Longform’s Picks of the Week
The best stories from around the world.
Every weekend, Longform highlights its favorite international articles of the week. For daily picks of new and classic nonfiction, check out Longform or follow @longform on Twitter. Have an iPad? Download Longform’s new app and read all of the latest in-depth stories from dozens of magazines, including Foreign Policy.
This is Danny Pearl’s Final Story, by Asra Q. Nomani, Washingtonian
The author spent a decade reporting the facts of Daniel Pearl’s murder. Little did she know she would also learn something about myself.
It’s May 5, 2012, the first time in three and a half years that KSM — as he’s known to American officials-has appeared in court, outside his prison cell. We are at Guantánamo, where a US military commission is about to arraign him and four other men for the September 11 attacks, in a courtroom that feels like a movie set. Erected atop an abandoned airfield on the base, it’s as big as a warehouse and has small trailers outside set up as holding areas, one for each defendant. When the courtroom door opened for the men, the Caribbean sun pushed its way into the room first.
I’m in seat number two in the first row of journalists and spectators, separated from the defendants by a wall outfitted with soundproof glass. A video system feeds sound and pictures to screens above us. I’m about 30 feet behind KSM, and there are 40 of us in the gallery. Yet as KSM takes his seat, it feels for a moment as if we’re the only two people in the room.
“Allahu, Allahu, Allahu,” I whisper.
For the families of those who died on 9/11, the day marks the start of what’s likely to be a years-long trial for justice against KSM, the self-described architect of the World Trade Center attacks. For me, it’s something else. KSM is the man who bragged about taking a knife to the throat of my Wall Street Journal colleague and close friend Daniel Pearl.
Eagle Scout. Idealist. Drug Trafficker?, by David Segal, the New York Times
Is Dread Pirate Roberts, the man behind the world’s largest black market for drugs, 29-year-old Ross Ulbricht?
Far from the bloodless kingpin portrayed by the government, Ross Ulbricht, by the accounts of friends and relatives, was soulful and sensitive. In a conversation with his childhood friend Rene Pinnell, recorded in 2012 through StoryCorps, a national oral history project, and still posted on YouTube, Mr. Ulbricht said that in college he initially refused to sleep with the woman he described as his first love, for fear that he would wind up heartsick.
“We didn’t have sex for like three months,” he said. “But we’d make out, and really, like, get close but never go there. And when we finally did, it was amazing.”
It seems nearly impossible to reconcile the government’s version of Mr. Ulbricht with the warm, compassionate person that others describe. Which leaves at least three possibilities.
One, that the government has, in fact, collared the wrong man.
Two, that Mr. Ulbricht is a sociopath who concealed a dark side from everyone for years.
Three, that Mr. Ulbricht is Dread Pirate Roberts — and that the two are not really that different.
A Countryside of Concentration Camps, by Graeme Wood, the New Republic
Burma could be the site of the world’s next genocide.
A year later on the streets of Rangoon, Burma’s Great Unclenching is a beautiful thing. The Burma I first visited in 1998 was a snakepit of secret police and muzzled dissent. But last fall, I heard people openly express love for the leader of Burma’s democratic opposition, Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. On every street corner, kiosks sold dozens of vibrant tabloids free from routine censorship. Burma’s economic isolation once forced foreign visitors to pack in bundles of crisp hundred-dollar bills. Now brand-new ATMs disgorge money just like in Paris or Buenos Aires.
But Arakan state looked a lot better when things were still clenched. Muslims and Buddhists who recently lived with each other peacefully now squat on opposite sides of barbed-wire fences and plot each other’s elimination. Old women and children too infirm to run from raiding parties have been speared or beaten to death in their homes. The fortunate ones are fleeing to other countries on overladen, leaky boats. In Sittway, the state capital, Buddhists have surrounded the old Muslim quarter, starving its residents into submission. “It’s a concentration camp,” a diplomat in Rangoon told me.
The Disappeared, by James Traub, Foreign Policy
Reporting and surviving a war with no rules.
The early days of the war saw a number of tragic deaths of journalists, including the Sunday Times of London’s Marie Colvin and freelance photographer Remi Ochlik, killed by regime shelling during the bombardment of Homs. And then things took an even nastier turn. On August 13, 2012, Austin Tice,3 an American former Marine, law student, and sometime journalist, was nabbed, apparently by the regime. Nothing has been heard from him since October 2012. Two months later, the NBC reporter Richard Engel and his team were kidnapped by what Engel described as the pro-regime militia known as shabiha. They escaped after five days when their captors drove into a rebel checkpoint. Those were just early mile markers on the road to anarchy. Today, rampant kidnapping has become the norm.
Covering wars is, of course, a dangerous job; that’s one of the things many war correspondents like about it. But Syria is dangerous in a way that is less thrilling than sickening. Stephanie Freid, who covers the war for the Chinese CCTV network, says, “I’ve never been in a bleaker, darker setting; it’s a godless place. Whenever I go in I feel like, ‘Just let me get out alive.'” While some major news organizations continue to work inside Syria, many of the world’s most experienced war correspondents — including C.J. Chivers of the New York Times, Paul Wood of the BBC,4 and Janine di Giovanni of Newsweek5 — stopped crossing into Syria in September 2013. They’re not afraid of being killed, at least no more than any sentient being would be in such a dangerous place.
“I can take anything but kidnapping,” says di Giovanni.
Our Man in Africa, by Michael Bronner, Foreign Policy
America championed a bloodthirsty torturer to fight the original war on terror. Now, he is finally being brought to justice.
Foulds excused himself and rushed to inform the ambassador, Richard Bogosian, and the CIA’s chief-of-station. They lit up the phones to Washington to seek instructions and, if possible, assistance. “The bottom line is that he was worth saving,” Bogosian said of Habré. “He helped us in ways not everybody was willing to.”
Throughout the 1980s, the man the CIA had dubbed the “quintessential desert warrior” had been the centerpiece of the Reagan administration’s covert effort to undermine Libyan strongman Muammar al-Qaddafi, who had become an increasing threat and embarrassment to the United States with his support for international terrorism. Despite persistent and increasingly alarming reports of extrajudicial executions, disappearances, and prison abuse carried out by Habré’s regime, the CIA and the State Department’s Africa bureau had secretly armed Habré and trained his security service in exchange for the dictator’s commitment to ruthlessly pound the Libyan troops then occupying northern Chad. If Habré were overthrown, that near-decade-long effort would be undone.
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