Investigating HRWs Credibility in the Wake of the Garlasco Affair
Human Rights Watch’s reported suspension of its senior military expert, Marc Garlasco, is a belated recognition of the need for an independent investigation, not only of the individual involved, but more importantly, of HRW’s management. As an organization that claims to promote human rights, the moral implications of Garlasco’s central role in the campaigns against Israel (as documented in NGO Monitor’s 100-page study on HRW), and related issues should also be included.
Beyond Garlasco’s activities and statements surrounding his Nazi memorabilia collection, this investigation should examine the HRW employment process, and the credibility of the numerous reports and related activities in which he played a central role. In particular, this detailed and external review should examine the veracity of reports on Israel which Garlasco co-authored and presented at press conferences, and which included repeated condemnations using terms such as “war crimes”, “violation of international law”, etc. These allegations promoted the campaign to isolate Israel internationally, including the formation of the Goldstone mission. 
For a number of years, NGO Monitor has identified numerous claims in Garlasco’s reports and statements on Israel that were false, inaccurate, distorted, and biased. Since 2003, when Garlasco joined HRW, the title and role of “military expert”, and the credibility given to his allegations, were justified on the basis of his seven years in the US defense establishment, in which he claims to have fulfilled numerous positions.
NGO Monitor has not found any independent sources to support Garlasco’s claim to the type of expertise and knowledge of weapons and technology that are invoked in the various reports he has co-authored at HRW. Indeed, 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. This highlights the need to examine the process and decision making which led to Garlasco’s employment at HRW.
The specific HRW reports and statements which were based on Garlasco’‘s claim to military expertise include:
- Razing Rafah (October 2004)
- Gaza Beach (June 2006)
- Second Lebanon War
- Cluster Munitions (“Flooding South Lebanon”)
- Civilian Casualties (“Why They Died”)
- Gaza War
- White Phosphorous (“Rain of Fire”)
- Drones (“Precisely Wrong”)
As NGO Monitor analyses have demonstrated, each of these cases includes technical “evidence” which is clearly false. Examples include the claims regarding weapons systems discussed in the white phosphorous (“Rain of Fire”) and drone reports (“Precisely Wrong”) concerning the Gaza war, and the extensive discussion of tunneling detection technology in the 2004 report (“Razing Rafah”).
There are also many examples of entirely speculative claims in Garlasco’s reports for HRW in which technical language is used to support unverifiable testimony from Palestinians in Gaza, or people in Southern Lebanon who may have links to Hezbollah.
Analysis of HRW’s credibility and moral standing should also examine the roles of clearly biased individuals in the Middle East division, such as Joe Stork and Sarah Leah Whitson – both of whom were active in anti-Israel activities. Whitson led HRW fundraising efforts in Saudi Arabia, emphasizing allegations of Israeli war crimes (including Garalasco’s false claims on white phosphorous), and attacked critics (“pro-Israel pressure groups”).
NGO Monitor’s President, Prof 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, as shown in NGO Monitor’s systematic analyses. Evidence of this bias and its implications must also be included in this investigation of HRW’s Middle East activities and Garlasco’s role in this area.
HRW’s reliance on Garlasco’s supposed ‘expertise’ raises enormous questions over the credibility of their activities. It reflects an organization that has consistently placed ideology above professionalism and universal human rights values.”
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 Judge Goldstone was a member of the board of HRW until NGO Monitor noted the conflict of interest following his appointed to head the UNHRC inquiry, at which point he resigned.
Click here to view NGO Monitor’s report “Experts or Ideologues?”
Click here to view the NGO Monitor review of HRW’s 2008 activities
Other recent publications and reports by NGO Monitor include:
The Goldstone ‘Fact Finding’ Mission and the Role of Political NGOs – September 7, 2009
HRW’s ‘Rain of Fire’: Neither Thorough Nor Impartial – April 2, 2009
HRW and White Phosphorous: Condemn First, Correct (Maybe) Later – January 14, 2009
Amnesty and HRW Lebanon War Claims Discredited – Dec 28, 2006