John Richardson’s passionate defense of his friend Marc Garlasco (“Why Is This Good Man Getting Hung Out to Dry?", October 13, 2009) paints him as the tragically misunderstood “good guy” who is being “destroyed” by a bunch of “extremists.” Beyond the question of whether being suspended with pay really constitutes getting “hung out to dry”, many of Richardson’s claims are entirely inaccurate, while some are merely offensive.
The assertion that “NGO Monitor has decided to try to destroy Marc Garlasco — not to argue with him or dispute his statistics, but to destroy him personally” is clearly false. NGO Monitor’s research has systematically shown that numerous claims in Human Rights Watch’s publications and statements on Israel are inaccurate, contradictory, incomplete, distorted, and/or biased. Garlasco was involved in many of these. From Rafah (2004), Gaza Beach (2006), Lebanon (2006) and the drone allegations (2009), his analyses have relied on decidedly dubious “evidence.” Before Richardson rushed to get his emotional defense into print, he might have contacted NGO Monitor to learn more about Garlasco’s professional shortcomings.
Indeed, since 2003 when Garlasco joined HRW, the title of "senior military analyst", and the credibility this imparted were justified on the basis of his seven years in the U.S. defense establishment, where he apparently filled numerous positions. In contrast, 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 reports he has co-authored at HRW. In fact, the available biographical data on Garlasco’s career prior to HRW is consistent with the view that his expertise falls far short of 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, and the credibility of his analyses. (In Garlasco’s version, he was involved in “interrogat[ing] prisoners…and chart[ing] the coordinates for the bombing campaign against Saddam Hussein in the early days of the [Iraq] war.” As “chief of high value targeting,” he was responsible for the deaths of “a couple of hundred civilians at least,” and without killing any of the targets – this would make him a war criminal, but not much of an expert on weapons and technology.)
Richardson offensively accuses me of getting a “taste of blood” after learning about Garlasco’s “Nazi thing”, and his claims regarding NGO Monitor’s detailed research are wrong. After we uncovered the highly problematic nature of Garlasco’s work at HRW, a dedicated blogger exposed the details of his obsessive collection of Nazi memorabilia and sickening (not merely “goofy”) statements about them. At NGO Monitor, we showed that this disturbing information was linked to the other alarming practices at HRW, including a fundraising dinner in Saudi Arabia in which Israel served as the main course. Our recent report, “Experts or Ideologues? A Systematic Analysis of HRW’s Focus on Israel” (http://www.ngo-monitor.org/article/experts_or_ideologues_systematic_analysis_of_human_rights_watch) calls attention to the backgrounds of other HRW staffers, whose ideological statements and activities make it clear that their work at HRW, at least when it comes to democracies like the US and Israel, is hardly as impartial and noble as they insist. On this basis, we urge Human Rights Watch to undertake an independent, impartial investigation of their hiring practices.
Many human rights advocates have families and enjoy hobbies. But, to the best of our knowledge, no one else in this or similar fields collects Nazi memorabilia. Does it bear repeating that it is more than a bit strange for a “human rights” activist to idolize swastika-adorned medals and Nazi soldiers? And how many other moral campaigners use the name of a gun and the symbol for “Heil Hitler” as an alias?
Even if Garlasco was as “good”, “brave” and “fair-minded” as his friend John Richardson suggests, this does not make Garlasco’s claims credible. It also does not turn a repugnant obsession into a healthy hobby. Garlasco’s fetish for prizes awarded to history’s most infamous human rights violators, and the consistent lack of credibility in his reports, do great damage to HRW and to the goal of promoting universal human rights.
Professor Gerald Steinberg
President, NGO Monitor