March 1, 2012

Death of Marie Colvin

As Delivered on the Senate Floor

Madam President, Marie Colvin died last week, Wednesday, in Syria. As I speak, her body is still in Homs because the Assad regime refuses to honor the centuries-old tradition of human decency that even in war you are allowed to recover your dead.

An American official in a position to know about the circumstances of her death has used with me the word “murder,” and this is not an official who uses such words loosely. News reports have suggested Marie was targeted using her cell phone signals. Why was she killed? Marie once said: “Covering a war means going to places torn by chaos, destruction, and death, and trying to bear witness.”

She was killed because she was doing what she was passionate about and what her gift was; that is, to bear witness.

Marie was in Syria to bear witness to the massacre of the innocent in the city of Homs by the Assad regime. Her last report to the BBC was of a baby killed by shrapnel, dying in its mother’s arms. That baby had no voice and that mother had no voice, but Marie was there. She was there making sure the dead did not die unheralded and the killers did not escape unwatched. She was there so they wouldn’t get away with it. She was there to bear witness.

The dictionary tells us that to bear witness means “to see, to be present at, or know at firsthand.” It means to “testify.” It means “to show by your existence that something is true.”

This was Marie. Over and over she put herself in harm’s way as she followed her calling to bear witness to the atrocities of our world.

In Sri Lanka’s brutal conflict, she was hit by the explosion of a rocket-propelled grenade, and in addition to other injuries, she lost sight in one eye. She was shot at that day after calling out, “I’m a journalist.”

In the Balkans and Chechnya, at Libya and around the world, she went to bear witness to suffering and corruption. I think she spent more time on the ground in Libya than any other Western correspondent.

Marie was proud of this work, saying: “We can and do make a difference in exposing the horrors of war and especially the atrocities that befall civilians.”

Sometimes she managed to do more than just expose atrocities. In East Timor, she went to bear witness to the massacres. When the U.N. threatened to pull out of a base, leaving local employees and those sheltering there to the mercies of the massacre, Marie announced, “I’m staying with them.”

That created a new predicament for the U.N. leadership, and faced with Marie’s courage, they decided to stay. Massacre averted.

Marie was special. Her friends all knew it. Her colleagues knew it. The people who were trapped in the wars and conflicts she covered and who saw her there, sharing their risks and their suffering, and who knew someone would bear witness knew it. The Bible talks of bearing witness. It tells that John the Baptist “came as a witness, to bear witness about the Light, that all might believe through him.”

There is a parallel. Marie went as a witness. She went to bear witness in the places cloaked in darkness, that we all might perceive through her. With her death, it is our turn to bear witness. Marie Colvin had a calling, and it is our turn to bear witness to the courage and the passion of that calling. It is our time to bear witness to the grace and humor and brains and skill with which Marie Colvin pursued that calling. It is worth noting Marie did this all with style. I don’t think Marie would want the record to fail to reflect that she had style.

There has been an outpouring since the news of Marie’s death spread around the world. From heads of state, famous writers, press celebrities, from old friends and colleagues, and from those whose praise she valued the most, the small band of brothers and sisters who practiced the dangerous craft of conflict journalism, there has been a torrent of grief and praise. I have culled from this torrent a collection of remembrances, reflections, tributes, and obituaries about Marie that I now ask unanimous consent to have printed in the Record.

On behalf of a group of old friends who are stricken by her loss, I offer this in affection, in appreciation, and in memorandum.

Marie’s mother, Rosemarie Colvin, said of Marie: “Her legacy is: be passionate and be involved in what you believe in. And do it as thoroughly and honestly and fearlessly as you can.”


With those words, I yield the floor.