July 2, 2007

Honoring Her Husband’s Pledge: Lisa Ramaci-Vincent Brings Steven Vincent’s Iraqi Translator to America

"...Nour is incredibly happy to be here . She keeps repeating, 'I am safe. I am not afraid'"

UPDATE: See Thomas Lifson's comments on this article at The American Thinker. Also, an expanded version of this article may be found at FrontPage Magazine.


The late Steven Vincent’s award-winning Iraq reporting owed much to his Iraqi translator and media assistant – a remarkable young woman named Nour al-Khal.

She was shot and left for dead on August 2, 2005, hours after she and Vincent were kidnapped off a Basra street. They were forced into a car by men wearing police uniforms. Vincent, a freelancer on his third trip to post-Saddam Iraq, was savagely beaten and shot to death. An art critic-turned-war reporter, he was the only American journalist to date who has been murdered in Iraq.

After his earlier trips to Iraq, Vincent published his engrossing book, “In The Red Zone.” One chapter was devoted to Nour, an aspiring poet. Readers knew her only by her first name. A fluent English speaker, she was employed by a large NGO. She also spent long days on reporting outings with Vincent – helping him produce some of the most perceptive reporting of the war. The hard glares the two sometimes attracted were described by Vincent in his characteristic moral clarity: It was what an interracial couple would encounter in the Jim Crow South.

Recounting an FBI report on her husband's kidnapping, Ramaci-Vincent said "the thugs who targeted my husband had no interest whatsoever in Nour. They repeatedly pushed her away, telling her to leave. But she would not abandon Steven. She kept inserting herself into the struggle until they took her as well." She was testifying before a U.S. Senate committee last January on the plight of Iraqi refugees like Nour, who had aligned themsleves with the U.S. military, NGOs or Western news outlets.

Nour was shot three times in the back. Basra’s police turned her over to FBI agents and she was hospitalized in the Green Zone. She was held “incommunicado" for the next three months and “treated as if she were a co-conspirator of the killers," Ramaci-Vincent told the Senate committee. Then authorities "gave her $2,000 and threw her out into Baghdad's Red Zone, alone, where she knew no one, had no family, no job, no resources, no where to turn."

The kidnapping occurred two days after Vincent published an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times, describing how Iraqi police were being infiltrated by Iranian-backed fundamentalists and Shiite militiamen loyal to Moqtada al-Sadr.

Mainstream media outlets have relied heavily on Iraqis to help cover the war in Iraq, and they have died in large numbers. Hastily trained, these Iraqi news assistants, reporters, and photographers have shaped how we view the war. Many of these Iraqis are of course brave and principled people;
the late Fakher Haider, 38, a former Iraqi journalist working for the New York Times, is one example. But in more than a few cases, their allegiances and motivations have been called into question.

No such questions were raised about Nour.

She believed in democracy, Vincent wrote, and “the promise of America." And in this sense, Vincent noted she was like many Iraqis. The next-to-the-last chapter of “In The Red Zone” was titled “Nour.”

“Short of destroying my marriage, I thought, I would do anything to help this woman,” Vincent wrote. It was one of several observations and anecdotes contained in the final pages of “In The Red Zone" that
eerily foreshadowed the fate awaiting the pair.

recovered from her wounds. But her association with Vincent put her life in jeopardy, and her family wanted nothing to do with her. What became of her? I'd often wondered that, just as I had wondered about the articles and books Vincent might have written had he lived.

Thanks to Nour's help, Vincent brought a moral clarity and depth to his reporting that has been absent from budget-conscious and morally neutral media outlets such as the Associated Press. Many American reporters in Iraq do their reporting from the "Green Zone”
– not the "Red Zone" where Vincent and Nour worked.

In Iraq, the mainstream media has treated its Iraqi “local hires” as disposable fodder. It's not how Steven Vincent treated Nour, however.
Recently, I received fresh news of Nour in an e-mail that Ramaci-Vincent sent to me and others.

Here is her correspondence:

Just wanted to let you all know that Steven's translator Nour has finally, after 18 months of effort on my part, arrived in
New York to begin a new life. She came on Tuesday, June 26 - I did not want to say anything prior to this for fear of jinxing things, but she let me know about a week ahead of time that she was coming.

