HRW analyst suspended over Nazi items

Garlasco probed after pro-Israel blog claims hobby shows obsession with "color, pageantry of Nazism."

marc garlasco 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
marc garlasco 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
NEW YORK - Following revelations that its senior military analyst collects Nazi memorabilia, Human Rights Watch has suspended the analyst, the group confirmed on Tuesday. Marc Garlasco will be suspended "pending an investigation," said Carroll Bogert, the group's associate director. The suspension was first reported by The New York Times, after a pro-Israel blog unearthed Garlasco's hobby, vindicating critics who questioned the integrity of his reports on the Middle East. "We do know he collects German and American World War II memorabilia, but we have questions as to whether we've learned everything we need to know," Bogert told The Associated Press. Bogert said Human Rights Watch stood by Garlasco's analysis, and he "has never expressed any anti-Semitic or neo-Nazi statements." But the Prime Minister's Office, which has taken a much more aggressive and proactive approach to NGOs under Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu than in the past, said the suspension was positive, but only "the tip of the iceberg." "It is positive that Human Rights Watch has decided to examine itself and has started investigating the behavior of one of its staff, behavior that would seem to be totally inappropriate for someone who works for a human rights organization," said Netanyahu spokesman Mark Regev, adding that he would urge the group to continue with such investigations and not stop at Garlasco. Regev asked whether it was logical that "a whole series of individuals who work in the Middle East department of Human Rights Watch have histories in partisan anti-Israeli politics." Specifically, he was referring to Sarah Leah Whitson director of the Middle East Division, who in the past was a board member of the New York chapter of the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee, and Joe Stork, who worked for the Middle East Research and Information Project, a group Regev described as "definitely a partisan anti-Israel organization." Regev deflected HRW's criticism that Israel was trying to divert critical attention by focusing on the group's staff, saying questions about who staffs the group were very relevant. "This is the real story, because Human Rights Watch is claiming to be objective, professional and credible, yet all the evidence points to the contrary," he said. Garlasco's collection was reported last week by the pro-Israel blog Mere Rhetoric, which connected the dots between Garlasco of Human Rights Watch and an online profile for a collector of Nazi memorabilia. "If both Garlascos are the same, Human Rights Watch certainly knows about his creepy hobby," the blog said. "Someone needs to explain why he keeps getting sent to the Middle East to write debunked report after debunked report, lest people suspect that he has an unseemly motive for his consistently anti-Israel errors." Garlasco quickly defended his hobby, describing himself as a "military geek" in an essay posted Friday on The Huffington Post site. "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. But critics of Human Rights Watch, which Israel has said disproportionately focuses on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and plays down rights violations in Arab countries, said revelations surrounding Garlasco underscore the anti-Israel bias in his reports. Garlasco contributed to Human Rights Watch reports that accused Israel of war crimes during last year's Operation Cast Lead. The Jerusalem-based organization NGO Monitor put out a statement saying the incident showed that there should be an examination of HRW's employment process, "and the credibility of the numerous reports and related activities in which he [Garlasco] played a central role." The organization further called into question Garlasco's credentials. "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," the statement said. NGO Monitor's director 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." "HRW's reliance on Garlasco's supposed 'expertise' raises enormous questions over the credibility of their activities," Steinberg said. "It reflects an organization that has consistently placed ideology above professionalism and universal human rights values."