Leitura para o fim-de-semana: o gangue de reformados

É uma história fabulosa: como um grupo de ladrões reformados se juntaram para fazer aquele que foi considerado o maior roubo de jóias do Reino Unido. Ao todo, o golpe terárendido 20 milhões de dólares, dos quais 15 milhões ainda estão desaparecidos. Para ler na Vanity Fair.



‘It required a team with diverse skills…. It took ingenuity and brute force,” reporter Declan Lawn speculated on BBC television three weeks after what was already being called “the greatest heist in British history,” the audacious April 2015 ransacking of safe-deposit boxes in Hatton Garden, London’s diamond district. The crime was indeed epic. So much cash, jewelry, and other valuables had been taken that the loot, worth up to $300 million according to estimates at the time, had been hauled out of the vault in giant trash containers on wheels. Lawn demonstrated the acrobatic feats the gang must have used, and London’s newspapers were filled with artists’ renderings of the heist, featuring hard-bodied burglars in black turtlenecks doing superhuman things. Experts insisted that the heist was the work of a foreign team of navy-SEAL-like professionals, likely from the infamous Pink Panthers, a Serbian gang of master diamond thieves. Retired Scotland Yard detective Barry Phillips believed it was the work of a highly technical team, assembled by a so-called “Draftsman”—who financed the heist and assembled the players, probably from the U.K. He speculated that no member of the gang would have known any of the others, in order to preserve “sterile corridors,” making it impossible for any perpetrator to rat out the others.

The thieves had surely divided up the spoils into easily transportable lots once inside “the slaughter,” as their hideaway would have been called in London gangster argot. Perhaps they had sneaked the jewels out of the country by stuffing them up the butts of racehorses, the flamboyant villain turned celebrity Dave Courtney theorized on the BBC. The thieves would have been whisked out of Great Britain on a quick ferry trip from Dover to Dunkirk or Calais, from where they could disappear into Europe.

British crime aficionados saw the operation as a refreshing throwback to the meticulously planned, supremely executed jewelry heists of yesteryear, the ones that had inspired such classic crime movies as To Catch a Thief and Topkapi. Many were calling it “the perfect crime.”

But when arrests were made a month later, Great Britain collectively gasped.


Retirement is a bitch.

Your wife has passed away. Most of your mates are in exile, prison, or the grave. Even the cops you once eluded have died, retired, or forgotten you. You skulk around your run-down mansion in the suburbs of London, puttering in your garden, infuriating your neighbors by running a used-car dealership out of your home, and “hobbling over to the news agent,” as one neighbor put it, for the daily papers to read about younger men doing what you used to.

This was the life of Brian Reader at 76. “He ain’t got no friends no more,” a colleague would say of him. “Sitting down there in the café, talks about all their yesterdays,” said another. “He was a thief 40 years ago.”

The Guardian’s veteran crime reporter Duncan Campbell, who met Reader 30 years ago, described him as something of a gent, “an easy-going character, the antithesis of a criminal wide boy, still in touch with his old school friends.”

O artigo completo está aqui.

Leitura para o fim-de-semana: o texto que ninguém quer ler

Querem saber o que é o mal? É isto


ISIS Enshrines a Theology of Rape

Claiming the Quran’s support, the Islamic State codifies sex slavery in conquered regions of Iraq and Syria and uses the practice as a recruiting tool.

QADIYA, Iraq — In the moments before he raped the 12-year-old girl, the Islamic State fighter took the time to explain that what he was about to do was not a sin. Because the preteen girl practiced a religion other than Islam, the Quran not only gave him the right to rape her — it condoned and encouraged it, he insisted.

He bound her hands and gagged her. Then he knelt beside the bed and prostrated himself in prayer before getting on top of her.

When it was over, he knelt to pray again, bookending the rape with acts of religious devotion.

“I kept telling him it hurts — please stop,” said the girl, whose body is so small an adult could circle her waist with two hands. “He told me that according to Islam he is allowed to rape an unbeliever. He said that by raping me, he is drawing closer to God,” she said in an interview alongside her family in a refugee camp here, to which she escaped after 11 months of captivity.

The systematic rape of women and girls from the Yazidi religious minority has become deeply enmeshed in the organization and the radical theology of the Islamic State in the year since the group announced it was reviving slavery as an institution. Interviews with 21 women and girls who recently escaped the Islamic State, as well as an examination of the group’s official communications, illuminate how the practice has been enshrined in the group’s core tenets.

The trade in Yazidi women and girls has created a persistent infrastructure, with a network of warehouses where the victims are held, viewing rooms where they are inspected and marketed, and a dedicated fleet of buses used to transport them.

A total of 5,270 Yazidis were abducted last year, and at least 3,144 are still being held, according to community leaders. To handle them, the Islamic State has developed a detailed bureaucracy of sex slavery, including sales contracts notarized by the ISIS-run Islamic courts. And the practice has become an established recruiting tool to lure men from deeply conservative Muslim societies, where casual sex is taboo and dating is forbidden.

A growing body of internal policy memos and theological discussions has established guidelines for slavery, including a lengthy how-to manual issued by the Islamic State Research and Fatwa Department just last month. Repeatedly, the ISIS leadership has emphasized a narrow and selective reading of the Quran and other religious rulings to not only justify violence, but also to elevate and celebrate each sexual assault as spiritually beneficial, even virtuous.

“Every time that he came to rape me, he would pray,” said F, a 15-year-old girl who was captured on the shoulder of Mount Sinjar one year ago and was sold to an Iraqi fighter in his 20s. Like some others interviewed by The New York Times, she wanted to be identified only by her first initial because of the shame associated with rape.

“He kept telling me this is ibadah,” she said, using a term from Islamic scripture meaning worship.”

O artigo completo está aqui

Leitura para o fim-de-sema: “Bill Cosby drogou-me”

Há muito que circulavam os rumores dos abusos alegados cometidos por Bill Cosby ao longo dos anos. Em Novembro, Barbara Bowman revelou ao Washington Post como foi drogada e violada pelo actor. Mais tarde foi a vez de Janice Dickinson contar como o mesmo lhe aconteceu. Agora, a antiga modelo Beverly Johnson dar o seu testemunho sobre como Cosby a drogou no seu apartamento.



Leitura para o fim-de-semana: “Isto são más notícias”

Em meados de Outubro de 1963, o presidente dos EUA John F. Kennedy tinha enviado a Cuba, em segredo, o jornalista Jean Daniel. O objectivo era estabelecer um canal de diálogo com Fidel Castro. Ao fim de algumas semanas, o repórter acabou por ser recebido. E estava com El Comandante quando chegaram as notícias: Kennedy tinha morrido. Este artigo foi publicado pela primeira vez a 7 de Dezembro de 1963 e foi agora recordado no 100º aniversário da The New Republic.



It was around 1:30 in the afternoon, Cuban time. We were having lunch in the living room of the modest summer residence which Fidel Castro owns on magnificent Varadero Beach, 120 kilometers from Havana. For at least the tenth time, I was questioning the Cuban leader on details of the negotiations with Russia before the missile installations last year. The telephone rang, a secretary in guerrilla garb announced that Mr. Dorticós, President of the Cuban Republic, had an urgent communication for the Prime Minister. Fidel picked up the phone and I heard him say: “Como? Un atentado?” (“What’s that? An attempted assassination?”) He then turned to us to say that Kennedy had just been struck down in Dallas. Then he went back to the telephone and exclaimed in a loud voice “Herido? Muy gravemente?” (“Wounded? Very seriously?”)

He came back, sat down, and repeated three times the words: “Es una mala noticia.” (“This is bad news.”) He remained silent for a moment, awaiting another call with further news. He remarked while we waited that there was an alarmingly sizable lunatic fringe in American society and that this deed could equally well have been the work of a madman or of a terrorist. Perhaps a Vietnamese? Or a member of the Ku Klux Klan? The second call came through: it was hoped they would be able to announce that the United States President was still alive, that there was hope of saving him. Fidel Castro’s immediate reaction was: “If they can, he is already re-elected.” He pronounced these words with satisfaction.

This sentence was a sequel to a conversation we had held on a previous evening and which had turned into an all-night session. To be precise, it lasted from 10 in the evening until 4 in the morning. A good part of the talk revolved about the impressions I recounted to him of an interview which President Kennedy granted me this last October 24, and about Fidel Castro’s reactions to these impressions. During this nocturnal discussion, Castro had delivered himself of a relentless indictment of U.S. policy, adding that in the recent past Washington had had ample opportunity to normalize its relations with Cuba, but that instead it had tolerated a CIA program of training, equipping and organizing a counter-revolution. He had told me that he wasn’t in the least fearful of his life, since danger was his natural milieu, and if he were to become a victim of the United States this would simply enhance his radius of influence in Latin America as well as throughout the socialist world. He was speaking, he said, from the viewpoint of the interests of peace in both the American continents. To achieve this goal, a leader would have to arise in the United States capable of understanding the explosive realities of Latin America and of meeting them halfway. Then, suddenly, he had taken a less hostile tack: “Kennedy could still be this man. He still has the possibility of becoming, in the eyes of history, the greatest President of the United States, the leader who may at last understand that there can be coexistence between capitalists and socialists, even in the Americas. He would then be an even greater President than Lincoln. I know, for example, that for Khrushchev, Kennedy is a man you can talk with. I have gotten this impression from all my conversations with Khrushchev. Other leaders have assured me that to attain this goal, we must first await his re-election. Personally, I consider him responsible for everything, but I will say this: he has come to understand many things over the past few months; and then too, in the last analysis, I’m convinced that anyone else would be worse.” Then Fidel had added with a broad and boyish grin: “If you see him again, you can tell him that I’m willing to declare Goldwater my friend if that will guarantee Kennedy’s re-election!”

This conversation was held on November 19.

