An American who went to Libya to “support the revolution” as a combatant – yet claimed to be a journalist – returned to the United States last week from Libya.
Matthew VanDyke said he went to Libya to support the revolution, but he told his mother he was going as a journalist.
“You don't tell your mother you're going off to fight a war," he told reporter Bruce Goldfarb of a local Baltimore publication at the Baltimore airport.
The Committee to Protect Journalists is less than pleased.
When VanDyke’s mother contacted the CPJ to say then-Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi’s forces had captured her son, a journalist, the organization believed her.
It “raised alarms, issued several news alerts, and spent a great deal of time on the phone with his mother advising her on a strategy to bring her son home,” according to an article the group published today.
It has since come to light that VanDyke was not acting as a journalist when he was arrested but was on a reconnaissance mission with other rebels in a truck carrying weapons. VanDyke spent 166 days in prison, escaping as Libyan rebels entered Tripoli.
“In many parts of the world, journalists who are captured by rebels or governments are accused of being spies,” wrote CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon.
“The next time a journalist is captured and swears that he is not a spy his captors may be more skeptical,” wrote Simon, “and they may be less inclined to believe CPJ or other press freedom organizations because of the example posed by VanDyke.”
Other journalists have also voiced their displeasure with VanDyke’s actions. American video journalist Rachel Beth Anderson told Youm7 that VanDyke’s actions were “irresponsible and dangerous.”
Anderson covered Egypt’s 18-day uprising from Tahrir Square before heading to Libya, where she remained through the worst of the country’s violent uprising.
“Maybe it is what kept him alive but because of the amount of times I was accused of being a spy in the middle of the war, which was scary, it is haunting,” Anderson told Youm7.
The story is quickly making rounds on social networking websites such as Twitter.
“People like this make it dangerous to be a journalist,” wrote journalist Ian Lee on his Twitter account. Lee, also an American journalist who covered both the Egyptian and Libyan uprisings, was injured in the line of duty in Libya.
“Matthew VanDyke may appreciate us but we don't appreciate him,” wrote Simon.
“Pretending to be a journalist in a war zone is not a casual deception. It's a reckless and irresponsible act that greatly increases the risk for reporters covering conflict.”