- Marc Garlasco had the title of “senior military analyst” at Human Rights Watch from 2003 until February or March 2010. Following the revelation of Garlasco’s obsessive collection of Nazi memorabilia and related web postings, he was suspended.
- In September, HRW pledged to conduct an investigation, but there is no evidence that this was undertaken, and the terms of Garlasco’s resignation remain secret.
- The basis for the claim that Garlasco had advanced military and technological “expertise” is unknown, beyond a seven-year period in which he was reportedly employed by the US Department of Defense.
- Between 2003 and 2009, Garlasco’s claimed expertise was central to numerous HRW reports accusing Israel of “war crimes” and other violations. These reports were generally directed by HRW’s Middle East and North Africa division, which is headed by ideologues who consistently target Israel.
- In these publications, Garlasco’s technical and military claims are characterized by speculation, inconsistencies, and errors.
- The 2004 Razing Rafah, which accused Israel of inventing reasons to justify the destruction of houses on the Gaza-Egypt border, relied heavily on Garlasco’s “technical and military expertise.” The main allegations have been shown to be unsubstantiated.
- In June 2006, Garlasco’s analysis was the basis of highly publicized condemnations of the IDF in the “Gaza Beach Incident.” The HRW press releases and Garlasco’s statements were contradictory and reflected the use of “expertise” in order to justify biased political conclusions.
- Misleading allegations in Garlasco’s reports during the 2009 Gaza war further highlight his questionable claim of expertise in identification of weapons and other aspects of military analysis. Among the examples, the report alleging IDF drone use in “war crimes” cites implausible Palestinian claims to have heard warhead launches.
- This record underscores HRW’s bias and lack of credibility, particularly on Israel, as noted by founder Robert Bernstein, and the need for an independent examination of each of the reports which relied on Garlasco’s claims.
Marc Garlasco joined Human Rights Watch in 2003 as a “senior military analyst” and was employed by the organization until his resignation in February 2010. The HRW website listed Garlasco, whose position was in the Emergencies Division, as an expert in “battle damage assessment, military operations, and interrogations.” 1 Garlasco’s professional qualifications remain obscure: he reportedly spent seven years working in various positions in the Pentagon, but this cannot be independently confirmed. Garlasco claimed to have left the U.S. Department of Defense during the Iraq war after orchestrating the failed attack on “Chemical Ali,” which killed 17 civilians.2
After joining HRW in 2003, Garlasco was dispatched to conflict zones – particularly Israel – to write reports that had the appearance of technical and military expertise. During his tenure, Garlasco reflected and contributed to HRW’s highly disproportionate focus on Israel, and unjustified condemnations of responses to terror attacks. This double standard, led by Sarah Leah Whitson and Joe Stork, is clearly reflected in the biased agenda of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) division, as shown in detailed and systematic NGO Monitor analyses.3
In September 2009, following revelation of his collection of Nazi paraphernalia, publication of a 430-page book on Flak badges,4 and postings on related websites using the moniker “Flak 88,” HRW announced that Garlasco had been suspended with pay, “pending an investigation.”5 HRW initially defended Garlasco and attacked critics by framing this hobby as a normal activity for a history buff, and explaining that his fascination with Nazi memorabilia stemmed from his personal family history. HRW’s statement declared: “This accusation is demonstrably false and fits into a campaign to deflect attention from Human Rights Watch’s rigorous and detailed reporting on violations of international human rights and humanitarian law by the Israeli government.”6 The HRW Press Office also posted numerous and identical responses on blogs,7 and in the Guardian (September 10, 2009), Program Director Iain Levine counterattacked: “The Israeli government is trying to eliminate the space for legitimate criticism of the conduct of the IDF, and this is the latest salvo in that campaign.”8
Garlasco responded in an op-ed (September 11, 2009) in the Huffington Post: “I’m a military geek, with an abiding interest not only in the medals I collect but in the weapons that I study and the shrapnel I analyze… to suggest it shows Nazi tendencies is defamatory nonsense, spread maliciously by people with an interest in trying to undermine Human Rights Watch’s reporting.”9
Following the suspension, many months passed without further information, and Garlasco’s name continued to be listed on HRW’s website, as reported by NGO Monitor. On March 4, 2010, the Jerusalem Post queried HRW officials, who responded by stating that “Human Rights Watch regretfully accepted Marc Garlasco’s resignation on February 15th.”10 On the same day as the Jerusalem Post query, Garlasco’s name was removed from the HRW website, but there was no official announcement or reference to the investigation promised in September.
