14 September 2009

HRW - the Fact Factory

I have stumbled yesterday on an indignant message to The Guardian from one Carroll Bogert, Associate director, Human Rights Watch, New York. In this letter, Ms Bogert demonstrated a spirited defense of her colleague Marc Garlasco, who, apparently, is overly fond of Nazi memorabilia.

Our military expert, Marc Garlasco, collects German and American military memorabilia from the second world war, but that does not make him a Nazi sympathiser, as your headline implied. He has never expressed any pro-Nazi or antisemitic sentiments.
The letter in question was sent to The Guardian in response to an article Human Rights Watch investigator accused of collecting Nazi memorabilia, in which its author, Ed Pilkington, is recounting the story. I am not sure what part of that headline caused Ms Bogert such ire, this headline really doesn't "imply" anything aside of the "accusation" that Marc Garlasco is enamored of Nazi memorabilia. Which doesn't yet a Nazi make. In my book, it makes him a seriously disturbed character (I don't want to use the word "wanker", of course), but there are quite a few out there who share the same hobby. Of course, the choice of Flak88 nickname and other idiosyncrasies Mr Garlasco displays indicate a bit more than a harmless wank collector, but let's leave the whole story for later, since it's not the main point of this post.

The main point is to display an example of amazing agility of HRW as a fact gathering machine (which image HRW tries to propagate by all means). Here it comes, in Ms Bogert's own words:
The fact that the Israeli foreign ministry is spreading such ad hominem attacks against him should have been a warning sign, not a green light to publish.
I've read the Pilkington's article quite carefully, I believe. It's a bit too pompous to my taste, and the opening sentence "Tension between the Israeli government and Human Rights Watch, the international body that has been critical of the Israeli military's tactics in Gaza, has intensified over revelations that one of the watchdog's investigators is a collector of Nazi memorabilia." is a misleading one, since nowhere does Pilkington prove that "tension" between the two proponents is related to or intensified by Garlasco's personality. In any case, he being a loyal Guardian scribe, Pilkington's sympathies are clearly not on the side of Israeli officialdom.

But to Ms Bogert the article provides sufficient background to declare as a fact that it's Israeli foreign ministry that spreads the "ad hominem" attacks on the poor blighter. How does it follow from Pilkingtons' article (or from any other source) is absolutely unclear. Indeed, Pilkington points to several sources of the Garlasco story: Omry of Mere Rhetoric, colleague Elder of Elder of Ziyon and NGO Monitor. None of the above belong to or are financed by foreign ministry. Although Omri, being a student of rhetoric, may see himself as a future candidate for the post of FM (deity knows, he will do much better than the current walking mishap)...

Anyhow, to Ms Bogert it's a clear and unequivocal fact. To me it's a clear and unequivocal indication of the HRW mindset and the ways all kinds of input are processed by HRW to become facts... no wonder there is bad blood between Israelis of all kind (foreign ministry included) and HRW.

Normally I would pass over the (indubitably deviant) personality of Marc Garlasco, restricting myself to a juicy ad hominem or two, but curiosity and availability of Google prevailed. Well, all that and Garlasco's own ridiculous idea that his fascination by the Nazi paraphernalia "makes me a better investigator and analyst". Cripes... the only thing that makes him is a w... but we have already been there.

So I have been reading some of Garlasco's bio on Wiki, and was quite impressed by his military background and credentials. Among other information, there is an interesting passage, describing the last act of Garlasco the warrior before his conversion to Garlasco the pacifist:
In 2003 Garlasco was responsible for dropping two, laser-guided, 500-kilogram bombs on a house in the Tuwaisi, neighborhood of Basra, Iraq, that he believed to contain Saddam Hussein's cousin Ali Hassan al-Majid, also known as Chemical Ali, the man responsible for launching poison gas attacks on Kurds in Iraq beginning in 1988. Watching the attack via satellite form a room in the Pentagon, Garlasco threw his arms in the air and shouted: "I just blew up Chemical Ali!" However, Chemical Ali was not in the house; 17 other people were killed instead. Garlasco left his Pentagon job in 2003 two weeks after the failed attack to take a position as senior military analyst at Human Rights Watch.
Was it a kind of a personal "mea culpa" that caused Garlasco to quit his military career? Doesn't look so, since I didn't hear of Garlasco trying to surrender himself to any international body dealing with war crimes (not that HRW is in any way hesitant when applying that "war crime" label to anything done by IDF, but it's another story). Garlasco explains his conversion differently: it is the death of his grandpa, a Wermacht soldier cum pacifist that caused this miracle:
It wasn't until he died that I really took his lessons to heart, and decided to use my military expertise to try to lessen the horrors of war.
Sounds true to you? I don't know, it could be, however I suspect that the reality was a bit more complex. And there could be a lesson somewhere in it, I feel. Or, maybe, not...

Curious. Anyway, the recent feeble attempt by Garlasco to fight back and the Elder's* reaction to it are worthy, if somewhat disturbing, reading. And more by Daled Amos. Enjoy.

(*) Not to be compared with the former, deity forbid.