Longform’s Picks of the Week

The best stories from around the world.

Alex Wong/Getty Images; ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images; BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images; ALEXANDER JOE/AFP/Getty Images; Aref Karimi/AFP/Getty Images
Alex Wong/Getty Images; ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images; BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images; ALEXANDER JOE/AFP/Getty Images; Aref Karimi/AFP/Getty Images

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.


The Certainty of Donald Rumsfeld, Errol Morris, New York Times.

“When I first met Donald Rumsfeld in his offices in Washington, D.C., one of the things I said to him was that if we could provide an answer to the American public about why we went to war in Iraq, we would be rendering an important service. He agreed. Unfortunately, after having spent 33 hours over the course of a year interviewing Mr. Rumsfeld, I fear I know less about the origins of the Iraq war than when I started. A question presents itself: How could that be? How could I know less rather than more? Was he hiding something? Or was there really little more than met the eye?”


The Dead Zoo Gang, Charles Homans, The Atavist.

Over the last several years, millions of dollars worth of antique rhino horns have been stolen form collections around the world. The only thing more unusual than the crimes is the theory about who is responsible: A handful of families from rural Ireland known as the Rathkeale Rovers. 

“Rathkeale is 19 miles southwest of Limerick, the largest city in Ireland’s Mid-West Region, located amid a patchwork of pastureland divided up by flat-topped hedgerows and ivy-covered wooden fences. Once a lively market town, Rathkeale now has about 1,500 permanent residents. It’s pleasant enough, but like agricultural towns in the emptied-out corners of Middle America, it gives the impression of having been frozen in time partway through the last century. There’s a Main Street with a few pubs, a bookmaking parlor, and a closed-down movie theater with a modish concrete-finned facade. A hand-painted sign advertises the local boxing club. A women’s clothing boutique has a life-size ceramic Marilyn Monroe out front. Most of the people are older; most of the storefronts are vacant.

It’s tempting to say that this was an unexpected place to find the principal suspects in a crime wave that, by late 2013, had caused nearly 100 rhino horns to disappear from museums, auction houses, and private collections in 16 countries across Europe. But then it’s hard to say where you wouldhave expected to find them. The thefts, in the world of natural-history museums, were all but unprecedented. That investigators believed them to be the work of several dozen criminals based out of a sleepy village in Ireland was perhaps less surprising than the fact that they had happened at all.”


The Interpreters We Left Behind, Paul Solotaroff, Men’s Journal.

As our troops pull out of Iraq and Afghanistan, we’re abandoning fixers and translators to the dangerous countrymen who view them as traitors. Asylum in the U.S. could be their last hope. If only we’d let them in.

“They fanned out, facing the ridge, and waited to get shot. The eight National Guardsmen lay as flat as they could in the open creek while the dirt beside them jumped with machine-gun rounds. There were 45 Taliban blazing away above them, firing from two emplacements on the hill in Wahgez, a lawless, black-route district in southern Afghanistan. Still dazed by the rocket that pierced his ‘bomb resistant’ truck and launched this hour-old ambush, First Lieutenant Matt Zeller was low on ammo and dropping in and out of consciousness. Twice he’d been rocked by mortar strikes while shooting at a gunner on the hill. The last one had knocked him back behind a grave, where he braced for the round that would cut him in half. ‘April 28, 2008,’ he thought. ‘This is the day that I die.’

Suddenly, he saw a convoy roar up to a halt. The cavalry – a Quick Reaction Force from his base – began sawing open the tree line with high explosives. Zeller took to returning fire when the crack! of a rifle went off past his ear. He looked up to find Janis Shinwari, an Afghan interpreter assigned to Zeller’s National Guard unit, crouched beside him, shooting in the other direction. ‘Two Taliban had rounded a corner and were right behind me; another second and they’d have shot me in the back,’ says Zeller. But Shinwari, who’d arrived with the QRF squad, calmly emptied his clip, killing them both, then dragged Zeller from the kill zone to the trucks.

Hours later, having towed the vehicles back to base and gotten medical care for his wounded, Zeller sat up drinking chai with Shinwari, a tall, sloe-eyed Pashtun with heraldic cheekbones and a deep-well air of calm. Though they shared the same quarters in Forward Operating Base Vulcan, they’d barely been introduced during Zeller’s fortnight in-country, and now Zeller needed to know this man who’d saved his life. ‘Why,’ asked Zeller, ‘are you on our side and not theirs?’

‘Because you are my guest here,’ said Shinwari. ‘You come so many miles to help my family; I am honor-bound to protect you, brother.'”


 A Good Man in Africa, Mark Doyle, BBC.

Twenty years ago, Rwanda descended into the madness of genocide. UN peacekeepers were stretched to breaking point – but one stood out, taking huge risks to save hundreds of lives.

“This is the story of the bravest man I have ever met.

I’ve covered many wars and seen many acts of courage. But for sheer grit and determination I’ve never known anyone to compare with Capt Mbaye Diagne, a United Nations peacekeeper in Rwanda.

I was there in 1994, when 800,000 people were killed in 100 days, and I returned to reconstruct the story of this remarkable, charismatic officer from the west African state of Senegal.”


The Election is the Enemy, Barnett R. Rubin, Foreign Policy.

The Taliban isn’t attacking the Afghan army anymore — they’re trying to blow up the heart of Afghan politics.

“When a group of gunmen killed nine people in Kabul’s Serena Hotel in late March, the victims included one of the international observers who was supposed to help ensure that this week’s presidential vote wasn’t marred by widespread fraud. The response was grimly predictable: The National Democratic Institute shuttered its Kabul office and sent its staffers home, while the United Nations pulled some of its technical experts from Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission (IEC). The IEC compound itself was assaulted last weekend by a group of heavily armed Taliban militants. The withdrawal of so many international observers, according to the New York Times, ‘potentially raises serious questions about the validity of the election.’ For the Taliban, it seems, the election, not the Afghan National Army, is now the primary target.”

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