Friday, September 11, 2009

HRW Board Member Skewers Marc Garlasco--Again

In the midst of the discussion of Marc Garlasco's passionate interest in collecting Nazi memorabilia--while executing his duties as senior military analyst at Human Rights Watch--we should not forget that this is just part of a much larger problem at HRW.

Not that Garlasco's 'hobby' is not a problem--it is.

Helena Cobban, who sits on the Middle East Advisory Committee of Human Rights Watch, makes a comparison:

It would be like employing someone to do child-protection work by day who goes home and collects pictures of naked or suggestively-clad children by night. For allegedly "artistic purposes".

Furthermore, in response to those who claim that Garlasco's book is a historical work worthy of respect, Cobban responds:

Well, I'm not sure about Garlasco's record as a "serious military historian." By all accounts, his book, title "The Flak Badges", seems to be an aid for collectors of such badges, not a work of serious military history.

And then Cobban gets to the meat of the matter--Garlasco's record at Human Rights Watch:

I also share some of the concerns his critics have voiced about the actual military expertise Garlasco brought to the job at HRW, when he moved there after having worked in the Pentagon for eight years. Between 1995 and 2003 he had various jobs as a civilian employee of the Pentagon, doing military intelligence work including some work on targeting US cruise missiles.

But as I noted on JWN last year (including here), he made some serious-- and very basic-- mistakes during the Russian-Georgian war in identifying which country various cluster-bomb remnants came from... Even more disturbingly, perhaps, the HRW powers-that-be were frustratingly slow in correcting the incorrect accusations he originally made against Russia on this score, which were used by all the political forces in the west that were trying to mobilize public and even perhaps military support for Georgia at the time...[emphasis added]

But that is not all that Cobban has to say about Garlasco--she is not through with him. Not by a long shot. In HRW's flawed 'Research' on Georgian cluster bombs, written in September 2008, Cobban goes to town:

  • "It turns out, though that the "research" in question was considerably less than expert or thorough, and that HRW's much-lauded lead "researcher" on this topic, Marc Garlasco, may have fallen victim-- or worse-- to a Georgian disinformation campaign."

  • "So Garlasco is still in good favor at HRW's New York headquarters, in spite of the clearly flawed nature of his earlier "documentation"?? And the two August reports about Russian use of cluster bombs remain in their original positions on the HRW website, with no clarificatory comment attached?"

  • Garlasco also considerably-- perhaps fatally-- undermines his own credibility by stating that the cluster bomb remnant in the photo is that of a "cluster bomb dropped by Russian aircraft", since the remnant in question not only isn't Russian but also was not dropped by any aircraft, since its fins have the distinctive curving of the 'pop-put' fins of an artillery-launched bomb.

  • "Garlasco seems guilty of, at the very least, considerable professional slipshoddiness as a researcher. And how could his superiors at HRW have accepted-- and agreed to publish-- as "evidence" for his claims, just a few photos whose provenance, timing, and other attributes have not been thoroughly checked and cross-checked? The professional slipshoddiness at HRW goes considerably higher than just Marc Garlasco. And it also extends to those media outlets that just reproduced all his/HRW's arguments and claims about "Russian" use of cluster bombs-- for which we still have no actual evidence, at all-- without interrogating and trying to understand the extremely flimsy nature of the "evidence" he was using."

  • "Was Marc Garlasco used, or did he connive in the Georgian disinformation? Either way, why is he still apparently regarded by HRW-NY as a credible researcher on these matters?"

Cobban's conclusion flows logically from her argument:

This time around, HRW needs to assemble a high-level team of credible people-- not including Marc Garlasco-- to investigate the performance of the whole organization regarding these accusations of Russia's use of cluster bombs, and other aspects of its work during the Russian-Georgian war, and then in a timely manner to issue a public report on what was done well and what was done badly during this work. This report should also contain concrete recommendations regarding methodology and internal procedures, to ensure that slipshod and potentially inflammatory work like that done by Marc Garlasco does not appear in the organization's name again.

Some questions still remain unanswered:

o Why is Marc Garlasco still employed by Human Rights Watch?
o What methodology and procedures have been instituted so that Garlasco's mistakes are not repeated?
o Will past investigations by Garlasco now be re-examined in order to evaluate whether they are similarly flawed?
Most significantly, with the results of the Goldstone Commission on Operation Cast Lead soon to be released, what methodology and procedures has Goldstone--a former member of the board of Human Rights Watch--instituted in order to avoid Garlasco's and HRW's past mistakes?

For an examination of cases of bias and sloppiness by Garlasco and Human Rights Watch, see:
a. Gaza Beach Incident 2006 (Reliance on eyewitnesses with little credibility and contradictory accounts publicized with certainty by HRW “military expert” Marc Garlasco)

b. 2006 Lebanon War (
Disproportionate condemnation of Israel, demonization of self-defense, and self-contradictory reporting based on eyewitnesses )

c. “Reuters Cameraman” Incident – April 2008 (
Quick condemnation based on Palestinian witnesses, vilification of IDF and no follow-up)

d. The Gaza War, December 2008-January 2009 (
Leading the NGO campaign to delegitimize defensive actions, calls for “lawfare” and publication of inflated casualty figures)

e. The Durban Strategy
(Active participant in strategy using human rights claims to advance the “complete and total isolation of Israel...the imposition of …comprehensive sanctions and embargoes, the full cessation of all links …between all states and Israel.”)
The fact that Garlasco's misjudgments are not limited to Israel is no comfort.
We will soon see if these biases appear in the Goldstone report as well.

Crossposted on Soccer Dad

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1 comment:

Soccer Dad said...

I'm not at all convinced by Cobban. Did he make mistakes about the cluster munitions? Based on what I could find a HRW's website, he was right, but later investigation showed that Georgia also employed such munitions. It wasn't that he was wrong, but premature. Even at that it seems that Georgia's use of cluster munitions was aimed at Russian troops.

Remember Cobban roots for America's enemies. (And what does she know about munitions.)