Longform’s Picks of the Week

The best stories from around the world.

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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 brand-new app and read all of the latest in-depth stories from dozens of magazines, including Foreign Policy.

The Yankee Comandante, by David Grann. The New Yorker.

The story of William Morgan: American, wanderer, Cuban revolutionary.

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 brand-new app and read all of the latest in-depth stories from dozens of magazines, including Foreign Policy.

The Yankee Comandante, by David Grann. The New Yorker.

The story of William Morgan: American, wanderer, Cuban revolutionary.

Through a translator, Morgan told Menoyo his story about wanting to avenge a buddy’s death. Morgan said that he had served in the U.S. Army and was skilled in martial arts and hand-to-hand combat, and that he could train the inexperienced rebels in guerrilla warfare. There was more to fighting than shooting a rifle, Morgan argued; as he later said, with the right tactics they could put “the fear of God” in the enemy. To demonstrate his prowess, Morgan borrowed a knife and flicked it at a tree at least twenty yards away. It hit the target so squarely that some rebels gasped.

That evening, they argued over whether Morgan could stay. Morgan seemed simpático — “like a Cuban,” as Lesnik puts it. But many rebels, fearing that he was an infiltrator, wanted to send Morgan back to Havana. The group’s chief of intelligence, Roger Redondo, recalls, “We did everything possible to make him leave.” During the next several days, they marched him endlessly up and down the mountainsides. Morgan was so fat, one rebel joked, that he had to be C.I.A.

 

Finding Oscar: Massacre, Memory, and Justice in Guatemala, by Sebastian Rotella. ProPublica.

A man living in the Boston suburbs learns he could be one of the only survivors of a 1982 massacre in Guatemala.

If he took the DNA test and the results were positive, it would transform his life in dangerous ways. He would become flesh-and-blood evidence in the quest to find justice for the victims of Dos Erres. He would have to accept that his identity, his whole world, had been based on a lie. And he would be a potential target for powerful forces that wanted to keep Guatemala’s secrets buried.

Guatemalans wrestled with a similar dilemma. They were divided over how much effort to devote to punish the crimes of the past in a society overwhelmed by lawlessness. The uniformed killers and torturers of the 1980s had helped spawn the mafias, corruption and crime that assail Central America’s small and weak states. The Dos Erres investigation was part of the battle against impunity, a fight for the future. But small victories had big potential costs: retaliation, political strife.

Like his country, Oscar would have to choose whether to confront painful truths.

 

Pacificists in the Crossfire, by Luke Mogelson. The New York Times.

Inside the Kabul hospital treating combatants on both sides of the conflict. 

“Despite Emergency’s central location, Maricic and her colleagues see little of the city outside the hospital grounds and almost nothing of the country. Inside the hospital, however, they see everything — the worst of what war can do.

“I prefer it here,” Maricic told me recently. “Sudan was closer to an ordinary life. You could go outside. You could go to the shop or for a walk. But here, we are more like a family, closer, and in this way it’s more like an ordinary life. After this, I don’t think any of us will be able to go back to a normal hospital.”

Jamming Tripoli, by Matthieu Aikins. Wired.

Inside Moammar Gadhafi’s secret surveillance network:

Gwaider’s favored method, like that of Kevin Mitnick, the famous American hacker he admired, was “social engineering,” which meant tricking the victims into giving up access themselves. In Tawati’s case, all he had to do was send her a Word document infected with a Trojan, which installed malware on her computer when she opened it. At that point he had access to everything, including her Facebook account and her supposedly encrypted Skype conversations, which Gwaider siphoned off with malware that recorded all the audio on her machine. All of it eventually got posted to the Internet in an effort to smear her. The hacker even stole photos showing her without a head scarf-rather embarrassing in Libya’s conservative culture-and regime supporters then posted these to Facebook. Hala Misrati, the TV presenter who previously had broadcast some of her emails, now played audio from a Skype conversation she had with a foreign journalist, trumpeting it as proof of her collusion with outside forces. Tawati was devastated.

The skills of hackers like Gwaider were ideally suited to the more subtle forms of repression that the Gadhafi regime had come to favor. A faction led by Saif al-Islam Gadhafi, Moammar’s son and heir apparent, hoped to put a gentler face on the Libyan dictatorship, and that meant forgoing some of his father’s previous techniques-like killing or locking up peaceful dissidents — that might have made international investors squeamish. In the “Libya of tomorrow,” as Saif called it, a certain measure of dissent would be tolerated, at least officially. Of course, when certain lines were crossed, the state did not hesitate to use deadly violence. But for the most part the regime opted for less visible techniques like harassment and blackmail.

 

Power Ballad, by Haley Sweetland Edwards. Foreign Policy.

What happens when you mix a trashy Europop spectacle with an oil-soaked Caspian dictator?

In the wee hours of Tuesday morning, I sat in the middle of Crystal Hall, perhaps a hundred yards from the Aliyev family’s box seats, struggling to reconcile Azerbaijan’s lamentable record of human rights with the howling, dewy-eyed, pyrotechnic spectacle unfolding before me. Luckily, Shohrat, my Azerbaijani seatmate, was there to guide me. When Greece’s writhing, skimpily dressed lead singer took the stage, he leaned over and nodded happily. “Very nice,” he said.  When the punked-out quartet from Switzerland took the stage, he gave me two thumbs up, “Very, very nice.” And when Austria’s triumvirate of pole-dancers decked out in black and lime green light-up tutus launched onto their poles as the Trackshittaz rappers took center stage, he leaned back and exhaled: “Oh. Wow.”

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