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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

HRW's Garlasco suspended

From the NYT:
A leading human rights group has suspended its senior military analyst following revelations that he is an avid collector of Nazi memorabilia.

The group, Human Rights Watch, had initially thrown its full support behind the analyst, Marc Garlasco, when the news of his hobby came out last week. On Monday night, the group shifted course and suspended him with pay, “pending an investigation,” said Carroll Bogert, the group’s associate director.

“We have questions about whether we have learned everything we need to know,” she said.

The suspension comes at a time of heightened tension between, on one side, the new Israeli government and its allies on the right, and the other side, human rights organizations that have been critical of Israel. In recent months, the government has pledged an aggressive approach toward the groups to discredit what they argue is bias and error.

Injected suddenly into that heated conflict, word of Mr. Garlasco’s interest seemed startling to many. The disclosure ricocheted across the Internet: Mr. Garlasco, an American, was not only a collector, he has written a book, more than 400 pages long, about Nazi-era medals. His hobby, inspired he said by a German grandfather conscripted into Hitler’s army, was revealed on a pro-Israel blog, Mere Rhetoric Mere Rhetoric, which quoted his enthusiastic postings on collector sites under the pseudonym “Flak88” — including, “That is so cool! The leather SS jacket makes my blood go cold it is so COOL!”

It was a Rorschach moment in the conflict between Israel and its critics. The revelations were, depending on who is talking, either incontrovertible proof of bias or an irrelevant smear.

The Mere Rhetoric posting said Mr. Garlasco’s interests explained “anti-Israel biases.”

Ms. Bogert called the attacks on Mr. Garlasco and her group “a distraction from the real issue, which is the Israeli government’s behavior.”

But some who firmly support Human Rights Watch were left unsettled by the researcher’s extracurricular activities.

Helena Cobban, a blogger and activist who is on the group’s Middle East advisory committee, asked on her blog, Just World News, if Mr. Garlasco’s activities were “something an employer like Human Rights Watch ought to be worried about? After consideration, I say Yes.”

Garlasco's hobby cannot be hermetically sealed off from his work at HRW. Whether or not it shows any pre-existing bias, his obsession - and HRW's reaction for the past week - show an immaturity that is incompatible with the role they claim for themselves. I would argue that this same immaturity is often seen in their anti-Israel reports as well; comparing their assumptions and legal positions on Operation Cast Lead with the IDF report appears to me at least like HRW is filled with people who do not know anything about how wars are fought and who interpret international law with a bias that makes it literally impossible to effectively fight terror without endangering the citizens of any free country.

Moreover, their reports on Israel make the assumption that Israel is identical in its own human rights posture as third-world dictatorships. The reason that Israel no longer cooperates with these organizations isn't because Israel has no interest in human rights (which seems to be the petulant conclusion drawn by the egotistical "human rights" community) but because Israel knows that they will not be given a fair shake. She's been burned too many times.

The inescapable fact is that for the most part, the IDF and the Israeli people themselves have no interest in violating the rights of anyone - as long as their own rights to living in peace and security are not violated as well. Palestinian Arab human rights are no more important than those of Israelis taking a bus. Not only that, but the primary responsibility of any government is protecting its own citizens. These facts are self-evident yet ignored in the multitude of reports that come out against Israel - in HRW's case, about every month.

It is comparatively easy to judge Israel against strict interpretations of international humanitarian law, especially when the interpreters frame each report to look at the human rights of only one side. The issue gets messier when real-world Israel needs to balance its own obligations to protect her own people against the human rights of her sworn enemies. Invariably, some of the decisions that will be made will value the lives of IDF soldiers and Israeli citizens in rocket range above those of terrorists, their supporters and the people who are purposefully used by terrorists as cover.

Israel has every interest in waging as moral a war as possible, and Gaza - by any objective measure - was such a war. Hamas has incentive to endanger its citizens, the IDF has disincentive to kill them. If human rights groups would work with Israel to find a way to improve the IDF's methodology to help save enemy lives while not jeopardizing Israelis, I am certain that the IDF would be happy to cooperate. That is not what these groups do, though, and from reading the IDF report and various Israeli legal treatises, Israelis are far ahead of HRW in applying international law to real conflicts anyway.

Garlasco, from what I can tell, has a lack of real military experience. Working at the Pentagon does not make one a forensics expert. But HRW, in its seeming immaturity, gave him that job more because of his resume than because of his knowledge. This is the problem. For all of HRW's laudatory goals, they have no ability to be as critical of themselves as they are of anyone they set their sights on. To my mind, this is what was exposed here - not a sickening hobby from one of their more visible figureheads, but HRW's tone-deafness and immaturity.