The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

On HRW's Marc Garlasco

The Guardian has picked up a story making the rounds in Israel about HRW's military researcher:

Tension between the Israeli government and Human Rights Watch, the international body that has been critical of the Israeli military's tactics in Gaza, has intensified over revelations that one of the watchdog's investigators is a collector of Nazi memorabilia.

Marc Garlasco, a former Pentagon intelligence officer, has reported for Human Rights Watch on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the two Israeli wars in Lebanon and Gaza. He is described as the watchdog's senior military expert.

It has now emerged that he is also an avid collector of German and American wartime memorabilia, including awards badges handed out to soldiers working in the anti-aircraft Flak units. He is the author of a 430-page book on the Flak badges of the Wehrmarcht, and a regular contributor to two internet bulletin boards used by military collectors under his moniker Flak 88.

One may discuss the worthiness of military memorabilia, but I very much doubt this has anything to do with Garlasco's personal politics. I've known quite a few ex-soldiers and war journalists with obsession for military gear over the years, and most would not hurt a fly, never mind being admirers of the Nazis. Hundreds of people get into the geeky hobby of collecting medals, guns, and other memorabilia. That Nazi stuff is particularly prized is hardly surprising considering how glamorized they've become in movies since WW2 (the aesthetics, not the politics). My own grandfather, who fought (for the US) from the Normandy landings to the liberation of the concentration camps in Germany and the race to Berlin, kept a few trophies from SS officers. A few years ago I remember he gave my father a SS knife. While it looks cool, it's not displayed in the house (especially since so many people in the family suffered so much during the war, were fighting the Nazis, etc.)

Anyway, the point of all this is to say while it appears clear from the above-linked article that Garlasco is not a Nazi sympathizer or some kind of right-wing militia man, I do know the following about him. I knew many reporters who covered the Gaza War that said, time and time again and separately, that Garlasco was an essential source of information on the hostilities. If you remember, international media were not allowed into Gaza from the Israeli side (and not until towards the end of the war from the Egyptian side) and many reporters gathered on a hill near the territory to observe the bombing campaign. It was also there that Israel's PR people would brief journalists. Garlasco spent much time there, using his military expertise to provide instant assessments of the types of weapons being used by the Israelis. He could immediately recognized the smoke patterns of some bombs as white phosphorus, becoming a key source in the now-confirmed used this weapon, which should not be used in populated areas. This is just one example of how someone with Garlasco's background can be incredibly useful to counter-act the propaganda of the IDF.

It seems that some Israelis are aware of this fact, and are now trying to paint his hobby as some kind of evidence of anti-Semitism and Nazi-worship. Typical tactics from the people who have put HRW under tremendous pressure because of its reporting on war crimes during Israel's Operation Cast Lead.