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The Man on Both Sides of Air War Debate
After studying at St. John's University in New York and earning a master's degree at George Washington University in 1995, Garlasco took a job with a defense contractor, then was hired at the Defense Intelligence Agency's information warfare department. He trained to do analysis for bombing missions, including Operation Desert Fox in Iraq in 1998, before planning airstrikes and assessing battle damage for Operation Allied Force, which took him to Kosovo, where he saw the realities of the strikes.
"Seeing the locals digging in the bombed-out rubble for building materials or learning of death tolls was all new to me," Garlasco said. "It was something you just don't get when you have a chart in front of you, photos of a target and a projected death toll."
He set his sights on Iraq in 1999, traveling the world to debrief Iraqi nationals who could give him information about Saddam Hussein, at one point sharing a swimming pool with one of the Iraqi president's mistresses while gathering intelligence.
"There were a number of sources that I talked to that informed a lot of bombs on target on Iraq," Garlasco said. "It was contingency planning for a war that was probably never going to be fought."
A senior Army interrogator who worked closely with Garlasco said he was intimidated by how much Garlasco knew about Iraq, finding it almost scary how he could lay out a map of Baghdad and describe every building in detail, even though he had never been there.
On Sept. 11, 2001, Garlasco was in the National Military Joint Intelligence Center at the Pentagon when the building was hit. "I really felt violated," he said.
He thought his work would focus on Afghanistan. But a week after the attacks, Garlasco and his office were asked to assess any links between al-Qaeda and Hussein. Though he was one of the leading experts on how to find those close to Hussein, Garlasco did not support the prospect of war with Iraq. As he saw the invasion coming throughout 2002, he began to think about getting out.
With the identification of potential targets finished in January 2003, Garlasco and his colleagues at the CIA and the National Security Agency met at Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina and went over each target building, with hundreds of potential sites and thousands of aim points. Still, Garlasco had doubts.
"I had conversations with my counterpart at the CIA at the time," he said, "and I said I had no idea why we were doing this."
As the March 2003 invasion neared, Garlasco was looking for different work. One morning, his wife, Carolyn Gray, found a newspaper ad for a job with Human Rights Watch in New York. The description fit Garlasco perfectly.
"I didn't support the war," he said. "It's not why I left, but it was the grease that made it easier."
After the Chemical Ali strike, which killed 17 civilians and failed to take out the target, Garlasco wrapped up his time at the Pentagon. On Friday, April 11, he provided his last briefings, and 10 days later he was driving an SUV over the Iraqi border for Human Rights Watch. He and his new colleague Reuben Brigety II headed for bombing sites that Garlasco had helped target.
"He had an intimate knowledge of Iraqi infrastructure," said Brigety, who helped hire Garlasco. "He knew the targeting packages because he put those targeting packages together."
Air Force Maj. Gen. Charles J. Dunlap Jr., the service's deputy judge advocate general and an advocate of air power, said Garlasco's background has helped him build relationships in the military.
"I think that Marc is the prototype of what many nongovernmental organizations are seeking -- that is people with real expertise," Dunlap said. "I have not always agreed with Marc, but I have never found him to be driven by an ideological agenda."
Service members feel comfortable reaching out to Garlasco because of his military ties. A 2006 article in Esquire magazine described his work with service members who were reporting military abuse and pointed out that he is that rare breed of human rights activist who is also a member of the National Rifle Association.
Garlasco, who is now studying airstrikes in Afghanistan, wants the military to create an office to examine the human costs of such strikes. "I think that airstrikes probably are the most discriminating weapon that exists," he said. "The problem is that even when you hit the right target, there are times when innocents pay the price. . . . I just want people to ask: 'Did it have to happen?' "