By Rachael Eyler
Nearly a decade after he was kidnapped by the Taliban in Afghanistan and held for seven months in captivity in the tribal areas of Pakistan in 2008, former foreign correspondent and current New Yorker online news director David Rohde shared his experiences as part of the Stony Brook University School of Journalism’s annual Marie Colvin Lecture Series.
Rohde was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 1996 for his coverage during the Bosnian War, which exposed the 1995 Srebrenica Massacre. His reporting in Bosnia later inspired his colleague Marie Colvin, who was killed by artillery fire in Homs, Syria in 2012 while covering the country’s civil war. The School of Journalism, along with Marie Colvin’s family, founded the Marie Colvin Center for International Reporting at Stony Brook to honor her legacy and train the next generation of international correspondents.
Rohde paid tribute to the Colvin family during his lecture. Although never meeting, Marie Colvin he explained how honored and touched he was to be speaking about her brave work as a journalist.
“On a personal level, why giving this lecture means so much to me is that she chose to go into Homs and chose to cover the siege of that city, and paid the ultimate price,” Rohde said.
Rohde also mentioned how in a letter to a friend, Colvin wrote, “I just thought I could not cover the modern-day Srebrenica from the suburbs,” which referenced a story Rohde wrote.
Rohde also discussed his time spent covering Afghanistan and Pakistan while working for the New York Times. He said he links his capture in Afghanistan to competition of others, and a lack of caution he took while writing a book on America’s involvement in Afghanistan.
After arranging for an interview with a Taliban commander in Logar Province outside of Kabul, Rohde, along with Afghan journalist and translator Tahir Ludin and driver Asadullah Mangal, met at the scheduled place, but were stopped by a car blocking the road.
“Two men came running at us with Kalashnikov assault rifles, screaming and screaming. Assad and Tahir got in the back seat of the car,” Rohde said. “The two men jumped in the front seat and very quickly started driving us down the road.”
The Taliban attempted to ransom Rohde in exchange for money and detained terrorists.
Rohde played a video to the audience to show the mentality of his guards and the young Taliban fighters. Many of the guards were uneducated, with some reading a fifth grade level, Rohde explained.
Rohde and Ludin were able to escape from captivity by using a rope they found and scaling down a wall of the Taliban complex. Fearing of being recaptured by the Taliban, the duo made their way through a nearby town where they were met by two Pakistani soldiers.
“I suddenly heard two men shout in Pashtun, the local language,” Rohde said. “I was convinced the Taliban had captured us, and would take us back to captivity. Instead, Tahir turned to me and said ‘this is it, this is Pakistan base.’”
After his return to the United States, Rohde decided to no longer cover international conflict, but is still proud of the work he does as an editor for The New Yorker, and admires the ambition of journalism students who follow in the footsteps Marie Colvin.
“I am very proud of the journalism I still do and the journalism that all the students here want to do,” Rohde said. “I’m incredibly proud of Marie and what she achieved, and the bravery that she showed. She kept taking the risks that I stopped taking, and I’ll always respect her for that.”