Human Rights Watch Responds:

It's only sporting to publish the response HRW's press office has sent regarding its Nazi memorabilia obsessed military analyst, Marc Garlasco [UPDATE: I think it's also fair to point out that the response, not surprisingly from HRW, is at best disingenuous. For example, it describes Garlasco's 400+ page book on German World War II "Flak" badges as "a monograph on the history of German Air Force and Army anti-aircraft medals," leaving out the World War II part.]

Several blogs and others critical of Human Rights Watch have suggested that Marc Garlasco, Human Rights Watch's longtime senior military advisor, is a Nazi sympathizer because he collects German (as well as American) military memorabilia. 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. Garlasco has co-authored several of our reports on violations of the laws of war, including in Afghanistan, Georgia, and Iraq, as well as by Israel, Hamas, and Hezbollah.

Garlasco has never held or expressed Nazi or anti-Semitic views.

Garlasco's grandfather was conscripted into the German armed forces during the Second World War, like virtually all young German men at the time, and served as a radar operator on an anti-aircraft battery. He never joined the Nazi Party, and later became a dedicated pacifist. Meanwhile, Garlasco's great-uncle was an American B-17 crewman, who survived many attacks by German anti-aircraft gunners.

Garlasco own family's experience on both sides of the Second World War has led him to collect military items related to both sides, including American 8th Air Force memorabilia and German Air Force medals and other objects (not from the Nazi Party or the SS, as falsely alleged). Many military historians, and others with an academic interest in the Second World War, including former and active-duty US service members, collect memorabilia from that era.

Garlasco is the author of a monograph on the history of German Air Force and Army anti-aircraft medals and a contributor to websites that promote serious historical research into the Second World War (and which forbid hate speech). In the foreword he writes of telling his daughters that "the war was horrible and cruel, that Germany lost and for that we should be thankful."

To imply that Garlasco's collection is evidence of Nazi sympathies is not only absurd but an attempt to deflect attention from his deeply felt efforts to uphold the laws of war and minimize civilian suffering in wartime. These falsehoods are an affront to Garlasco and thousands of other serious military historians.

And here (see below) is "serious military historian" Garlasco hanging out in his favorite "Iron Cross" sweatshirt, you know, the one that all the serious military historians wear, but that everyone thinks is a biker shirt (a screenshot from the German Combat Awards website)

After Garlasco posted this picture, the following dialogue ensued

Skip: Love the sweatshirt Mark. Not one I could wear here in germany though (well I could but it would be a lot of hassle)

Garlasco: Everyone thinks it is a biker shirt!

Skip: Yeh, were you come from but imagine walking around in Berlin with "das Eisene Kreuz" written across your cheat. Either you get beaten to pulp by a group of rampaging Turks or the police arrest you on suspicion of being a Nazi.

UPDATE: By the way, I don't suggest that Garlasco is a Nazi sympathizer--as noted in my previous post, lots of people collect Nazi stuff for innocuous reasons. [Several readers have emailed me about the significance of the Iron Cross. As weird as it is to walk around in an Iron Cross sweatshirt, without the WWII-era swastika it's not a banned Nazi symbol in Germany. Indeed it was revived, in a denazified version, as the symbol of the German armed forces in 1957. However, the West German government stopped awarding Iron Cross medals after WWII--thanks Wikipedia! The Iron Cross medal, which the shirt seems to allude to, is still widely associated with the Nazi era in Germany. I take it that "Skip" thinks that walking around in Germany with an Iron Cross shirt that says "das Eisene Kreuz" is taken as a reference to the medal, not the modern German armed forces, which would also make sense for a medal collector like Garlasco.]

But Garlasco is much more than a casual hobbyist [contrary to HRW's release, there is no indication that Garlasco is an avid collector, in general, of American and German military stuff, as opposed specifically to WWII era German military medals, on which he wrote a 430 page book, and other WWII German stuff], and I think it's a rather strange obsession for a human rights investigator who spends much of his time investigating Israel for HRW. Strange, first, because human rights activists aren't typically obsessed with collecting mementoes of Nazi war achievements. As one blogger wrote, it's like an animal rights activist avidly collecting vintage furs. There's nothing inherently wrong, by most lights, with collecting such furs, but it's not the kind of thing you'd expect an animal rights activist to find enjoyable. Not to mention that in Garlasco's case, you wind up hanging around with the type of people who casually refer to "rampaging Turks" and make not-so-oblique references to their frustration at having to obey laws banning them from wearing Nazi regalia; or, as I saw on one memorabilia forum defending Garlasco, with people who refer to Israel as the "Jew country."

And strange because one would think that HRW, under fire for years for its anti-Israel bias, would not want to hire someone with this rather strange avocation given the obvious p.r. implications--all HRW really has, after all, is its reputation. But then again, if HRW was concerned about its reputation for objectivity, it would start by not hiring pro-Palestinian activists (and no pro-Israel activists) to run and staff its Middle East division. [Put differently, I think HRW poobahs think that being hostile to Israel is an objective position, one that any reasonable person would share.] Solomania has much more.

UPDATE: Garlasco himself was apparently aware of the incongruity of his obsession. "Skip" wrote that "I remember you asking about using a psydonym [sic] before your book was published. Using your real name it really was only a matter of time before something like this happened."