Razing Rafah: The Façade of Technical and Military Expertise
In the period between 2004 and 2009, Garlasco was intensively involved in writing and publicizing HRW reports on Israel. He was the lead author of HRW’s October 2004 Razing Rafah report (edited under the direction of Sarah Leah Whitson). Garlasco’s supposed technical and military expertise was reflected in many allegations, including the central claim that “A number of less destructive alternatives exist for the effective detection and destruction of smuggling tunnels.”11 This was clearly false, as demonstrated by the failure to prevent such tunneling six years later, and long after Israel had withdrawn from Gaza.
The Razing Rafah report, based on Garlasco’s claims, marked a major escalation of HRW’s role in the political dimension of the conflict. The report was used to justify HRW’s participation in the Caterpillar boycott campaign, citing the claim that “the IDF has consistently exaggerated and mischaracterized the threat from smuggling tunnels to justify the demolition of homes.”12 Evidence inconsistent with this conclusion was excluded from the report.
The “Gaza Beach Incident”
After Israel withdrew from Gaza in August 2005, rocket attacks increased, as did Israeli responses. On June 9, 2006, Palestinian officials, NGOs and news media reported that seven or eight civilians, including a number of children, had been killed by an Israeli shell on a Gaza beach.13
The “Gaza Beach incident” was turned into a major media story14 (with video that was later shown to be fabricated).15 At the time, Garlasco was already in Gaza collecting information for HRW. On June 12, he held a press conference backing Palestinian claims, calling, as is standard practice, for an “independent international investigation” targeting Israel. His statement was largely based on what he called “forensic evidence,” which was provided by Palestinian “security officers,” as well as technological speculation and unverifiable “eyewitness reports.”16
To accompany Garlasco’s widely publicized allegations, HRW issued a lengthy news release (“Israel: Investigate Gaza Beach Killings Artillery Strike Probably Killed Palestinian Family”) repeating allegations that the evidence “overwhelmingly supports the allegations that the civilians were killed by artillery shells fired by the IDF.”17 Palestinian security officials were again cited as expert witnesses, while other evidence that did not support the indictment was excluded.
In three HRW press releases and numerous media interviews, Garlasco’s supposed military “expertise” played a central role. In the June 13 press statement, HRW claimed to have found “a large piece of unoxidized jagged shrapnel, stamped ‘155mm,’ which would be consistent with an artillery shell fired by the IDF’s M-109 Self-Propelled Artillery.”18 Another reference quoted a “Palestinian explosive ordnance disposal unit who investigated three craters on the beach,” and “General Salah Abu ‘Azzo, head of the Palestinian unit.” On June 16, in an interview in the Guardian, Garlasco again invoked his “forensic” expertise: “You have the crater size, the shrapnel, the types of injuries, their location on the bodies… I’ve been to hospital and seen the injuries. The doctors say they are primarily to the head and torso. That is consistent with a shell exploding above the ground, not a mine under it.”19
In the “Gaza Beach” campaign, HRW also repeated the standard claim dismissing Israeli investigations and demanding “an independent, impartial investigation” involving “external, international experts.” Using Garlasco’s “expertise,” the statements also invoked the rhetoric of international law, charging Israel with “indiscriminate” and “disproportionate attacks in which the civilian harm outweighs military necessity,” and failing to “distinguish between soldiers and civilians, targeting only the former.”