Now it was nearly 2 o’clock and we got up from the table and settled ourselves in front of a radio. Commandant Vallero, his physician, aide-de-camp, and intimate friend, was easily able to get the broadcasts from the NBC network in Miami. As the news came in, Vallero would translate it for Fidel: Kennedy wounded in the head; pursuit of the assassin; murder of a policeman; finally the fatal announcement: President Kennedy is dead. Then Fidel stood up and said to me: “Everything is changed. Everything is going to change. The United States occupies such a position in world affairs that the death of a President of that country affects millions of people in every corner of the globe. The cold war, relations with Russia, Latin America, Cuba, the Negro question… all will have to be rethought. I’ll tell you one thing: at least Kennedy was an enemy to whom we had become accustomed. This is a serious matter, an extremely serious matter.”

After the quarter-hour of silence observed by all the American radio stations, we once more tuned in on Miami; the silence had only been broken by a re-broadcasting of the American national anthem. Strange indeed was the impression made, on hearing this hymn ring out in the house of Fidel Castro, in the midst of a circle of worried faces. “Now,” Fidel said, “they will have to find the assassin quickly, but very quickly, otherwise, you watch and see, I know them, they will try to put the blame on us for this thing. But tell me, how many Presidents have been assassinated? Four? This is most disturbing! In Cuba, only one has been assassinated. You know, when we were hiding out in the Sierra there were some (not in my group, in another) who wanted to kill Batista. They thought they could do away with a regime by decapitating it. I have always been violently opposed to such methods. First of all from the viewpoint of political self-interest, because so far as Cuba is concerned, if Batista had been killed he would have been replaced by some military figure who would have tried to make the revolutionists pay for the martyrdom of the dictator. But I was also opposed to it on personal grounds; assassination is repellent to me.”

The broadcasts were now resumed. One reporter felt he should mention the difficulty Mrs. Kennedy was having in getting rid of her bloodstained stockings. Fidel exploded: “What sort of a mind is this!” He repeated the remark several times: “What sort of a mind is this? There is a difference in our civilizations after all. Are you like this in Europe? For us Latin Americans, death is a sacred matter; not only does it mark the close of hostilities, but it also imposes decency, dignity, respect. There are even street urchins who behave like kings in the face of death. Incidentally, this reminds me of something else: if you write all those things I told you yesterday against Kennedy’s policy, don’t use his name now; speak instead of the policy of the United States government.”

Toward 5 o’clock, Fidel Castro declared that since there was nothing we could do to alter the tragedy, we must try to put our time to good use in spite of it. He wanted to accompany me in person on a visit to a granja de pueblo (state farm), where he had been engaging in some experiments. His present obsession is agriculture. He reads nothing but agronomical studies and reports. He dwells lyrically on the soil, fertilizers, and the possibilities which will give Cuba enough sugar cane by 1970 to achieve economic independence.”

Leitura para o fim-de-semana: O democrata que acabou no Estado Islâmico

Foi polícia, um dos defensores da primavera árabe no Egipto e candidato a deputado nas eleições de 2012. Mas com o desmoronar da revolução, acabou por partir para o Iraque onde se juntou ao Estado Islâmico – onde morreu em Maio deste ano. A história foi agora contada pelo Finantial Times.


Egyptian’s radicalisation a story of despair, say friends

He had held on for months. But when the Islamists and leftists, who had united in the 2011 revolution he had championed, began fighting each other on the streets of Cairo in late 2012, something inside him snapped.

Ahmed al-Darawy, a one-time police officer turned revolutionary, had been a mainstay of Egypt’s uprising in Tahrir Square.

“He told me, ‘That’s it! That’s the beginning of the end’,” recalls his brother, Haytham, younger by two years. “He told me, ‘Did you see what happened? The revolution is coming to an end, and the counter-revolution will rise. There is blood now between them, they will never reunite. And this means they are both going to be wiped out.’”

Once gregarious and outspoken, he became reclusive, shying away from public life. After the July 2013 coup d’état felled the country’s Islamist president Mohamed Morsi and led to the installation of a military-backed regime, Darawy left the country, telling relatives he was seeking medical care.

The call came on May 29, 2014. Darawy, a 38-year-old father of three, had died on the battlefields of Iraq, the man said. The one-time democracy activist, who had run for the Egyptian parliament in 2012 as an independent, had joined the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, an al-Qaeda offshoot known as Isis, and died in battle.

“The Darawy matter actually horrifies me,” says Yasser al-Hawary, 36, a liberal Egyptian activist. “He adopted the same demands and ideas as all of us and he was just like anybody else. This means other people, that don’tshow violence , could join Isis as well.”

Darawy’s path from non-violent democracy activist to fighter for a group so extreme it has been disowned by al-Qaeda reflects the unsettling course of the Arab revolts of 2011. A heady season of hope and optimism that stirred longings for democracy and citizenship rights also unleashed demons many observers did not expect: political repression, internecine and sectarian fighting, and chaos in what had been authoritarian societies.

With the possible exception of Tunisia, all the nations that have risen up are now mired in intensified repression or armed conflict. A moment of hope that the Arab world was emerging from authoritarianism has been eclipsed by Isis and its efforts to draw men and women like Darawy into its orbit.

“This story is very important,” says Fawaz Gerges, a professor of Middle Eastern politics at the London School of Economics and the author of a book on jihadis. “Not only does it tell us about Egypt’s past, present and future, but also it tells us how the great aspirations and hopes of the so-called Arab spring have turned into despair, and how some of these men have turned to jihadism.”

Darawy belies the stereotype of jihadis as misfits. He was born to university educated parents in 1976, and grew up in Cairo’s upscale Maadi suburb. Those who knew him and his family describe them as well-to-do. Darawy’s sister studied at the expensive American University of Cairo. Darawy received a prestigious spot to study law enforcement at the police academy.

”We were not just middle-class, we are a rich family,” says Haytham, who now lives in the Gulf.

After years as a cop, Darawy became disillusioned with the police, under the interior ministry, known for its brutality and corruption. “He saw what the regime was doing,” says Mr Hawary.

He left the police to join Etisalat, the country’s UAE-operated mobile phone carrier, as a marketing manager setting up sponsorship arrangements with local sports clubs for the company. His brother says Darawy and his wife earned the equivalent of $7,000 a month in a country where monthly income averages $500.

Activists recall meeting him first in late 2010, at the offices of the Socialist Renewal Current, among the liberal and leftist groups that spearheaded the drive into the streets the following January. “He was very expressive and outspoken and was very balanced in his ideas,” says Mr Hawary. “He was in harmony with us.”

He became a leading figure in the tent community that sprang up on Tahrir Square in the days before longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak was toppled in February 2011.

“He had indescribable hope and energy,” says his brother. “I once told him, ‘Ahmed, I think your activism is affecting your work and your home.’ So he told me something very important; that the future of the country is being formed now, we are making history.”

But Darawy was no starry-eyed idealist dreaming of transformation. Not only had he been a police officer but he had worked in the private sector and was by the time of the revolution a parent. He knew how institutions operated and understood the slow pace of reform, so when he came forward to call for reform of the interior ministry, his proposal was full of concrete steps to improve an organisation whose abuses lay at the heart of the 2011 rebellion.

He urged a reduction in work hours, paperwork and administrative tasks to encourage the police to provide proper security, as well as salary reforms and training programmes to reduce brutality. “He wanted police resources to be focused on the security of the citizen,” says his brother.”

O artigo completo está aqui.

Leitura para o fim-de-semana: pobres mas com casas de milhões

O Upper East Side, em Manhattan, é uma das zonas mais exclusivas de Nova Iorque. Com vista para o Central Park, é habitada por artistas e celebridades endinheiradas. Mas uma investigação do The Telegraph revelou também que é aí que estão instaladas as embaixadas e residências de diplomatas de algumas das nações mais pobres do mundo. Um exemplo: Cabo Verde, que ocupa a 123ª posição no Índice de Desenvolvimento Humano tem um edifício numa zona em que um imóvel vizinho foi vendido recentemente por 48 milhões de Dólares. E há mais.

Embaixada de Cabo Verde em NY

Embaixada de Cabo Verde em NY

“Revealed: New York multi-million dollar mansions belong to poorest nations on earth

Diplomats of poor nations rub shoulders with celebrities and billionaires at their embassies on Manhattan’s illustrious Upper East Side. Click the map for video and details of embassies and their countries’ wealth

New York’s Upper East Side is a neighbourhood of celebrities and millionaires – and home to some of the poorest countries on the planet.

An investigation by The Telegraph has found dozens of embassies, consuls, missions and ambassadorial residences, worth tens of millions of dollars, dotted along the rarefied streets of Manhattan’s wealthiest district.

They include a number owned by some of the most impoverished countries on the planet, including Congo, ranked in 186th place out of 187 countries on the Human Development Index (HDI), the annual report produced by the United Nations which assesses the wealth of populations around the world.

Others belong to nations struggling to cope with war and dictatorship, including Iraq and Myanmar.

And some are owned by middle-ranking countries economically, whose citizens may nonetheless question why their governments hold properties in the most sought-after quarter of one of the most expensive cities in the world. Greece, which has struggled with debt and recession since the 2008 financial crisis, falls into this category.

Diplomats from around the world are assigned to New York because Manhattan is home to the United Nations, meaning each nation is entitled to maintain an embassy – known as a mission – in the city.

But while more frugal nations occupy office buildings close to the UN, in Manhattan’s Midtown, others maintain lavish residences a 10-minute car ride away on the Upper East Side.

Many are tucked away on quiet cross streets between the millionaires’ rows of Fifth Avenue, Madison Avenue and Park Avenue, where property prices for a town house run into the tens of millions of dollars.

A large number are close to Central Park and amenities such as the designer boutiques of Madison Avenue and Uptown’s most exclusive bars and restaurants.

Diplomats living on the Upper East Side, which runs between 59th Street and 96th Street, and Central Park and the East River, can expect to rub shoulders with celebrities including Madonna and Woody Allen, and the billionaires Michael Bloomberg and David Koch, the fourth richest person in America.

