest way to give a positive outlook to our collecting.
Regarding Garlasco’s 430-page opus, HRW defense declares that “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.’” Was this statement a calculated move precisely for this situation? Indeed, prior to publishing, Garlasco used the site www.germancombatawards.com to post the following query:
Flak88: So I am trying to figure out what to do. My book is clsoe to done, but I am not sure if I should put my name on it. If folks at work found out I might very well lose my job. That is the reality, so don't dwell on it - ok? But this is a small group of people - should I worry? And shouldn't I stand up for myself? And if I use a psyeudonym isn't that worse, like I am trying to hide something?
A poster named “Skip” responds:
Skip: Put your name on it and F**k ´em.
I don´t think theres much chance of anybody outside of this hobby just happening to pick such a book up. Of course, if they google you it will probably turn up but hey, like everybody said, its a reference book and not a political work.
Don´t forget in the foreword to mention how terrible war is and that your book is to remind people of this fact. Yes, WE all know this but a lot of non-historically minded people might not understand otherwise. [emphasis added]
In HRW’s version, Garlasco is
“Even a quick search of this guys name "Omri Ceren" will reveal that he is a hard core Jewish extremist, hyper sensitive to any issue even remotely concerning the Jew state, its history & population.”
Garlasco’s publisher, Dietrich Maerz, posted the following: “Here we go! The next step in our hobby. History doesn't count. Research doesn't count. Seriousness doesn't count. What counts is: If you attack Israel even by word or by telling some uncomfortable truth one will dig and one will find that you are a 'Nazi’.”
HRW’s attempt to characterize Garlasco as a serious military historian and to delete the obvious moral implications regarding someone so closely involved in serial condemnations of Israel is offensive and intolerable. But HRW has a long history of totally distorting the qualifications of its senior “military expert”. HRW lists Garlasco as an author or co-author of several reports that frequently invoke claims of “war crimes” and “violations of international law” – high complex issues in which Garlasco has no expertise. And Garlasco’s reports and media interviews include numerous examples of technological assertions and opinions on forensic examination of battle scenes and corpses for which there is no evidence. There is nothing in the record showing Garlasco received any training in forensics.
On this scale, HRW’s multiple condemnations of Israel based on Garlasco’s allegations have done even greater moral damage than the attempt to defend Garlasco’s Nazi fetish, which primarily reflects an extreme insensitivity. The use of Garlasco’s biased and false accusations of war crimes, based on claimed technical expertise and the ability to conduct scientific forensic examinations, is libelous.
HRW’s claims are an insult to the intelligence of its readers and intellectually dishonest. The Board members and donors clearly have the obligation to initiate a high level independent professional investigation of HRW with the goal of a complete reorganization which will end the abuse and exploitation of universal human rights.
 The following response from HRW was posted in the Comments sections of several blogs reporting on the Garlasco story:
Several blogs and others critical of Human Rights Watch have suggested that Marc Garlasco, Human Rights Watch’s longtime senior military advisor, is a Nazi sympathizer because he collects German (as well as American) military memorabilia. This accusation is demonstrably false and fits into a campaign to deflect attention from Human Rights Watch’s rigorous and detailed reporting on violations of international human rights and humanitarian law by the Israeli government. Garlasco has co-authored several of our reports on violations of the laws of war, including in Afghanistan, Georgia, and Iraq, as well as by Israel, Hamas, and Hezbollah.
Garlasco has never held or expressed Nazi or anti-Semitic views.
Garlasco’s grandfather was conscripted into the German armed forces during the Second World War, like virtually all young German men at the time, and served as a radar operator on an anti-aircraft battery. He never joined the Nazi Party, and later became a dedicated pacifist. Meanwhile, Garlasco’s great-uncle was an American B-17 crewman, who survived many attacks by German anti-aircraft gunners.
Garlasco own family’s experience on both sides of the Second World War has led him to collect military items related to both sides, including American 8th Air Force memorabilia and German Air Force medals and other objects (Many military historians, and others with an academic interest in the Second World War, including former and active-duty US service members, collect memorabilia from that era.
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
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.
In response to inquiries by Israeli newspaper, Ma’ariv, HRW’s Director of Communications, Emma Daly, brushed off the accusations, claiming Garlasco is merely a “student of military history.”
 A fellow poster replied to Garlasco's comment, “Now now, HRW boy, don't go overboard!”
 Although HRW apparently considers Garlasco’s work to be of historical value, it has not mentioned this dimension on Garlasco’s bio on its website.