A year ago today, freelancer Steven Vincent became the first American journalist to be killed in Iraq by insurgents. His murder remains unsolved, though almost certainly was the work of Shia extremists in Basra, where he was living "in the Red Zone." Just days before he was abducted and shot to death, he had written a piece for The New York Times in which he detailed how Shia militia had infiltrated the British-trained police force in Basra, even writing of "death cars" driven by off-duty cops cruising the streets.
Vincent, a strong though critical supporter of the invasion of Iraq, wrote several feature stories for Reason (go here and here), including 2004's, "Faith, Shame, and Insurgency: Life in Occupied Iraq," which was a haunting portrait of that place even before his murder. Near the beginning of his report, he wrote:
I'd come to Iraq to test my beliefs. Back in New York, I'd been a firm and vocal backer of the war, though not necessarily of the Bush administration. After witnessing firsthand the horrific events of 9/11, I felt the civilized nations of the world had to take on terrorism at its roots—roots that included the Middle East's legacy of poverty, hopelessness, and despotism, epitomized by, among other tyrants, Saddam Hussein. Saddam may or may not have contributed to the murder of 3,000 people in downtown Manhattan, but I believed a free and prosperous Iraq, spreading ripples of democracy and the rule of law from Damascus to Riyadh, was a key element in preventing similar attacks in America or elsewhere.
What I saw and heard surprised, delighted, and horrified me in ways I could never have predicted. I still support the war—even more so, in fact. But I'm less optimistic than I was on April 9, 2003, the day the statue of Saddam fell in downtown Baghdad, when, through my tears, I believed the good guys had won.
His book and blog, both called In the Red Zone, are online here.
Kesher Talk has a roundup of remembrances here.
Reason eulogized him as a journalist whose "work transcended ideology" here. Even if you disagreed with him about the invasion of Iraq–as I did–he was an exceedingly rare journalist, one who was not only open about his biases and presumptions but also about the times he changed his way of thinking. In that, he remains a model for the profession.
His widow, Lisa Ramaci, has established a foundation that aids the families of freelance journalists killed while doing their jobs. For more information, go here.