Amid concern in some countries, including the United Kingdom, about the cost of maintaining expensive overseas properties, a number of nations have sold off their Upper East Side mansions in recent years.

They include France, which this year divested itself of the ambassador’s residence, an apartment at 740 Park Avenue, known as the most expensive apartment building in New York, for $70 million (£43.8 million).

Ivory Coast and Senegal have also recently sold off property on the Upper East Side.

But a number continue to allow their diplomats to live in a style which the vast majority of their citizens could only dream of.

They include Congo, where average income is just over a dollar (62p) a day, and which owns a large town house on East 65th between Fifth and Madison Avenues.

A house across the street from Congo’s recently sold for $40 million (£25 million), which would make a not insignificant dent in its national debt of $6 billion (£3.76 billion).

The tiny nation of Cape Verde, which is ranked 123 in the HDI, owns a town house on East 69th Street between Fifth and Madison Avenues; the neighbouring property was on the market in 2012 for $48 million (£30.1 million).

A third African country, Angola, possesses a town house on East 73rd Street, between Park and Lexington Avenues, where the house next door sold for $32.5 million (£20.3 million) in 2008.”

Leitura para o fim-de-semana: o estranho caso do roubo do Stradivarius

Buzz Bissinger é um conceituado jornalista americano. No final da década de 1980 ganhou um prémio Pulitzer na categoria de jornalismo de investigação. Alguns dos seus artigos foram adaptados ao cinema. Nos últimos anos celebrizou-se escreveu vários livros relacionados com desporto. Agora, na Vanity Fair, conta a história de como um criminoso de rua se interessou e foi acusado de roubar um violino Stradivarius.


It isn’t every day that a street criminal—a high-school dropout with two felony convictions—is accused of stealing a centuries-old violin worth as much as $6 million. But nothing about the heist of the Lipinski Stradivarius, which galvanized the music world last winter, was normal, or even logical

Leitura para o fim-de-semana:

Em 1998 a revista The New Republic quase foi ferida de morte: descobriu-se que um dos seus principais jornalistas – aquele que trazia as melhores e mais incríveis histórias – tinha inventado grande parte dos seus exclusivos. Foi um golpe duro na reputação da revista, mas também uma traição de Stephen Glass aos seus camaradas. Agora, 16 anos depois, uma das suas melhores amigas na época falou com ele pela primeira vez.

Foto:  Ian Allen

Foto: Ian Allen

Hello, My Name Is Stephen Glass, and I’m Sorry

He nearly destroyed this magazine. Sixteen years later, his former best friend finally confronts him.


The last time I talked to Stephen Glass, he was pleading with me on the phone to protect him from Charles Lane. Chuck, as we called him, was the editor of The New Republic and Steve was my colleague and very good friend, maybe something like a little brother, though we are only two years apart in age. Steve had a way of inspiring loyalty, not jealousy, in his fellow young writers, which was remarkable given how spectacularly successful he’d been in such a short time. While the rest of us were still scratching our way out of the intern pit, he was becoming a franchise, turning out bizarre and amazing stories week after week for The New Republic, Harper’s, and Rolling Stoneeach one a home run.

I didn’t know when he called me that he’d made up nearly all of the bizarre and amazing stories, that he was the perpetrator of probably the most elaborate fraud in journalistic history, that he would soon become famous on a whole new scale. I didn’t even know he had a dark side. It was the spring of 1998 and he was still just my hapless friend Steve, who padded into my office ten times a day in white socks and was more interested in alphabetizing beer than drinking it. When he called, I was in New York and I said I would come back to D.C. right away. I probably said something about Chuck like: “Fuck him. He can’t fire you. He can’t possibly think you woulddo that.”

I was wrong, and Chuck, ever-resistant to Steve’s charms, was as right as he’d been in his life. The story was front-page news all over the world. The staff (me included) spent several weeks re-reporting all of Steve’s articles. It turned out that Steve had been making up characters, scenes, events, whole stories from first word to last. He made up some funny stuffa convention of Monica Lewinsky memorabiliaand also some really awful stuff: racist cab drivers, sexist Republicans, desperate poor people calling in to a psychic hotline, career-damaging quotes about politicians. In fact, we eventually figured out that very few of his stories were completely true. Not only that, but he went to extreme lengths to hide his fabrications, filling notebooks with fake interview notes and creating fake business cards and fake voicemails. (Remember, this was before most people used Google. Plus, Steve had been the head of The New Republic’s fact-checking department.)

Once we knew what he’d done, I tried to call Steve, but he never called back. He just went missing, like the kids on the milk cartons. It was weird. People often ask me if I felt “betrayed,” but really I was deeply unsettled, like I’d woken up in the wrong room. I wondered whether Steve had lied to me about personal things, too. I wondered how, even after he’d been caught, he could bring himself to recruit me to defend him, knowing I’d be risking my job to do so. I wondered how I could spend more time with a person during the week than I spent with my husband and not suspect a thing. (And I didn’t. It came as a total surprise). And I wondered what else I didn’t know about people. Could my brother be a drug addict? Did my best friend actually hate me? Jon Chait, now a political writer for New York and back then the smart young wonk in our trio, was in Paris when the scandal broke. Overnight, Steve went from “being one of my best friends to someone I read about in The International Herald Tribune,” Chait recalled. The transition was so abrupt that, for months, Jon dreamed that he’d run into him or that Steve wanted to talk to him.

Then, after a while, the dreams stopped. The Monica Lewinsky scandal petered out, George W. Bush became president, we all got cell phones, laptops, spouses, children. Over the years, Steve Glass got mixed up in our minds with the fictionalized Stephen Glass from his own 2003 roman à clef,The Fabulist, or Steve Glass as played by Hayden Christensen in the 2003 movie Shattered Glass. It was the book that finally provoked my anger. The plot follows a thinly fictionalized Steve in the aftermath of the affair. It portrays him as humble, contrite, and “a few shades hipper than the original,” I wrote in a review for Slate. The rest of us came off as shallow jerks barely worth apologizing to. Steve sent about 100 handwritten letters of apology that year to people he’d injured, all several pages long and very abject: “I’m genuinely sorry that I lied to you and betrayed you.” But he was also hawking his book, so we saw the letters as an effort to neutralize us. Reading the novel pretty much killed off my curiosity. For years afterward, if I thought about Steve at allusually when I got an e-mail from a journalism student who had seen the movie in an ethics classhe was the notorious Stephen Glass, still living in the Clinton era.

Then, in 2010, I got a call from a lawyer in California. Steve had filed an application for something called “moral character determination” with the California state bar. He wanted to be a lawyer and the guild apparently did not think he had reformed enough to practice law. Did I want to provide an account of Steve’s wrongdoing? the lawyer asked. Chuck Lane was going to, and Steve had lined up several witnesses to speak in his favor. I said I would think about it and I did. For a few days, I tried to call up the anger again. But after all those years I could only find faint traces of it.

In fact, the prospect of appearing in court revived some of the old protective instincts. I hadn’t seen Steve in twelve years. I couldn’t say he deserved to be a lawyer, but I couldn’t say he definitively didn’t, either. (Since when did lawyers become the measure of purity anyway?) At stake for the lawyers was the sanctity of their guild. But for me, a larger question loomed: Agreeing that Steve could never practice law felt a little too close to agreeing that no one who had done something wrongeven monstrously wrongin their youth could ever move beyond it. “I don’t wish him ill,” I’d written in my review of TheFabulist. “But I’m not convinced he’s changed all that much.” When the lawyer reminded me that the real Stephen Glass lived on the other coast, that he had professional aspirations, that he had friends who would stick up for him in court, that, in short, he was still making his way through time, it suddenly occurred to me: How could I possibly know if he’d changed or if he hadn’t?

Steve Glass now lives in Venice Beach with his longtime girlfriend, Julie Hilden, a dog, two cats, and a rotating cast of foster pets. (The couple are also vegans.) He works as director of special projects at Carpenter, Zuckerman, Rowley, a personal-injury law firm in Beverly Hills. For anyone who knew him back in the day, this is a comical juxtaposition. Steve is a Jewish boy from the posh Chicago suburb of Highland Park with pushy Jewish parents who insisted on the usual (doctor, lawyer). When they urged him to go to law school, they probably had Supreme Court appearances in mind, not, as the firm boasts, a $2.1 million settlement for a homeless man hit by a garbage truck. But Paul Zuckerman, the partner who hired Steve and has become his mentor, considers this development to be a sign of grace. “You were on track to be an asshole,” he told Steve when I was there. “The best thing that ever happened to you in your life is that you fell flat on your face.”

I’d e-mailed Steve this summer to see if he would talk to me. The New Republic was approaching its one-hundredth anniversary and the magazine wanted to revisit this dark chapter in its history. Other than publicizing his book, Steve hadn’t done any interviews since then, and certainly not with people from that era. But he readily agreed to talk to me, for reasons that became clear to me during the course of our conversations.

We decided to meet at a café near his office, and I ran into him on the street when we were both heading over. We said hello, reflexively hugged. I flashed back to the many times I’d run into him on the corner outside CF Folks, a lunch place near the old New Republic office in D.C. It was like encountering a cousin I hadn’t seen in some time. He had the same sandy curls and glasses, the same bouncy walk, and the pallor of someone who spends all day in an office. He still had the air of a nice boy who was about to theatrically help his grandma cross the street. Only something was a little different. He was more grounded? Or maybe masculine? For some reason it popped into my head that Steve had once wanted to write a story about how everyone thought he was gay but he wasn’t. He was floaty back then, undetermined, as if he could levitate in those white socks. But now he had lost that quality.