She will be living with me for the foreseeable future, and I will help her get set up here; tomorrow we go for her Social Security number, Medicare, and a work visa.

She is incredibly happy to be here - she keeps repeating, "I am safe. I am not afraid" in tones of astonishment, as if it has been so long since she has not had to be (afraid), that she no longer remembers what it's like - and this morning she told me that, for the first time in years, she is sleeping well.

Just a few shout-outs, in order of their appearance on the stage:

Dan Murphy, senior Baghdad correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor, the first person to try and help me get her here, way back in 2005.

Michael Rubin, correspondent for American Enterprise Institute, editor of the Middle East Quarterly, who also tried to use his connections to help me bring her over.

Brian Lehrer, talk show host at WNYC, who in December 2006 took my call about
the Iraq refugee crisis and my attempts to get Nour here and thus put in motion the series of events that finally led to my being able to bring her to New York.

Senator Edward Kennedy and his assistants Janice Kaguyutan and Todd Kushner - testifying in front of the Senator's Judiciary Committee, led directly to my meeting people who were actually willing and able help me; I thank the Senator for his letters to Commissioner Sauerbrey demanding Nour be granted entry to the US, and also Janice and Todd, whose patience and assistance were invaluable in my reaching this goal.

Wendy Young and Michel Gabaudan at the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, who worked with me to smooth Nour's acceptance into the refugee program, and who got her documentation while she was still in Jordan.

Mittman, Abigail Price and Lang Ngan of the International Rescue Committee, who knew just who to call and write for information and answers, and just how to reassure me that all would, indeed, be well. Thanks for the bed, she conks out in it like a log!

Chris Cole, who made me the fabulous "Got Nour" T-shirt that I wore when I went to JFK to get her, and which should be appearing on national television some time next week!

nd finally last, but certainly not least, my dear friends and colleagues who supported, encouraged, chivvied, bolstered and rallied me this last year-and-a-half, through all the times when I reached yet another dead end and had to try and figure out where to go next.



Additional reading and websites:

*Kesher Talk has written at length about Steven, Lisa Ramaci-Vincent, and Nour. Among other coverage, it reported on a panel discussion in New York, "
Fixers on the Front Lines," in which Nour participated.

*"Switched off in Basra," Steven Vincent's NYT Op-Ed that may have triggered the abduction days later that left him dead and Nour critically wounded.

*Lisa Ramaci-Vincent, testifying before a U.S. Senate Committee on the plight of Nour and other Iraqi refugees, describes Nour’s efforts to save her husband after the two were kidnapped.

*FrontPage Magazine: Lisa Ramaci-Vincent lashes into Juan Cole after the left-wing university professor offered his theories on Steven Vincent’s relationship with Nour."

A Different Kind of Love Story
," a magazine article about Steven Vincent, Lisa Ramaci, and Iraq.

The Big Carnival
“Soldier with a Pen: The Christian Science Monitor’s Other Freelancer: Steven Vincent."

"Band of Brooders": The Belmont Club comments on Steven Vincent's reporting, murder, and odd fact that the New York Times does not seem to want to acknowledge his work.

Iraq’s Endangered Journalists,” an Op-Ed in The New York Times by a former Iraqi media worker, Ali Fadhil. The piece overlooked Vincent’s murder, promoting an angry letter to The Times from Lisa Ramaci-Vincent.

*The Big Carnival
"Snubbed Again: NYT Article on Iraq’s Rogue Cops Fails to Mention Steven Vincent.

*A petulant letter from a reader identifying himself as Ali Fadhil, written in response to my post, “Steven Vincent: Forgotten by The New York Times.”

*For insight into the mainstream media’s approach to foreign reporting, see my post:
Jill Carroll's kidnapping: A black eye for mainstream media's use of freelancers.” And there's this post, as well: The Jill Carroll/Jordan Times Connection: It's Worse Than Her Critics Imagine.”

*The Steven Vincent Foundation
, established by Lisa Ramaci-Vincent "to assist the families of indigenous journalists in regions of conflict throughout the world who are killed for doing their jobs, and to support the work of female journalists in those regions.

*Steven Vincent's blog, "In The Red Zone," and his book of the same title.

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