The sounds of rockets pulverizing civilians should have brought back memories and warnings to Colvin. She would have recognized all the signs from her previous reporting in Chechnya, where she and her escorts were hunted relentlessly by Russian domestic security agents who sought to arrest, silence, or kill any journalist attempting to report on the slaughter of civilians.
My time in Grozny included being surrounded three times by the Russian army, numerous direct bombardments, and frequent close calls. I paid attention to the safety warnings of the Chechen rebel commanders who kept me alive. These rebels were once part of the Soviet military and intelligence apparatus and were fully schooled in Russia's dirty tricks. They taught me much. Chief among them was not communicating electronically while in country, not trusting "media guides," and never telling people where I was going. If captured by Russian troops, they urged me -- for my own safety -- to say that I had been kidnapped by Chechen forces.
Just as I exited Chechnya, I met Colvin, who was heading in. She wanted to know as much as she could. I warned her of the duplicity and violent intent of the Russian military and their Chechen proxies. Despite my warnings, she bravely entered Chechnya and wrote riveting, award-winning stories that now sound almost identical to her coverage from Syria.
I was distressed to read of Colvin's death in Syria, and even more distressed to think she might still be alive now if she had remembered some basic warnings. Her first error was that she stayed inside the rebel "media center" -- in reality, a four-story family home converted to this use as it was one of the few places that had a generator.
The second was communication. The Syrian army had shut down the cell-phone system and much of the power in Baba Amr -- and when journalists sent up signals it made them a clear target. After CNN's Arwa Damon broadcast live from the "media center" for a week, the house was bombarded until the top floor collapsed. Colvin may have been trapped, but she chose to make multiple phone reports and even went live on CNN and other media channels, clearly mentioning that she was staying in the bombed building.
The third mistake was one of tone. She made her sympathies in the besieged city clearly known as she emotionally described the horrors and documented the crimes of the Syrian government.
Unsurprisingly, the next day at 9 a.m., a barrage of rockets was launched at the "media center." She was killed -- along her cameraman, Remi Ochlik, and at least 80 Syrian civilians across the city -- targeted with precision rocket barrages, bombs, and the full violence of the Syrian army.
In Grozny, Russian forces decided that they would eliminate everything, everybody, and every voice that stood up to the state -- including journalists who tried to enter. Syria has clearly made the same determination in Homs. This military action is intended to be a massacre, a Stalinist-style lesson to those who dare defy the rulers of Syria.
The United Nations estimates that more than 7,500 Syrians have so far been killed in the yearlong spasm of violence there. Perhaps this ghastly toll would be even higher now if brave reporters like Colvin had not entered. With the recent news that the rebels have retreated from the bombardment of Baba Amr to safer territory, Assad's forces, as well as their Russian advisors, are claiming victory. According to official news reports from the Syrian Information Ministry, "the foreign-backed mercenaries and armed terrorist groups" have fled, the corpses of three Western journalists have been "discovered," and Homs is now "peaceful."
Despite what Damascus claims, this fight is not yet over. And we need more brave and bright journalists who will shine a light in places like Syria, where a regime works diligently to plunge its people into darkness. But let's not forget whose callous playbook they're using.