The first question he asked was whether I had any kids, which gave me a good idea of how far he’d strayed from his old world of journalist friends. (I have three, according to Wikipedia, and the many articles I’ve written mentioning them). I asked if he’d kept in touch with anyone from back then, and he said he hadn’t been able to. In the early days after the scandal, Steve told me, when he would see one of us on the street in D.C., he would become terrified, to the point of feeling “physically ill, like my stomach was falling out of me,” and turn and run in the other direction. He didn’t read any news about himself for a long timeit took him a year to read theVanity Fair story about the scandalbecause it was “extremely painful,” he said. Eventually that meant he fell out of the habit of reading much news at all, outside The New York Times and legal papers for work. I realized that for Steve, we too were frozen in the Clinton era. “It’s not realistic,” he explained, “but after a period of time, I was still convinced my old world of friends were having conversations amongst themselves, … that you and Jon were still hanging out every day and I didn’t know what was going on. I didn’t get over the idea that it was one big club and I was no longer a part of it.”

On the plane to California, I’d imagined myself in the same role as the lawyer who’d asked me to appear at the bar hearing. I was going into intellectual combat, and I had to be well prepared. I dressed in an overly formal way, and I read Crime and Punishment on the plane to acquaint myself with the tricks of a guilty mind. I was wary of getting played again, and so I decided I would not spare Steve any question, no matter how uncomfortable. That phone call when he asked me to defend him to Chuck, for example. What was he thinking? “I was clearly putting you at risk to back up my lies,” he said, adding that he had asked multiple people to defend him. “What I did was horrible and then asking people to defend me was horrible.” His words were heavy but his tone stayed friendly. He was relaxedin fact, much more so than I was. And his directness surprised me. He’d clearly thought through these answers, but they didn’t feel canned or rehearsed.

Leitura para o fim-de-semana: o senhor da guerra do Estado Islâmico

Abu Omar al Shishani é hoje em dia o principal comandante militar do grupo terrorista Estado Islâmico. É ele quem lidera as brigadas de estrangeiros – onde se inclui Fábio, agora AbduRahman Al Andalus) – que tem tido sucessivas vitórias na Síria e no Iraque. Esta reportagem do The Daily Beast na sua terra natal revela duas coisas: que o principal cérebro militar do Estado Islâmico foi formado pelos serviços secretos dos Estados Unidos e que, por trás dele, pode estar o seu desconhecido irmão mais velho, um veterano da guerra na Chechénia.


The Secret Life of an ISIS Warlord

Abu Omar al-Shishani has a fierce, gorgeous Chechen bride. He learned intelligence operations from the U.S. And his older brother may be the real genius of ISIS.
PANKISI GORGE, Georgia—The mother of martyrs, a woman in her fifties, is delicately beautiful and visibly in pain. She covers her hazel eyes and sobs over a photo album as the call to prayer echoes throughout the Georgian village of Jokolo, just south of the Chechen border.

The mother’s story involves one of the most notorious jihadists in the world, a man who served in intelligence units trained by Americans and the British, a man who is the face of the ISIS conquests, and a man who took her late son’s wife for his own bride.

The mother, Leila Achishvili, tries hard to maintain her poise, even as she discusses the death of both of her boys, Hamzat and Khalid Borchashvili. She is halfway through a box of tissues. Her story has just begun.

The eight-mile-long Pankisi Valley is notorious even in the infamous Caucasus as a lawless corridor for smuggling weapons, drugs, and jihadists into Chechnya, just a few miles to the north and the east. It is also one of the few places in Georgia where the sorrowful beauty of the call to prayer still can be heard. These days Pankisi feels closer to Syria than to the nation of Georgia, to which it belongs.

Among the younger generations, radical versions of Sunni Wahhabism have replaced the traditional moderate Sufi Islam of Pankisi’s Kist majority. There is rampant unemployment, and many of these disillusioned young Georgian jihadists now make their way west to Syria via neighboring Turkey. They are inspired by local legend and ISIS commander Abu Omar al-Shishani, who made the same journey only a few years before.

Stories and rumors circulate—whispers of his massive villa, his fiefdom and private harem, his 40 personal guards, his armored cavalcade of SUVs, and now his stunning and fierce Chechen warrior wife. For these young men, their Pankisi native son has already become part Josef Stalin (another native son of Georgia) and part rock star of the media-savvy Islamic caliphate. But according to his father, Abu Omar al-Shishani is a mirage: It’s his older brother who is running the ISIS show.


The name that Abu Omar al-Shishani grew up with was Tarkhan. And because we are here in his hometown talking to the people who once loved him, and perhaps still do, we’ll use that name, too.  Tarkhan’s father, Temur, a grizzled, eccentric, well-read old Christian with a bitter sense of self-irony, tells his sons’ story in an extensive—almost bizarre—interview with The Daily Beast at his small gray house in the village of Birkiani, where his boys grew up.

“I am like a hobo,” the old man declares. “My son is one of the founders of Islamic caliphate and I’m here, dying in poverty! Look! Look where I live!” According to Temur, his son even invited him to Syria. “He told me, ‘Dad, come with me. You’ll live like you are in paradise.’ I told him, ‘Save your paradise for yourself, I prefer my home here.’”

Despite Tarkhan’s fame as a holy warrior, the father doesn’t see him as particularly pious, his mother came from a Muslim family, but he didn’t show much interest. The old man claims that, in fact, before Tarkhan went to prison, he wasn’t religious at all. He supposedly warned his older brothers about the dangers of fanatical Islam, especially his brother Tamaz, who was fighting in Chechnya: “‘Be citizens of Georgia,’ Tarkhan would say to Tamaz, ‘You are in a war, you may fight there, but do not pick up their beliefs.’ And now look what happened! Do you see how a man can change?”

Like so many of the world’s most brutal dictators, military leaders, tyrants, and jihadists, it appears Tarkhan was trained by the very best: the United States government. According to his father and former colleagues, Tarkhan worked for an elite “Spetsnaz” Georgian military-intelligence unit—at least until he caught tuberculosis, lost his job in the intelligence unit, was then framed by that same intelligence unit, and went to jail in 2010 for weapons possession.

Tarkhan’s father claims that his son worked, specifically, for the ministry of interior’s KUD or “Kudi,” basically the domestic-intelligence and special-operations service in Georgia, officially called the Constitutional Security Department. The agency was notoriously brutal. When asked if it was true that his son Tarkhan was trained by the United States, Temur says, “Of course they did. They trained all of the Georgian army back then… My boy was just 19 when he went to the army… This KUDI, where he was working, it was an intelligence and reconnaissance unit.”

The United States government has been overtly training and funding Georgian troops for more than a decade. This is no secret. Last month, when U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel visited Georgia, he also visited U.S. Marines at the Krtsanisi National Training Center outside Tbilisi, where the leathernecks continue to train Georgian troops as they have for more than a dozen years.

The Daily Beast has learned that a young clean-shaven Tarkhan joined the U.S-funded Georgian army in 2006. He rose quickly. He was recruited into a newly created “Spetsnaz” intelligence unit and he carried out reconnaissance on Russian tank brigades during the 2008 Georgia/Russia War. Levan Amiridze, Tarkhan’s friend and military colleague, with whom he would later spend time in prison, confirmed that officers in the “secret services” of the ministry of defense were routinely trained by both U.S. and British instructors. So there is little doubt that the ISIS commander from Pankisi was either trained by the Americans or by the officers whom they had trained.

Yet despite Tarkhan’s American guidance and combat experience, Tarkhan’s father doesn’t see his son as any kind of military mastermind. Temur views his youngest boy as a kind of victim. Over the course of the interview, the father sketches a relationship that his two sons have gone to great lengths to create and to conceal in their command of ISIS troops in Syria.

“Tarkhan is 27, not more—a child! Tamaz is his teacher. Tamaz ruined everything I had,” says the father of these holy warriors. “Tamaz is everything, the main actor; Tarkhan is nothing.” It was Tamaz who went off to fight in Grozny during the gruesome Chechen rebellion against Russia in the 1990s and early in the last decade. It was Tamaz who took his whole family to Syria. “They are together. Tamaz is his mentor. He survived that huge Grozny war and came back alive. [But] in Syria, Tamaz doesn’t show himself.”

And there we have it. The conspicuous, red-bearded jihadist Tarkhan, a.k.a. Abu Omar, one of the most wanted terrorists on the planet, may well be a figurehead for his older brother, the mastermind behind the Chechen operatives running ISIS offensives in Syria and Iraq.

If this is true, it explains why, unlike the rest of the top ISIS commanders, Tarkhan allows himself to be photographed extensively. They are creating the illusion that he is the “head of snake”—while the real architect of ISIS’s Syria operation, Tamaz Batirashvili, remains in the shadows.

The two brothers have similar features, the same nose, same red beards, yet we are told that Tamaz doesn’t typically wear military fatigues. He dresses simply, in a gown with a scarf on his head. They play two very different roles, but according to a local in Pankisi, “It’s instantly recognizable that they are brothers.” The tactic is quite clever in the terrifying game of illusion and terror that is so essential to the mystique and the conquests of the self-declared caliphate.

The importance of Tamaz is not just a figment of the old man’s imagination. The elder brother’s military prowess and importance to Georgian intelligence was also confirmed by a former Georgian military official, who spoke on condition that he not be identified by name.

There were much more professional and experienced men in the group from the Pankisi who worked with the Georgian spy agency. “Tarkhan was the only newbie,” says this source. “We only recruited him because we were interested in his brother—Tamaz and his friends, who were ‘real wolves,’ experienced soldiers, and veterans of the Chechen wars. We had certain interests toward them.” Georgia’s Anti-Terrorism Center, or ATC, allegedly ran some jihadists out of Pankisi to fight against Moscow’s troops in Grozny, a charge the Georgian government has always denied.

But when Tarkhan got sick with tuberculosis and was ushered out, the government gave him no pension or medical assistance. He grew increasingly angry, and then the government went after him, charging him with arms possession—just as it had done with his older brother years before—and throwing him in jail.