However, as additional information came to light, contradictions were found, and criticism of HRW’s shrill allegations grew, the factual foundation shifted. Garlasco now claimed that “the most likely cause [of the blast] was unexploded Israeli ordnance,”20 although this could also not be demonstrated. Earlier “forensic” claims related to injuries and crater size as providing proof “that the explosive charge came from the air,” were forgotten. But the third HRW press release, published on June 20, (although dated June 19) rolled back these admissions and returned to the original version.21 This record demonstrates that behind the “forensics,” Garlasco and HRW did not have a factual basis to back their allegations.
Gaza war (Dec 2008-Jan 2009)
In the aftermath of the Gaza war, Garlasco wrote and contributed to the HRW reports condemning Israel for alleged human rights violations. Rain of Fire,22 which charged Israel with use of white phosphorus (WP), was written by Garlasco and four co-authors. Garlasco’s military “expertise” was supplemented with unverifiable and often inconsistent Palestinian testimony.
As in Razing Rafah, HRW’s claims of malevolent intent and IDF war crimes were based on alleged technological alternatives, including the claim that “when it wanted an obscurant for its forces, the IDF had a readily available and non-lethal alternative to WP-smoke shells produced by an Israeli company.” Garlasco’s alleged expertise was contradicted again, in this case by Lt. Col. Raymond Lane, who was asked by the Goldstone mission to provide his “expert views on the technical characteristics of the weapons and ammunition reportedly used by the parties to the armed conflict in Gaza.”23 Lane testified that “the quality of smoke produced by white phosphorous is superb. You will never match it. So, if you want real smoke for real coverage, white phosphorous will give it to you.”24
In Rain of Fire, Garlasco also criticized the IDF’s choice of using air bursts rather than ground bursts; this analysis also suggested very limited knowledge. (Ground bursts disperse WP over a smaller radius, but can cause more injuries to individuals in this radius.) The decision clearly depends on the military situation at the time, including force deployments, weather conditions, the purpose for which WP is to be used, etc. In making his allegations, Garlasco could not have had knowledge of these factors.
Another Garlasco report, Precisely Wrong (June 2009),25 which alleged Israeli “war crimes” resulting from the alleged use of Spike missiles fired from drones in Gaza, was similarly flawed. A number of experts unconnected with HRW immediately noted the major technical errors in Garlasco’s claims. For example, there is no independent confirmation of Garlasco’s identification of Spike missile fragments.26 Asked how it was possible to know that the Spikes in question had been fired by drones rather than helicopters or other platforms, Garlasco cited Palestinians who said they had seen or heard the pilotless planes. But according to Robert Hewson, editor of Jane’s Air-Launched Weapons, “The launch of a missile at that altitude would likely elude the naked eye.” And retired British army colonel Richard Kemp, who, in contrast to Garlasco, had real battlefield experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, commented: “In a battlefield, in an urban environment, with all the other noises, it’s certainly more than likely you would not hear something five miles away.”27 These refutations of Garlasco’s claims are the strongest demonstration of the absence of real military expertise, which was the basis for most of HRW’s condemnations of Israel in this period.
Although Garlasco no longer works with HRW, the organization’s reliance on his supposed “military expertise” raises alarming questions about the credibility of the numerous reports to which he contributed, particularly those focusing on Israel. His belated resignation underscores HRW’s credibility problem, and the need for a systematic and independent examination of the reports and claims based on his analysis.
- HRW, “Profile – Marc Garlasco, Senior Military Analyst, Emergencies,” accessed October 3, 2009, http://www.hrw.org/en/bios/marc-garlasco
- http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,617279,00.html; White, Josh. “The Man on Both Sides of Air War Debate,” Washington Post, February 13, 2008, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/02/12/AR2008021202692.html.
