Experts or Ideologues? Mark Garlasco
The references for this article are available here.
Marc Garlasco is the “senior military analyst” in HRW’s Emergencies Division, following seven years serving in various roles with the Pentagon that include senior intelligence analyst on Iraq, and performing target selection and damage assessment in Serbia and Iraq.
Garlasco’s statements are framed by a strong anti-military sentiment, which suddenly appeared in parallel with his departure from the Pentagon (White 2008), as well as emotional sympathy for the Palestinians as victims. He is an avid collector of Nazi paraphernalia – his internet moniker is “Flak 88” and he has published a book on the subject of Flak badges (see Garlasco 2008).
Although the level of his expertise and experience are obscure, Garlasco consistently presents himself and is presented as an “expert” on weapons and military technology. He has no combat experience, and his various Pentagon positions were apparently not concentrated on dealing with the details of weapons systems. This has not prevented him from making public statements and authoring reports that project the pretense of both a detailed knowledge of weapons such as unmanned drones and white phosphorous, and an understanding of the implications of their use under international law.
Garlasco led HRW’s high profile “investigation” into the Gaza Beach incident in 2006. Ignoring evidence that contradicted his conclusions, his reports and numerous press statements were based on unverifiable Palestinian allegations, “evidence” already handled by Palestinian police and his own technical analysis.42 Garlasco also headed HRW’s highly publicized examination of the use of white phosphorus during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza. As NGO activists were not allowed into Gaza during the conflict, Garlasco’s claims were made on the basis of observations from a “ridge only about a mile from the Gaza border” (HRW News Release Jan. 10, 2009). Moreover, Garlasco’s statements revealed his lack of expertise regarding white phosphorous as his claims contradict well-established facts regarding the munition.43
Garlasco was the lead author of a second report on the Gaza fighting, an investigation of Israeli use of drones to deliver precision-guided warheads. Like other reports, Precisely Wrong (HRW Report June 30, 2009) excludes the background of the conflict, including the Hamas attacks and the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit. The report isolates a single and relatively minor aspect of the fighting, in which the allegations against Israel are highlighted in a totally disproportionate manner. The report examines six incidents, charging the Israeli operators of the drones with responsibility for the deaths of 29 Palestinian civilians. The report relies on Palestinian claims of hearing and seeing weapons that are neither audible nor visible from the distances alleged, and technical assertions that cannot be verified about the nature of the weapon carried by this highly classified system (NGO Monitor Press Release June 30, 2009).44 Equally, the known practice of labeling combatants as civilians, such as the case of Nizar Rayan,45 requires claims of civilian deaths to be carefully examined.
To promote the condemnations of Israel in this publication, Garlasco used HRW media savvy to gain widespread public attention. With a few notable exceptions, including one Reuters report,46 his version and “military expertise” were accepted at face value, without probing its weak technical foundation and largely unsupported claims. His ability to marshal “expertise” and uncritically accept evidence, as support for predetermined conclusions has made Garlasco a critical part of HRW’s campaign of condemnation against Israel.