“I don’t know whether he really was involved in weapon smuggling, but most of his friends, including those who were arrested with him, presumably really were doing this,” said the same former official. “Some even were drug addicts. And Tarkhan was thought to act as a fixer, getting them in touch with people from Pankisi who wanted to buy weapons.”

O artigo completo está aqui.

Leitura para o fim-de-semana: a noite mais longa do Estado Novo

Durante 10 anos o Miguel Pinheiro dirigiu a Sábado com mestria. Enquanto foi director publicou a biografia de Sá Carneiro. Desde que deixou de o ser já publicou, com o Gonçalo Bordalo Pinheiro, o livro A Máquina do Poder, que relata os bastidores da campanha para as eleições europeias e a forma como os partidos manipulam a opinião pública. Agora, lançou o livro A noite mais longa, um relato detalhado das 13 horas em que Salazar esteve deitado na mesa de operações, cruzado com o outro grande acontecimento dessa noite: o “baile do século”, dado pelo milionário Antenor Patiño. E pelo excerto pré-publicado pelo Observador, vale todos os cêntimos.


O calista que viu Salazar cair da cadeira

Miguel Pinheiro

Salazar não estava pronto para nada daquilo. Quando o motorista parou o Cadillac à porta do Hospital dos Capuchos, em Lisboa, onde iria ser feito um eletroencefalograma, o presidente do Conselho saiu pelo seu pé mas não andou muito. Tinha à espera uma cadeira de rodas. Precisou de ajuda para se sentar e disse, em voz baixa:

– É inacreditável, parece inacreditável.

Ao longo do mês anterior, o ditador tinha passado por uma acentuada deterioração física. Cometera o enorme erro de resistir aos conselhos do seu médico, de tentar adiar um tratamento inevitável e de esconder a verdadeira extensão dos seus sintomas. Se naquele momento estava sentado numa cadeira de rodas era por causa de tudo o que fizera – e, tão importante quanto isso, de tudo o que não fizera – desde o início de agosto. Os acontecimentos que se sucederam ao longo dessas semanas ajudam a explicar a gravidade e o dramatismo da noite de 6 de setembro de 1968.

Salazar nunca pensou que uma pequena queda acabasse assim. Na altura, tinha tudo parecido muito insignificante – até pouco depois das 9 horas da manhã, o dia 1 de agosto fora exatamente igual aos outros. Perto das 8 horas, um carro da Presidência do Conselho tinha parado na Rua do Carmo, em Lisboa, para apanhar um homem «elegante, alto e magro». Tratava‐se de Augusto Hilário, que se tornara enfermeiro‐calista do presidente do Conselho por herança. O pai era de Viseu e tinha estudado na mesma escola que Salazar. Quando morreu, deixou ao filho o consultório e o cliente.

O calista e o ditador costumavam ver‐se de três em três semanas. Essa periodicidade não era um capricho – era uma necessidade. Quando era mais novo, Salazar partira o pé direito e nunca recuperara. Tinha os ossos encavalitados uns nos outros e apareciam‐lhe calos que lhe provocavam dores. Aliás, por isso é que usava umas botas de pelica muito fina, característica que levaria os opositores do regime a tratá‐lo, com desprezo, por O Botas.

Nessa quinta‐feira, ao chegar ao Forte de Santo António, no Estoril, Augusto Hilário passou a porta de madeira e ferro. No átrio, onde existe um azulejo com excertos de Os Lusíadas em cada parede, a temperatura estava mais fresca do que lá fora. Subiu um primeiro lanço de escadas e logo depois outro. Virou à direita e atravessou o longo corredor com o teto em abóbada que divide as duas alas do forte. Era ali, na zona conhecida como «Arca de Noé», que Salazar costumava ler os jornais, almoçar e receber visitas – mas àquela hora não havia ninguém. O calista abriu a quarta porta à esquerda e entrou numa sala grande, a que chamavam «rouparia», dividida por um arco e com armários pintados de branco em todas as paredes. À direita ficava um recanto onde D. Maria costumava cozinhar para Salazar. Hilário pousou a pasta e começou a preparar os instrumentos de que ia precisar para o tratamento.

Naquele momento, Salazar estava a acabar de vestir o seu casaco de linho branco, no primeiro andar do forte. Saiu do quarto, atravessou um pequeno corredor, desceu dois lanços de escadas, atravessou a «Arca de Noé», entrou na sala onde estava o calista e cumprimentou‐o. Depois pediu‐lhe:

– Empreste‐me os seus jornais.

Hilário sabia que, sempre que ia ao forte, tinha de levar os matutinos. Era um pedido de D. Maria, a governanta de Salazar. Por causa de um daqueles inexplicáveis atrasos de que apenas as burocracias estatais são capazes, os jornais do presidente do Conselho só costumavam chegar ao fim da manhã. Quando havia visitas, podia começar a lê‐los mais cedo. Naquele dia, Salazar podia escolher: Hilário tinha‐lhe trazido o Diário de Notícias e A Bola. Preferiu o DN.

Desta vez, não houve tempo para falarem sobre música, sobre teatro ou sobre os espetáculos no São Carlos, como era hábito. Hilário virou‐se para ensaboar as mãos num lavatório encostado à parede, junto à porta, e ouviu um estrondo. Virou‐se imediatamente. Salazar, que tinha o perigoso hábito de se deixar cair quando se sentava, calculara mal a distância que o separava da cadeira de lona estilo realizador. Estava no chão e tinha batido fortemente com a cabeça. Quando se baixou para o ajudar a levantar‐se, Hilário viu que Salazar estava «branco como a cal».

Em pânico, sentou‐o «com cuidado» na cadeira e sugeriu que talvez fosse mais prudente pedir ajuda. Salazar disse‐lhe que não com a cabeça. Minutos depois, o ditador decidiu que não bastava o silêncio, era preciso um segredo: exigiu que o calista prometesse que nunca contaria a ninguém o que tinha acabado de ver. Hilário aceitou, mas ainda insistiu:

– Tome ao menos um pouco de água com açúcar.

Nem isso Salazar quis. Não voltou a pegar no jornal e manteve‐se quieto, enquanto o calista trabalhava. Ao fim de algum tempo estava melhor, pelo menos aparentemente.

– O senhor presidente já parece outro!

– E o senhor também. Olhe que ficou muito pálido…

No forte, havia uma terceira pessoa assustada. D. Maria, que estava no seu quarto, ouviu um estrondo e primeiro achou que tinha sido uma porta a bater. Quando desceu, percebeu que aquilo que tinha tomado por um contratempo doméstico era afinal uma preocupação clínica. Tentou convencer Salazar a chamar imediatamente um médico, mas ele recusou – dentro de cinco dias teria a sua consulta quinzenal de rotina com Eduardo Coelho e não via nenhuma razão para a antecipar.

O artigo completo está aqui.

Leitura para o fim-de-semana: as armas químicas iraquianas

Quando decidiu invadir o Iraque, em 2003, o governo de George W. Bush apontou como objectivo a destruição dos programas de armas de destruição massiva de Saddam Hussein – apesar de a Agência Internacional de Energia Atómica garantir que eles tinham sido desmantelados. Com as tropas no terreno, a administração norte-americana foi forçada a admitir que as armas não existiam. Mas, entre 2004 e 2011, os militares dos Estados Unidos acabaram por ter contacto com milhares de ogivas que continham agentes químicos. Eram restos de programas há muito abandonados e que tinham sido apoiados pelo Ocidente.

A existência destes agentes – e os ferimentos provocados aos soldados que com eles lidaram – foi mantida em segredo durante anos. Revelá-los seria admitir mais uma vez que a invasão teve falsos pretextos. Pior: seria reconhecer que o Ocidente colaborara com Saddam nestes programas. Mas a verdade acabou por vir ao de cima, através de uma investigação do The New York Times, que encontrou 17 militares norte-americanos que estiveram expostos a químicos como gás mostarda – agentes que podem estar agora na posse do grupo terrorista Estado Islâmico.

Erica Gardner/United States Navy, via Getty Images

Erica Gardner/United States Navy, via Getty Images

The Secret Casualties of Iraq’s Abandoned Chemical Weapons

Leitura para o fim-de-semana: a senhora da guerra afegã

Começou a combater contra os soviéticos. Lutou ao lado de Ahmar Shah Massoud. Agora enfrenta os Talibã. Os homens começaram a chamar-lhe “Comandante Pombo” – pela forma como se movia e a elegância com que matava os inimigos. A jornalista Jen Percy passou uma noite no seu acampamento – e conta a história na The New Republic.


Foto: Lorenzo Tugnoli


’d been living in Afghanistan three weeks when my guide, a young Afghan named Sharif Sahak, showed me a photograph of the country’s only known female warlord, Bibi Ayisha, nom de guerre: Commander Pigeon. It was late 2013, the Americans were preparing to leave, and Sharif had heard that the commander was training a new militia of female jihadists to fight the Taliban. In the photograph, she looked to be about 200 pounds and 60 years old. A large woman with black eyes made small by folds of skin. A beaked nose protruded from a wide flat face. She held her machine gun against her bosom like a bouquet of roses. A few girls dressed in bright loose tunics holding AK-47s stood at her side, with ammo wound like gold pythons about their necks. “Hot chicks with AKs,” Sharif remarked.

Everybody in Kabul knew about Commander Pigeon, but no one agreed on a narrative. The Afghans accused her of robbery and murder. A few suspected she worked with Taliban commander Mullah Dad-e Khuda, who escaped from Bagram prison in 2008, and a local warlord called the Green Imam. Together they supposedly controlled all the drug-trafficking routes in the north. One person told me, “She has many houses in Kabul but prefers to live in the mountains among the animals.” She didn’t have any of the usual warlord stories. No acid throwing or biting off chicken heads, or leaving prisoners in vats to die. She was not like Commander Zardad who kept a human dog on a chain to maul and sometimes eat people. She was a woman and she killed menwhile wearing a flowery dress.

