Stephen Vincent: In Memoriam
A US freelance reporter, Steven Vincent, has been shot dead by unknown gunmen in Basra, southern Iraq, police have said. ... Mr Vincent had been in Basra in recent months working for the Christian Science Monitor and the New York Times. In a recent New York Times article, Mr Vincent wrote that Basra's police force had been infiltrated by Shia militants. He quoted a senior Iraqi police lieutenant saying some officers were behind many of the killings of former Baath party members in Basra. Mr Vincent also criticised the UK forces, who are responsible for security in Basra, for ignoring abuses of power by Shia extremists.
Although every life and loss of life is unique, Mr. Vincent's work shares certain points in common with Michael Tucker (the producer of Gunner Palace, who accompanied his film subjects on patrol for two months) and Michael Yon, who describes himself as "an independent, informed observer chronicling the monumentally important events in the efforts to stabilize Iraq. His dispatches have the benefit of his life experiences without drawbacks based on deadlines or demands of marketplace." In the strange and recursive network of the Internet, Mr. Yon filed this dispatch on Mr. Vincent's death.
On Wednesday, an American freelance journalist was found dead in the southern Iraqi city of Basra, the U.S. Embassy said. Police said Steven Vincent had been shot multiple times after he and his Iraqi translator were abducted at gunpoint hours earlier. I had just contacted Stephen asking when he might come to Mosul. Stephen Vincent was an author and the popular blogger of "In The Red Zone." Stephen had been writing most recently from Basra.
CNN characterized Mr. Vincent and his work in this way:
Vincent was in Basra writing a book about the history of the city. He also maintained a Web blog about life in Iraq, and most recently had an op-ed piece in The New York Times on Sunday. According to the Web site of his publishing company, Vincent's work appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Harper's, The Christian Science Monitor, Art and Auction, and National Review Online, along with other art and political journals. He was a resident of New York for 25 years, the site said.
This is not the place to speculate why this murder occurred, but the tragedy serves to underline the discussion in the previous post which discussed, among other things, the rising tensions between Sunni and Shi'ite in Iraq. It's interesting to note that the BBC linked Mr. Vincent's murder to his interest in the sectarian conflict. It would have been ironic if Vincent had been killed not because he was an American, but because he came too close to a story.
What compelled him to cover a battlefield of the war on terror "traveling without security or official connections, living by his wits," according to the Spence Publishing site? CNN gives the answer in Vincent's own words.
"I stood that morning on the roof of my building in lower Manhattan and watched United Airlines Flight 175 strike the south tower of the World Trade Center," Vincent said in a December 2004 interview with Frontpage Magazine. "At that moment, I realized my country was at war -- because of the 1993 attack on the Trade Center, I figured our enemy was Islamic terrorism -- and I wanted to do my part in the conflict. I'm too old to enlist in the armed services, so I decided to put my writing talents to use."
In that interview Vincent described the weapons with which he intended to fight.
"Words matter. Words convey moral clarity. Without moral clarity, we will not succeed in Iraq. That is why the terms the press uses to cover this conflict are so vital. For example, take the word “guerillas.” As you noted, mainstream media sources like the New York Times often use the terms “insurgents” or “guerillas” to describe the Sunni Triangle gunmen, as if these murderous thugs represented a traditional national liberation movement. But when the Times reports on similar groups of masked reactionary killers operating in Latin American countries, they utilize the phrase “paramilitary death squads.” Same murderers, different designations."
Whether Sunni killed Shi'ite or Shi'ite killed Sunni, Mr. Vincent knew murder when he saw it. It will be interesting to see whether the media will attribute Mr. Vincent's death to "guerillas" or to "paramilitary death squads". But in a sense it will not matter. He was witness to the necessity for honesty and the survival of outrage; conscious of how near death stands to all of us in the workaday world without watchful men ready to give the alarm with just words.