Nazi memorabilia lands human rights man in trouble

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The Independent Online

The senior military analyst for Human Rights Watch has been suspended pending an investigation into his hobby of collecting Nazi war memorabilia.



Marc Garlasco, a former Pentagon expert who helped write a series of reports for the New York-based agency on possible war crimes, including by Israel in Gaza, has been suspended on full pay a week after his hobby was revealed on a right-wing, pro-Israel blog.

When the story first surfaced HRW strongly defended Mr Garlasco. But while continuing to assert that there was no evidence that the pastime in any way affected the objectivity of Mr Garlasco's work, the group's associate director Caroll Bogert said: ''We do know he collects German and American World War II memorabilia, but we have questions as to whether we've learned everything we need to know."

HRW’s associate director, Caroll Bogert, said yesterday: “We do know he collects German and American World War II memorabilia, but we have questions as to whether we’ve learned everything we need to know.” She said there was no evidence that the pastime in any way affected the objectivity of Mr Garlasco’s work and that he “has never expressed any anti-Semitic or neo-Nazi statements”.

Mr Garlasco, who has written a 400-page study of Nazi-era medals, describes himself as a “military geek” but said the suggestion that his hobby hints at Nazi sympathies is “defamatory nonsense, spread maliciously by people with an interest in trying to undermine HRW’s reporting.”

His collection was revealed on the blog Mere Rhetoric which said it explained "anti-Israel biases" and quoted from postings on collector websites under the name of “Flak88” — including one saying: “That is so cool! The leather SS jacket makes my blood go cold it is so COOL!”

In a blog this week on the Huffington Post Mr Garlasco said: '"I've never hidden my hobby, because there's nothing shameful in it, however weird it might seem to those who aren't fascinated by military history. Precisely because it's so obvious that the Nazis were evil, I never realised that other people, including friends and colleagues, might wonder why I care about these things.''

But he said he "deeply" regretted "causing pain and offence with a handful of juvenile and tasteless postings I made on two websites that study Second World War artifacts (including American, British, German, Japanese and Russian items)." Such comments reflected "the enthusiasm of the collector, such as gloating about getting my hands on an American pilot's uniform."

The controversy follows an avowedly more aggressive approach by Benjamin Netanyahu's government to human rights groups that criticise Israel, and especially its military, for its conduct of recent wars and offensives. Israel has accused Human Rights Watch of focussing disproportionate attention to to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, while soft pedalling human rights abuses in Arab countries.

Ron Dermer, the premier's policy director told the Jerusalem Post this summer: “We are going to dedicate time and manpower to combating these groups; we are not going to be sitting ducks in a pond for the human rights groups to shoot at us with impunity.” Last week Mr Dermer said Mr Garlasco's interest in Nazi memorabilia was "perhaps a new low".

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