According to locals, Commander Pigeon was born in the village of Gawi, and her father was named Haji Dawlat and he had seven wives, and his second wife had ten children, and of these children, Commander Pigeon was the most loved. She carried a gun at age 14, the same year she married Shad Muhammad, a businessman whose reputation was said to suffer because he allowed Commander Pigeon to wear pants. He died of a mysterious illness. Then, in 1979, the Soviets swarmed her mountain and murdered her son. She turned to jihad. She killed the commando, organized a militia of 150 men to fight the Soviets, and rode alongside Ahmad Shah Massoud, leader of the Northern Alliance. They called her Commander Pigeon because she moved and killed with the elegance of a bird.

When the Americans arrived in 2001, the northeast was a mess of insurgent groups governed by warlords like Commander Pigeon. The United Nations started a program called the Disbandment of Illegal Armed Groups (DIAG), and by 2006, DIAG disarmed about 60,000 militants. Then the government faced a second problem: unemployed combatants. The United Nations invested in more programs, including business courses for ex-combatants, focused on job skills. But most of the warriors, like Commander Pigeon, didn’t want to disarm. Once the Americans left, factional fighting would start up again. They needed their weapons. Commander Pigeon already regretted giving up her vintage World War II British .303 Lee-Enfield rifle.

This year, an Australian security consulting firm conducted a survey on inspirational Afghan women, and their research led them to Commander Pigeon. On her public Facebook page, one fan wrote: “She has proven to the world that women of Afghanistan are not victims; she’s more stronger then any women in the world today.” She certainly sounded very different from any of the Afghan women I had met or heard about. I’d been talking to women in shelters, victims of domestic violence, or kidnapped girls working as sex slaves for commanders. One of them, a teenage girl, said Commander Pigeon was a hero. After all, since 2001, Americans have invested in infrastructure allowing women to attend school or gain positions of power. But the month I arrived, Afghans shipped 30-year-old Setara to Turkey to get her lips and nose sewn back on after her husband cut them off with a kitchen knife. A pregnant schoolteacher named Malalai was hanged and her body dumped near a foreign base. No one could save Negar, the top female police officer in Helmand, after she was shot in the neck by men on motorbikes. And yet no one has managed to kill Commander Pigeon. For 34 years, she has commanded a group of armed fighters from her stronghold 250 miles north of Kabul in Baghlan Province, the same region where the British said Afghans sliced the stomachs of Russian soldiers and left them to die so that their organs might bake in the sun.

Sharif, a clean-shaven 28-year old, was friends with the newly appointed police chief of Baghlan Province, a man named General Amarakhail, and he said he could help arrange a visit.

“I think she’ll like you,” Sharif said.

ome Afghans believe cannibalistic females haunt the Hindu Kush. They are simian and boar-tusked and have long, floating hair. They eat corpses. Commander Pigeon lived on the other side of the Hindu Kush, over a pass called the Khotal-e Salang. According to the Afghan Analysts Network, Baghlan Province has between 2,500 and 3,000 Taliban, inhabiting an area about the size of Connecticut.

On a Sunday morning, Sharif and I, along with a driver and a photographer named Lorenzo, packed into a small Toyota Corolla with a prayer rug and headed north out of Kabul on Highway 1. We left just as the first winter snows were falling, and Sharif told us about the avalanches of 2010 that killed hundreds of people on the pass. “There are more ways to die in Afghanistan,” Sharif said, “than anywhere else in the world.” The Salang pass, at its highest, skims 12,723 feet. It’s a tight, twisting section of potholed road, clogged with Pakistani jingle trucks, scattered with memorials. A Soviet-built tunnel cuts almost two miles through the heart of the mountains.

Snow fell and the roads darkened to mud. The men put on chains and I put on a burka. Sharif said it looked strange. He explained: Don’t talk. Don’t smack gum. Don’t lean your elbow against the window like you keep doing. Cover your legs. Don’t get out of the car. Be a good girl. Most importantly, cover the hair. Hide your passport. We are a Tajik rock band and you are the singer going to sing for Commander Pigeon.


Leitura para o fim-de-semana: a realidade dos gangues nas prisões americanas

Há casos em que a realidade supera a ficção. Este é um deles. Uma reportagem extraordinária, publicada na The Atlantic.


“How Gangs Took Over Prisons

Originally formed for self-protection, prison gangs have become the unlikely custodians of order behind bars—and of crime on the streets.

On a clear morning this past February, the inmates in the B Yard of Pelican Bay State Prison filed out of their cellblock a few at a time and let a cool, salty breeze blow across their bodies. Their home, the California prison system’s permanent address for its most hardened gangsters, is in Crescent City, on the edge of a redwood forest—about four miles from the Pacific Ocean in one direction and 20 miles from the Oregon border in the other. This is their yard time.

Most of the inmates belong to one of California’s six main prison gangs: Nuestra Familia, the Mexican Mafia, the Aryan Brotherhood, the Black Guerrilla Family, the Northern Structure, or the Nazi Lowriders (the last two are offshoots of Nuestra Familia and the Aryan Brotherhood, respectively). The inmates interact like volatile chemicals: if you open their cells in such a way as to put, say, a lone member of Nuestra Familia in a crowd of Mexican Mafia, the mix can explode violently. So the guards release them in a careful order.

“Now watch what they do,” says Christopher Acosta, a corrections officer with a shaved head who worked for 15 years as a front-line prison guard and now runs public relations for Pelican Bay. We are standing with our backs to a fence and can see everything.

At first, we seem to be watching a sullen but semi-random parade of terrifying men—heavily tattooed murderers, thieves, and drug dealers walking past one of five casual but alert guards. Some inmates, chosen for a strip search, drop their prison blues into little piles and then spin around, bare-assed, to be scrutinized. Once inspected, they dress and walk out into the yard to fill their lungs with oxygen after a long night in the stagnant air of the cellblock. The first Hispanic inmate to put his clothes on walks about 50 yards to a concrete picnic table, sits down, and waits. The first black inmate goes to a small workout area and stares out at the yard intently. A white guy walks directly to a third spot, closer to the basketball court. Another Hispanic claims another picnic table. Slowly it becomes obvious that they have been moving tactically: each has staked out a rallying point for his group and its affiliates.

Once each gang has achieved a critical mass—about five men—it sends off a pair of scouts. Two of the Hispanics at the original concrete picnic table begin a long, winding stroll. “They’ll walk around, get within earshot of the other groups, and try to figure out what’s going down on the yard,” Acosta says. “Then they can come back to their base and say who’s going to attack who, who’s selling what.”

Eventually, about 50 inmates are in the yard, and the guards have stepped back and congregated at their own rallying point, backs to the fence, with Acosta. The men’s movements around the yard are so smooth and organized, they seem coordinated by invisible traffic lights. And that’s a good thing. “There’s like 30 knives out there right now,” Acosta says. “Hidden up their rectums.”

Understanding how prison gangs work is difficult: they conceal their activities and kill defectors who reveal their practices. This past summer, however, a 32-year-old academic named David Skarbek published The Social Order of the Underworld, his first book, which is the best attempt in a long while to explain the intricate organizational systems that make the gangs so formidable. His focus is the California prison system, which houses the second-largest inmate population in the country—about 135,600 people, slightly more than the population of Bellevue, Washington, split into facilities of a few thousand inmates apiece. With the possible exception of North Korea, the United States has a higher incarceration rate than any other nation, at one in 108 adults. (The national rate rose for 30 years before peaking, in 2008, at one in 99. Less crime and softer punishment for nonviolent crimes have caused the rate to decline since then.)

Skarbek’s primary claim is that the underlying order in California prisons comes from precisely what most of us would assume is the source ofdisorder: the major gangs, which are responsible for the vast majority of the trade in drugs and other contraband, including cellphones, behind bars. “Prison gangs end up providing governance in a brutal but effective way,” he says. “They impose responsibility on everyone, and in some ways the prisons run more smoothly because of them.” The gangs have business out on the streets, too, but their principal activity and authority resides in prisons, where other gangs are the main powers keeping them in check.

Skarbek is a native Californian and a lecturer in political economy at King’s College London. When I met him, on a sunny day on the Strand, in London, he was craving a taste of home. He suggested cheeseburgers and beer, which made our lunch American not only in topic of conversation but also in caloric consumption. Prison gangs do not exist in the United Kingdom, at least not with anything like the sophistication or reach of those in California or Texas, and in that respect Skarbek is like a botanist who studies desert wildflowers at a university in Norway.

Skarbek, whose most serious criminal offense to date is a moving violation, bases his conclusions on data crunches from prison systems (chiefly California’s, which has studied gangs in detail) and the accounts of inmates and corrections officers themselves. He is a treasury of horrifying anecdotes about human depravity—and ingenuity. There are few places other than a prison where men’s desires are more consistently thwarted, and where men whose desires are thwarted have so much time to think up creative ways to circumvent their obstacles.

Because he is a gentleman, Skarbek waited until we’d finished our burgers to illustrate some of that ingenuity. “How can you tell what type of cellphone an inmate uses,” he asked, “based on what’s in his cell?” He let me think for about two seconds before cheerily giving me the answer: you examine the bar of soap on the prisoner’s sink. The safest place for an inmate to store anything is in his rectum, and to keep the orifice supple and sized for the (contraband) phone, inmates have been known to whittle their bars of soap and tuck them away as a placeholder while their phones are in use. So a short and stubby bar means a durable old dumbphone; broad and flat means a BlackBerry or an iPhone. Pity the poor guy whose bar of soap is the size and shape of a Samsung Galaxy Note.