- Experts or Ideologues: Systematic Analysis of Human Rights Watch, NGO Monitor Monograph Series, September 2009.
- Garlasco, Marc E. 2008. The Flak Badges of the Luftwaffe and Heer. Richmond, Michigan: B&D Publishing, 2008.
- John Schwartz, “Rights Group Assailed for Analyst’s Nazi Collection,” New York Times, September 14, 2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/15/world/middleeast/15nazi.html.
- HRW News Release. “Protecting Civilians: Military Expert Marc Garlasco,” September 11, 2009, http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2009/09/11/protecting-civilians.
- HRW also posted a wave of “sockpuppet” messages online. (A sockpuppet is an identity used for purposes of deception within online communities.) Identical postings that resolved to HRW.org’s IP address were posted under obscure monikers such as “Tom K.” and “Dash F.” The text read: “This is total nonsense. It’s malicious and defamatory and borderline libelous, to be honest. The mere fact that someone collects a certain kind of military artifact does not make them loyal to what those artifacts represent.”
- Levine, Iain. “Human Rights Watch investigator accused of collecting Nazi memorabilia,” Guardian UK, September 10, 2009, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/sep/10/human-rights-watch-israel-nazi.
- Garlasco, Marc. “Responding to Accusations,” Huffington Post, September 11, 2009, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/marc-garlasco/human-rights-watch-invest_b_284075.html.
- Selig, Abe. “After ‘Post’ query, HRW says top military analyst quit,” March 5, 2010, www.jpost.com/International/Article.aspx http://www.jpost.com/International/Article.aspx?id=170313.
- HRW Report. “Razing Rafah,” October 17, 2004, http://www.hrw.org/en/reports/2004/10/17/razing-rafah.
- From January to May 2006 inclusive, 347 rockets fired from Gaza fell on Israel. See Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, July 21, 2009.
- BBC News. “Palestinians killed on Gaza beach,” BBC News, June 9, 2006, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/5065008.stm.
- Palestinian NGOs, Miftah (headed by Hanan Ashrawi), the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) and Al-Mezan issued press statements condemning Israel and highlighting video “evidence” (http://www.pmw.org.il/asx/PMW_Shooting2006.asx) provided by Palestinian authorities, which was found to have been manipulated.
- Quotes from UPI report on press conference, accessed June 2006, previously viewed at http://www.upi.com/NewsTrack/view.php?StoryID=20060613-110607-8441r.
- HRW News Release. “Israel: Investigate Gaza Beach Killings,” June 13, 2006, http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2006/06/13/israel-investigate-gaza-beach-killings.
- McGreal, Chris. “Who Really Killed Huda Ghalia’s Family?” The Guardian, June 16, 2006, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2006/jun/16/israel.
- Katz, Yaakov and Judy Siegel-Itzkovich. “Gaza Beach Blast Victim Wakes,” Jerusalem Post, June 19, 2006, http://fr.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1150355528023&pagename=JPost/JPArticle/ShowFull
- HRW News Release. 2006. Israel: Gaza Beach Investigation Ignores Evidence. June 19, 2006, http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2006/06/19/israel-gaza-beach-investigation-ignores-evidence.
- HRW Report. “Rain of Fire,” March 25, 2009, http://www.hrw.org/en/reports/2009/03/25/rain-fire-0.
- UN Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, “Public Hearings-Geneva, Afternoon Session of 7/7/2009, Unofficial Transcript,” http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/specialsession/9/docs/2009.07.07PM_Session.doc.
- HRW Report. “Precisely Wrong: Gaza Civilians Killed by Israeli Drone-Launched Missiles,” June 30, 2009, http://www.hrw.org/en/reports/2009/06/30/precisely-wrong.
- Williams, Dan. “Human Rights Watch accuses Israel over Gaza drones,” Reuters, June 30, 2009, http://www.reuters.com/article/newsMaps/idUSTRE55T37A20090630.