Lawfare Blog Won’t Correct Garlasco’s Gaza Errors

Marc Garlasco has emerged as a media darling since Hamas’s Oct. 7 massacre. If you’ve recently consumed news from New York Times, Washington Post, Associated Press, CNN, or PBS — or smaller blogs like Lawfare, the subject of this article — you may have come across the muntions expert serving up his expertise along with, too often, with a sloppy side of misinformation.

Garlasco has plenty of experience in both munitions and sloppiness. As a US Defense official during the 2003 Iraq war, he was closely involved in a US strike targeting Ali Hassan al-Majid, an Iraqi official responsible for his brutal chemical weapons attack on a Kurdish village. When the American bomb went off, Garlasco reportedly shouted, using the nickname Majid had earned for obvious reasons, “I just blew up Chemical Ali!”

But Garlasco and his team didn’t blow up Chemical Ali. Instead, the strike killed 17 civilians.

The immediate effect of this mistake — like each of the other 50 attempts to bomb Iraqi leaders, all of which apparently failed — was obviously far worse than any of Garlasco’s blunders in his post-Department of Defense career. But here, at least, Garlasco could argue that in 2003 he was a small part of the complex machinery of warfare, and that such machinery inevitably makes deadly mistakes. Research by an independent party has documented at least 7,000 Iraqi civilians killed during the month of American bombardment that put an end to Sadaam Hussein’s regime.

Immediately after the botched strike on Chemical Ali, Garlasco left his job for Human Rights Watch, which hired him as a military analyst. There, his tenure ended with a very different type of blunder. In 2009, it emerged that Garlasco was an avid and enthusiastic collector of, particularly, Nazi memorabilia. Under his chosen handle Flak88 (a reference to Nazi Germany’s fearsome artillery gun) Garlasco participated on an online forum called Wehrmacht Awards (focused on “awards, decorations and militaria of the German Armed Forces during the Third Reich era”) and posted about how leather Schutzstaffel jackets are “so COOL!” (the Schutzstaffel, or SS, was Adolf Hitler’s paramilitary organization charged with among other tasks the extermination of the Jews). To be clear, Garlasco’s most prominent critic at the time did not accuse him of being a Nazi, but rather argued that the Nazi-memorabilia collector was “wildly inappropriate as a choice for a Middle East investigator.”

In his Jan 2 piece for Lawfare, “Legal Questions Answered and Unanswered in Israel’s Air War in Gaza,” Garlasco didn’t aim for clarity. To the contrary, he insinuates, omits, and invents to lure readers to a particular conclusion. Lawfare editors have been informed of the errors and distortions, but have refused to correct.

In the piece, Garlasco says of the Israeli air force,

The IAF reportedly dropped over 29,000 bombs during the first six weeks of the war. That is a staggering sum for one city, in any war. By comparison, the U.S. dropped 29,199 during the entire Iraq war in 2003—on the whole country. More shocking is that nearly half of the bombs dropped on Gaza have been unguided, or so-called dumb bombs—a decision Tischler defends.

First, it’s unclear why he refers to the Gaza Strip as “one city” when it obviously is not. If he meant to convey that it’s a relatively small territory, he could have certainly said that instead of misrepresenting the geography of the war. And while the paragraph compares Israeli strikes in Gaza to American strikes in Iraq, and also compares Israel’s use of guided bombs to unguided bombs, Garlasco fails to compare American use of unguided bombs to Israeli use of unguided bombs. In the 2003 campaign, 30 percent of the American bombs were unguided. In Gaza, an estimated 40-45 percent of the bombs have been unguided. This is hardly a “shocking” discrepancy.

But Garlasco’s reference to the duration of the two campaigns is even more misleading. Note the word choice at the center of his comparison: “six weeks” on one side of the ledger; “the entire Iraq war in 2003” on the other.

The language signals that Israel’s strikes were faster, more furious, than the US-led campaign. But the opposite is true, and had Garlasco compared weeks to weeks instead of opting for asymmetrical language, this would have been clear: Israel dropped its 29,000 bombs in six weeks; the US dropped its 29,199 in four and a half weeks

Garlasco errs further when stating:

Additionally, most bombs dropped are among the largest in regular use—2,000 pound bombs.

But the document he links to doesn’t state that “most” of the bombs were 2,000 pounds. And other analyses suggest this is false. An AI investigation by the New York Times found 208 bomb craters out of perhaps 1,600 to match what would be formed by 2,000-pound bombs. A CNN analysis suggested that roughly 500 of the strikes were 2,000 pound bombs. Either way, that’s a long way from “most.”

Although Lawfare’s Editor in Chief Benjamin Wittes and Managing Editor Tyler McBrien were informed of the errors and distortions, they remain uncorrected.

These aren’t Garlasco’s first egregious misrepresentations about the Gaza fighting. Earlier in the fighting, he claimed that “Israel is dropping in less than a week what the U.S. was dropping in Afghanistan in a year,” arguing that the US dropped only 7,423 munitions in the worst year of fighting there. In fact, the US had dropped 17,500 munitions on Afghanistan in just 76 days of bombing in 2001. The Washington Post, where this error appeared, eventually corrected Garlasco’s misstatement. Apparently Lawfare cares less for its readers.

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