The prevalence of cellphones in the California prison system reveals just how loose a grip the authorities have on their inmates. In 2013, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation confiscated 12,151 phones. A reasonable guess might be that this represented a tenth of all cellphones in the system, which means that almost every one of the state’s 135,600 inmates had a phone—all in violation of prison regulations. “Prison is set up so that most of the things a person wants to do are against the rules,” Skarbek says. “So to understand what’s really going on, you have to start by realizing that people are coming up with complicated ways to get around them.” Prison officials have long known that gangs are highly sophisticated organizations with carefully plotted strategies, business-development plans, bureaucracies, and even human-resources departments—all of which, Skarbek argues, lead not to chaos in the prison system but to order.”

O artigo completo está aqui.

Leitura para o fim-de-semana: a CEO que nasceu homem

Martine Rothblatt é a mais bem paga CEO feminina  dos Estados Unidos. O ano passado ganhou 38 milhões de dólares. E decidiu falar à New York Magazine sobre a sua vida, a suma cumpanheira e sobre o facto mais surpreendente de todos: ela nasceu ele.


The Trans-Everything CEO

Futurist, pharma tycoon, satellite entrepreneur, philosopher. Martine Rothblatt, the highest-paid female executive in America, was born male. But that is far from the thing that defines her. Just ask her wife. Then ask the robot version of her wife.

Only about 5 percent of the companies in the Fortune 500 are run by women; double the sample size, and the proportion is the same. Compensation levels for female CEOs appear to lag as well, though it’s hard to tell because there are so few of them. On a recent list of America’s 200 highest-paid CEOs, only 11 were women, and their median pay was $1.6 million less than their male peers. Certain of these women are already household names: Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer, No. 34 on the list, who earned $25 million last year, and Hewlett-Packard’s Meg Whitman, No. 95, who earned $18 million. But the highest-paid female CEO in America is not nearly as well known. She is Martine Rothblatt, the 59-year-old founder of United Therapeutics—a publicly traded, Silver Spring, Maryland–based pharmaceutical company—who made a previous fortune as a founder of Sirius radio, a field she entered as an attorney specializing in the law of space. But what’s really extraordinary about Rothblatt’s ascent is not that she has leaned in, or out, or had any particular thoughts about having it all. What sets Rothblatt apart from the other women on the list is that she—who earned $38 million last year—was born male.

“It’s like winning the lottery,” Rothblatt said happily, about seeing her name atop the list, during one of the meetings I had with her this summer. But Rothblatt could not be less interested in establishing herself as a role model for women. “I can’t claim that what I have achieved is equivalent to what a woman has achieved. For the first half of my life, I was male,” she said.

In person, Martine is magnificent, like a tall lanky teenage boy with breasts. She wears no makeup or jewelry, and she inhabits her muted clothing—cargo pants, a T-shirt, a floppy button-down thrown on top—in the youthful, offhand way of the tech elite. Martine is transgender, a power trans, which makes her an even rarer species in the corporate jungle than a female CEO. And she seems genuinely to revel in her self-built in-betweenness. Just after her sex-reassignment surgery in 1994, her appearance was more feminine than it is today—old photos show her wearing lipstick, her long, curly hair loose about her shoulders. But in the years since she has developed her own unisexual style. She is a person for whom gender matters enough to have undergone radical surgery, but not enough to care whether she’s called he or she by people, like her 83-year-old mother, who occasionally lose track of which pronoun to use.

What she prefers to be called is “Martine.” To her four young grandchildren she is “Grand Martine.” Bina Aspen, the woman who married Martine 33 years ago, when Martine was a man, and remains her devoted wife, calls herself not straight or gay but “Martine-sexual”—as in the only person she wants to have sex with is Martine. Together Martine and Bina have four children, and they refer to Martine as “Martine” in conversations with strangers. At home, they call her “Dad.”

In 1995, just after her transition, Martine published The Apartheid of Sex, a slim manifesto that insisted on an overhaul of “dimorphic” (her word) gender categories. “There are five billion people in the world and five billion unique sexual identities,” she wrote. “Genitals are as irrelevant to one’s role in society as skin tone. Hence, the legal division of people into males and females is as wrong as the legal division of people into black and white races.” Instead, she suggested, people might better express their gender and sexual identities on a spectrum, perhaps in terms of color: Green might be “an equally aggressive/nurturing person who does not try to appear sexy” (lime green someone a little less aggressive), and purple someone gentle, nourishing, and erotic in equal measure.

Martine prefers not to limit herself to available words: She’s suggested using “Pn.,” for “person,” in place of “Mr.” and “Ms.,” and “spice” to mean husband or wife. But “trans” is a prefix she likes a lot, for it contains her self-image as an explorer who crosses barriers into strange new lands. (When she feels a connection to a new acquaintance, she says that she “transcends.”) And these days Martine sees herself less as transgender and more as what is known as transhumanist, a particular kind of futurist who believes that technology can liberate humans from the limits of their biology—including infertility, disease, and decay, but also, incredibly, death. Now, in her spare time, when she’s not running a $5 billion company, or flying her new helicopter up and down the East Coast, or attending to her large family and three dogs, she’s tinkering with ways that technology might push back that ultimate limit. She believes in a foreseeable future in which the beloved dead will live again as digital beings, reanimated by sophisticated artificial-intelligence programs that will be as cheap and accessible to every person as iTunes. “I know this sounds messianic or even childlike,” she wrote to me in one of many emails over the summer. “But I believe it is simply practical and technologically inevitable.”

During our first conversation, in the beige United Therapuetics outpost in Burlington, Vermont, Martine made a distinction between boundaries and borders. Borders, denials, limits—these are Martine’s siren calls, pulling her toward and beyond them even as she, a pharma executive responsible to shareholders and a board, must survive every day within regulations and laws. She was sprawled across from me on a sectional couch, her hair in a ponytail and her long legs before her. “At times I sort of feel like Queen Elizabeth,” she said. “You know, she lives in a world of limitations, having the appearance of great authority and being able to transcend any limitations. But in reality she is in a little cage.”

O artigo completo está aqui.

Leitura para o fim-de-semana: o sítio onde os opositores vão para a jaula dos macacos

Há 25 anos que o Uzbequistão é governado por Islam Karimov. Neste quarto de século, os abusos de poder, violações de direitos humanos e repressão sobre opositores e jornalistas tem sido constantes. Agora, no momento em que divulgou um relatório sobre os principais presos políticos do país, a Human Rights Watch conta a história de um deles: Sanjar Umarov.



By Amy Braunschweiger

Sanjar Umarov lifted his pants legs and rolled down his socks to show the scars that criss-crossed his ankles. Umarov, a former political prisoner from Uzbekistan, said the scars served as a permanent reminder of his time in the “monkey cage,” a cell that left prisoners exposed to the outdoors. His first time in that cell, the frigid winter almost killed him. He and the other prisoners, wearing only lightweight shirts and pants, rocked back and forth to keep warm and stay alive.

The second time, it was his fellow prisoners who almost did him in. Guards threw him in the cage after Umarov refused to sign a confession saying the United States gave him $20 million to overthrow Uzbekistan’s government. Other prisoners in the cell were ordered to make him sign. They beat him, broke his thumb, and choked him, damaging his vocal chords and leaving him with a permanently gravely voice. Once they had him on the ground, they repeatedly jumped on his ankles, which were shackled in metal cuffs.

Before he was imprisoned on trumped up charges, Umarov was a leading businessman in Uzbekistan, helping found the country’s main telecom network. He had entered politics gradually, quietly supporting a political party that hoped to help poor farmers in the country’s almost feudal cotton sector. But he grew impatient with the slow pace of change and formed his own opposition party.

Within the year, Umarov was arrested and charged with economic crimes he didn’t commit.

This is par for the course for Uzbekistan’s political prisoners. The country has been ruled for 25 years by Islam Karimov, the Communist Party boss under the former Soviet Union. Under his autocratic rule, a wide-array of Uzbek citizens – including journalists, political opposition activists and religious figures – have been imprisoned in terrible conditions, including beatings and torture, a new Human Rights Watch report shows. Uzbek officials have a particularly cruel practice of extending prison sentences shortly before a prisoner expects to be freed, for reasons as ridiculous as “peeling carrots the wrong way” or “failing to lift a heavy object.”

Umarov in large part credits international pressure for his release from prison. But in general international pressure on Uzbekistan has been sorely lacking. The United States and European Union have consistently appeared reticent to push Uzbekistan to release political prisoners, as the country provides an essential supply route to reach US and NATO troops in Afghanistan. The withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan this year may change this equation, and the world should not keep turning a blind eye to Uzbekistan’s rights abuses.

It’s easy to see why Uzbekistan’s government could fear Umarov’s influence. Even now, with his torture scars and gravelly voice, he speaks with assurance, exuding the charisma and warmth of someone people naturally want to follow. His black hair is fading to gray in the front, and when he smiles or laughs, which is frequently, the tanned skin around his eyes wrinkles pleasantly.

Umarov had studied physics, but when the cold war ended, he saw opportunity in the need to modernize his country. He helped found Uzbekistan’s leading communications company, developed venture capital projects in its energy and transport sectors, and founded an international business school in Tashkent, Uzbekistan’s capital.

When he began dabbling in politics, around 2003, Umarov secretly helped fund the Free Peasant opposition party. Profits from growing cotton dominate Uzbekistan’s economy and fund the government. Farmers are forced to grow cotton and sell it to the government dirt-cheap. Each year the government forces about 2 million people – including doctors, teachers and children – to pick the crop, without pay.”

Leitura para o fim-de-semana: os pecados do super-agente

Jorge Mendes é agente de futebolistas. Recebe por isso. Quando negoceia transferências entre clubes, recebe uma comissão. Mas também aconselha fundos de investimento em jogadores. E participa em empresas que compram passes de atletas. Ou seja, cai várias vezes em situações de conflitos de interesses. São as revelações de uma investigação do The Guardian sobre o agente mais poderoso do mundo.


From Diego Costa to Angel di María, the Portuguese super agent is responsible for the biggest deals in football but is also in apparent breach of Fifa regulations

Jorge Mendes, the Portuguese agent who has conducted many of the biggest transfers in European football, is serially involved in the third‑party ownership of players in apparent breach of Fifa regulations, a Guardian investigation can reveal.

