Temp work

Steven Vincent

''Disambiguation: 'Stephen Vincent' redirects here. For the fictional character with this spelling see Stephen Vincent Strange.

Steven Vincent (December 31, 1955August 2, 2005) was an American freelance journalist in Basra, Iraq, reporting for the The Christian Science Monitor, National Review, Mother Jones, Reason, Front Page and American Enterprise, among other publications. On August 2 2005 he and his translator Nour Itais were kidnapped off the street in Basra by men in police uniforms, driving a white police truck, bound, gagged, taken to an undisclosed location where for five hours they were beaten and interrogated, then taken to the outskirts of town and shot. They were found by legitimate Iraqi policemen but Vincent was dead, shot once in the back at close range. Itais survived. It is generally accepted that Vincent was executed because of his criticism of religious extremism in that country, expressed three days before his murder in a July 31 op-ed essay for The New York Times, in which Vincent noted the increasing infiltration of the Basra police force by Islamic extremists loyal to Muqtada al Sadr.

Vincent first went to Iraq in the fall of 2003. An art critic, he had changed professions after standing on the roof of his East Village co-op watching United Flight 175 crash into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, and the subsequent collapse of the towers. After his first two trips he wrote In the Red Zone: A Journey Into the Soul of Iraq and maintained a blog, In the Red Zone, about his experiences traveling throughout Iraq and interviewing the people he met.

Six months after he was born in Washington DC, Vincent's family moved to northern California. He grew up in Palo Alto and later Sunnyvale, now the heart of Silicon Valley and the computer industry, but then still a farming community rich with apricot and cherry orchards. After graduating from Homestead High School in 1974, he went first to the University of California at Santa Barbara, then to Berkeley, from which he graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English and Philosophy. He moved to New York in 1980 to pursue a writing career, supporting himself by taking a series of jobs in the restaurant industry, driving a cab and doing temp work.

His first professional experience came when he was offered the editorship of a local newspaper, the East Villager. From 1984 - 1991 he wrote, edited, laid out and oversaw the publication of each month's edition; during his tenure he also became deeply involved in local issues, and successfully used the paper as a forum to influence neighborhood politics. In the late 1980s he began his career as a writer of fiction and essays, being published in various literary magazines and booklets. He self-published two issues of a poetry magazine, The Plowman, which today are considered collector's items. In 1990 he was hired by Art+Auction magazine, where he quickly became the senior writer, specializing in investigative stories of art theft, fraud, counterfeiting and malfeasance. After an abortive six-month stint at The Wall Street Journal, he returned to Art+Auction, where he was still employed on September 11.

After watching the collapse of the Twin Towers, he realized that the art world was no longer where he wanted to be, and became a freelance journalist in order to be able to write about more timely and pressing issues. In 2003, after learning that his friend, the artist Steve Mumford, had gone to Baghdad right after the war started and embedded himself with the troops, Vincent realized that this was a journey he, too, had to make. In September 2003 he took his first six-week trip, basing himself in Baghdad but traveling freely throughout the country to see firsthand what was happening and what the mood of the Iraqi people was. For the most part this first trip was uneventful, although he did have to pose as a Yugoslavian journalist in some of the more radically anti-American areas of the Sunni Triangle. During his second trip, from January - March 2004, he discovered a country that was beginning to change from generally pro-American and hopeful to one more bitter and less positive. During that second journey Vincent went down to Karbala for Ashura, a major Shiite festival; during the festivities six bombs that had been planted by Sunni paramilitary fascists exploded, killing hundreds. It was the first major blow of what is now called the insurgency against innocent civilians, and Vincent reported in Red Zone how as an American he had been considered a prime suspect, and was set upon by a furious crowd intent upon revenge. It was only the quick thinking of his driver that saved him.

After publishing Red Zone, Vincent decided in the spring of 2005 to return, this time to the southern area of Iraq, so he could report on stories no other journalist was filing. He based himself in Basra, and spent three months embedding himself with the British troops, covering the reconstruction of the marshlands that had been drained by Saddam Hussein and investigating reports of increasing corruption and violence in the local police force.

In November 2006, Vincent was posthumously awarded the Kurt Schork Award for International Journalism for his article uncovering police death squads, which the press release called, "...‘the most sensitive story possible.’

Vincent is buried in Brooklyn's historic Green-Wood cemetery; his widow Lisa Ramaci-Vincent still lives in Manhattan.

References

  • Steven Vincent, In the Red Zone: A Journey Into the Soul of Iraq (Spence Publishing, 2004) ISBN 1-890626-57-0
  • Steven Vincent, "Switched Off in Basra", The New York Times, July 31 2005.

External links

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