Press Covers Up 'Green-on-Blue Deaths' in Afghanistan
August 22, 2012
Gar Smith / EAW & Berkeley Daily Planet
On August 13, the San Francisco Chronicle reported on the tragic death of US Marine Capt. Matthew Manoukian, a Los Altos Hills native killed "while conducting combat operations" in Helmand province, Afghanistan. The report also claimed Manoukian was killed "at a police checkpoint." The unreported story: Monoudian had been killed by an Afghan colleague who also shot and killed two other Marines after an early morning breakfast meeting. The assailant then reportedly joined the Taliban forces.
BERKELEY, CA (August 19, 2012) -- On August 13, the San Francisco Chronicle reported on the tragic death of US Marine Capt. Matthew Manoukian. The Chronicle cited a Pentagon report that claimed the Los Altos Hills native was killed "while conducting combat operations" in Helmand province, Afghanistan. Chronicle reporter Henry K. Lee should have questioned the Pentagon's account.
The Chronicle inexplicably repeated a misleading Associated Press report that Manoukian and two other marines were killed "at a police checkpoint." This should have raised a red flag: Were the marines killed "in combat" or at a "police checkpoint"?
Had the Chronicle tried to resolve this inconsistency, it would have discovered the truth: Manoukian and two other marines (Staff Sgt. Sky R. Mote, 27, of El Dorado, Calif., and Marine Gunnery Sgt. Ryan Jeschke, 31, of Herndon, VA) were shot and killed after sitting down to share a meal with an Afghan colleague in his home — a situation that would not typically be characterized as "conducting combat operations."
The Military Times correctly reported that all three Marines were "shot by an Afghan policeman." Sangin district of chief Mohammad Sharif, told the Associated Press: [T]he shooting happened at a police checkpoint after a joint meal and a security meeting."
Somehow the Chronicle apparently missed the AP's earlier story — filed on August 10 — in which it was reported: "An Afghan police officer shot and killed three US Marines after sharing a meal with them before dawn Friday and then fled into the desolate darkness of southern Afghanistan, the third attack on coalition forces by their Afghan counterparts in a week." (These killings brought the yearly count of coalition soldiers killed by their Afghan partners to 31 – a nearly three-fold increase in so-called "green-on-blue" killings over all of 2011.)
According to AP reporter Kay Johnson, the district chief and the Taliban each identified the killer as an Afghan National Police officer named Asadullah who had worked closely with the Americans, "helping the Marines train the Afghan Local Police." A Taliban spokesman subsequently claimed that, shortly after the killings, Asadullah joined the Taliban insurgency. "Now, he is with us," Qari Yousef Ahmadi said.
A 70-page report prepared by US Army behavioral scientists in 2011, suggests that such killings are likely to continue to increase as the US occupation of Afghanistan is set to enter its 11th year. The Army investigation warned that many Afghan security personnel see American troops as "extremely arrogant, bullying and unwilling to listen to their advice." They also accused the Americans of a lack of concern for Afghans' safety, a lack of respect for female privacy and a lack of basic civility — routinely addressing Afghans with denigrating slurs.
The report found the situation is deteriorating on the US side as well, with American troops accusing their Afghan counterparts of "pervasive illicit drug use, massive thievery, personal instability, dishonesty, no integrity."
Responding to the troubling increase in green-on-blue violence, NATO spokesman Brig. Gen. Gunter Katz insisted: "We are confident that those isolated incidents will have no effect on transition or on the quality of our forces."
Shortly after Katz issued his optimistic assessment, two men wearing Afghan army uniforms shot and killed a US soldier in Paktia province (wounding two others in the process). Two days later, two well-armed Afghan soldiers attempted to murder a group of NATO troops near a base in eastern Afghanistan.
In misreporting the circumstances surrounding the death of Matthew Manoukian — a dedicated soldier and a gifted young man who was preparing to leave the Marines in 2013 to pursue a career as a lawyer — the Chronicle has muddied the record.
Readers are left to wonder: Was this simply an instance of inadequate reporting or was it an intentional effort to cover up another troubling incident of green-on-blue violence -- similar to the Pentagon's attempt to cast football star Pat Tillman's killing as a heroic combat death when it was, in fact, the result of "friendly fire."?
If the latter, the Chronicle owes Captain Manoukian's family an apology for distorting the truth and, in so doing, dishonoring the record of three US Marines.
Peninsula Marine Killed in Afghanistan
Henry K. Lee / San Francisco Chronicle
(August 13, 2012) -- US Marine Capt. Matthew Manoukian of Los Altos Hills planned to leave the service next year and enroll in law school, following in the footsteps of his parents who both serve on the bench.
But Capt. Manoukian, 29, and two other Marines were killed Friday "while conducting combat operations" in Helmand province, Afghanistan, the Defense Department said.
The three, who were assigned to the 1st Marine Special Operations Battalion in Camp Pendleton (San Diego County), were shot and killed at a police checkpoint, the Associated Press reported.
Capt. Manoukian was the son of Judge Socrates "Peter" Manoukian of Santa Clara County Superior Court and Associate Justice Patricia Bamattre-Manoukian of the Sixth District Court of Appeal in San Jose.
"On behalf of the entire court family, I wish to express our profound sorrow. Matt was killed in action serving his country and the death of this amazing man is a tremendous loss to our community and nation," said Presiding Judge Richard Loftus Jr. of Santa Clara County Superior Court. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the Manoukian family."
Capt. Manoukian joined the Marines in 2006. A year later, he was serving in Iraq when he was injured by an improvised explosive device. He received a Purple Heart medal, one of many decorations he would receive during his career.
Capt. Manoukian was also a parachutist and held a first-degree black belt in the Marine Corps martial arts program.
"Matt was just a remarkable man of his generation," state Supreme Court Justice Carol Corrigan, a family friend, said Monday. "He was kind and brave and smart and was absolutely committed to serving his country and the Marine Corps. It's just a tragedy to lose him."
He was planning to leave the Marines in 2013 to attend law school, possibly at Golden Gate University School of Law in San Francisco where he had already been accepted, Corrigan said. He had hoped to become a public defender, she said.
Besides his parents, Manoukian is survived by his brothers, Michael, 27, and Martin, 21. A public memorial will be held at 3 p.m. Saturday at St. Francis High School, 1885 Miramonte Ave. Mountain View, CA 94040. Contributions can be sent to the Matthew Patrick Manoukian Scholarship Fund, in care of the school.
Henry K. Lee is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.