Mendes, who brokered the year’s biggest deals, including Ángel di María’s £59.7m move to Manchester United and Diego Costa’s £32m purchase by Chelsea, was seeking to attract €85m (£67m) from undeclared investors via offshore companies to buy stakes in players at clubs in Spain and Portugal, according to a document seen by the Guardian. The prospectus and further inquiries have shown that:

Mendes and the former Manchester United and Chelsea chief executive Peter Kenyon advise five Jersey-based funds on more than £100m to be invested in buying “economic rights” in players.

Mendes admits he has a conflict of interest, because he acts as the agent to players whose economic rights have been bought by the funds he advises; this appears to contravene Fifa regulations on agents.

Sporting Lisbon say the funds that Mendes and Kenyon advise sought to buy stakes in players as a condition of players, advised by Mendes, renewing their contracts.

Mendes claims to have conducted 68% of all player transactions at Portugal’s great clubs, Sporting Lisbon, Benfica and Porto, in the decade 2001-10.

The 20-year ascent of Mendes from Porto nightclub owner and friend of footballers to the beaming broker of the game’s most lucrative transfers has tracked the sport’s pay-TV-fuelled inflation itself, and Portugal’s status as a habitual exporter of players. Mendes built his name and the operation of his company, Gestifute, on attaining a remarkable dominance over the deals done by Portugal’s top three clubs, and he took several of these players on multimillion-pound moves to England and Spain. There he has extended his influence, particularly after his client José Mourinho made the journey himself from Porto after 2004, to sign as the manager at Chelsea, then Internazionale and Real Madrid, now Chelsea again.

Mendes’s work reached stunning fruition this summer, when he was seen conducting the biggest moves of talent and money not only from his home country’s financially hollowed out clubs but of the whole European football player transfer market. James Rodríguez, his reputation glowing from his World Cup excellence, was signed by Real Madrid for £71m from Monaco, to where Mendes brokered his move from Porto only last year for €45m (£38.5m). Porto declared in its annual report that it paid Gestifute €4.4m (£3.6m) for “intermediation service costs” on that deal; the amount paid by Real this year has not been disclosed.

Di María, deemed surplus stock at Real Madrid, came to Old Trafford for almost £60m in Manchester United’s post-Sir Alex Ferguson and David Moyes splash-out; a grinning Mendes was seen with Louis van Gaal in the 4×4 at United’s Carrington training ground. Radamel Falcao, whose €40m (£32m) sale by Porto to Atlético Madrid in 2011 was brokered by Mendes – Gestifute shared €3.7m (£3m) “intermediation service costs” with another company, Orel – moved to Monaco last year for £50m, then Mendes brought him to United this summer on an extraordinarily costly loan. Eliaquim Mangala, for whom Manchester City paid £32m to Porto – 33% of Mangala’s “economic rights” had been owned by the Malta-based third-party ownership fund Doyen – was another Mendes move.

Costa brought his goalscoring eye from Atlético Madrid, where Mendes boasts of powerful influence, to Mourinho at Chelsea, who paid £32m. Reports have stated that 30% of Costa’s “economic rights” were owned by an offshore fund but sources close to the signing say in fact there was no third‑party ownership of Costa.

Unquestionably true, however, is that Mendes, as well as acting as an agent for these and many other players, and being paid by clubs as a transfer “intermediary”, is serially involved with Kenyon in advising on the third‑party ownership of economic rights in players.

O artigo completo está aqui.

Leitura para o fim-de-semana: o campo de recrutamento do Estado Islâmico

Ninguém sabe quantos são. Podem ser centenas. Ou milhares. Sabe-se apenas que são muitos. Turcos, jovens, oriundos de bairros pobres de Istambul, que estão a ser levados por membros do Estado Islâmico para a região de Raqqa, na Síria, para engrossar as fileiras do mais perigoso grupo terrorista do mundo. A reportagem é da Newsweek.


Exclusive: ISIS Starts Recruiting in Istanbul’s Vulnerable Suburbs

Leitura para o fim-de-semana: uma infância disfarçada

No Afeganistão, casais que só têm filhas acabam muitas vezes por criar uma delas como se fosse um rapaz. Mudam-lhes o nome, cortam-lhes o cabelo e arranjam-lhes roupas masculinas – mas todos sabem quem são. E lidam bem com isso. Um artigo publicado na The Atlantic.


The Afghan Girls Who Live as Boys

In a society that demands sons at almost any cost, some families are cutting their daughters’ hair short and giving them male names.

“Mehran, age 6, first arrived at her kindergarten in Kabul as Mahnoush, in pigtails and a pistachio dress. When school shut down for a break, Mahnoush left and never returned. Instead a short-haired, tie-wearing child with the more masculine-sounding name of Mehran began first grade with the other children.

Nothing else changed much. Some teachers were surprised but did not comment except to one another. When the male Koran teacher demanded Mehran cover her head in his class, a baseball cap solved the problem. Miss Momand, a teacher who started her job after Mehran’s change, remembers being startled when a boy was brought into the girls’ room for afternoon nap time but realizing, as she helped Mehran undress, that she was a girl. Mehran’s mother Azita later explained to Miss Momand that she had only daughters, and that Mehran went as the family’s son. Miss Momand understood perfectly. She herself used to have a friend at school who was a family’s only child and had assumed the role of a son.

Officially, girls like Mehran do not exist in Afghanistan, where the system of gender segregation is among the strictest in the world. But many other Afghans, too, can recall a former neighbor, a relative, a colleague, or someone in their extended family raising a daughter as a son. These children even have their own colloquialism, bacha posh, which literally translates from Dari to “dressed like a boy.” Midwives, doctors, and nurses I’ve met from all over the provinces are more familiar with the practice than most; they have all known bacha posh to appear at clinics, escorting a mother or a sister, or as a patient who has proven to be of another birth sex than first presumed.

The health workers say that families who disguise their daughters in this way can be rich, poor, educated, or uneducated, or belong to any of Afghanistan’s many ethnic groups. The only thing that binds the bacha posh girls together is their families’ need for a son in a society that undervalues daughters and demands sons at almost any cost. They disguised their girls as boys because the family needed another income through a child who worked and girls aren’t allowed to, because the road to school was dangerous and a boy’s disguise provided some safety, or because the family lacked sons and needed to present as a complete family to the village. Often, as in Kabul, it is a combination of factors. A poor family may need a son for different reasons than a rich family, but no ethnic or geographical reasons set them apart.

And to most of them, the health workers told me, having a bacha posh in the family is an accepted and uncontroversial practice, provided the girl is turned back to a woman before she enters puberty, when she must marry and have children of her own. Waiting too long to turn someone back could have consequences for a girl’s reputation. A teenage girl should not be anywhere near teenage boys, even in disguise. She could mistakenly touch them or be touched by them, and be seen as a loose and impure girl by those who know her secret. It could ruin her chances of getting married, and she would be seen as a tarnished offering. The entire family’s reputation could be sullied. For that reason, and because the bacha posh I spoke to were minors, some names and details have been changed in the story that follows.”

O artigo completo está aqui.

Leitura para o fim-de-semana: A mulher que assistiu a 278 execuções

Michelle Lyon foi assessora de imprensa do departamento de justiça criminal do Texas. Uma das suas funções era assistir às execuções dos condenados à morte. Viu 278. E nesta reportagem da Texas Monthly conta o que isso lhe custou.





Ms. Lyons,
Hi, if you are reading this then they killed me. I wanted to tell you that I enjoyed talking to you, you seem like a really great lady. I’m sorry we didn’t meet under different circumstances. . . . Thank you for your kindness. Have a wonderful day.
—Letter from death row inmate Robert Coulson, June 25, 2002

Early one morning in April, Michelle Lyons pulled up outside her daughter’s elementary school in Huntsville, seventy miles north of Houston. Set deep in the Piney Woods, Huntsville—which is home to no fewer than five prisons—is a company town whose primary industry is confinement. Many parents who were dropping their children off at school that day worked for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Huntsville’s largest employer. Michelle, who sat behind the wheel of her blue Chevy sedan nursing a travel mug of coffee, had worked for TDCJ herself for more than a decade. She had been the public face of the agency, a disarmingly friendly, upbeat spokesperson for the biggest prison system in the nation. Though she had left the position two years earlier, she was still well-known around town, and several mothers waved as her car idled in the drop-off line. “Have a beautiful day,” she murmured when her nine-year-old leaned in to kiss her goodbye.

When Michelle first went to work for TDCJ, in 2001, she had begun each weekday morning by driving into town, past the picturesque courthouse square and toward the Walls Unit, the 165-year-old penitentiary that is Huntsville’s most iconic landmark. The prison, whose ramparts measure more than thirty feet high, is a colossal, foreboding structure crowned by razor wire—a two-block-long, red-brick fortress that houses the most active death chamber in the country. Michelle’s office occupied a corner of an administrative building directly across the street from the Walls, and one of the requirements of her job as a public information officer had been to attend every execution the state carried out. She had also attended executions for her previous job, as a reporter covering prisons for the hometown newspaper, the Huntsville Item. Michelle spent many evenings—hundreds, in fact—standing shoulder-to-shoulder with witnesses in a cramped room that afforded a view of the death chamber, where she watched as men, and two women, were injected with a three-drug cocktail that stopped their hearts. All told, she had seen 278 inmates put to death.

As Michelle pulled away from the school, she headed out of Huntsville, toward Interstate 45 and her new job more than an hour’s drive away, in downtown Houston. She cracked her window, grateful for the cool air on her face. Mornings, when her commute offered time to think back on everything she had seen at the Walls, were the hardest. She was flooded with memories from her time inside the Death House: of the conversations she had shared with particular inmates in the hours before they were strapped to the gurney; of the mothers, dressed in their Sunday best, who had turned out to attend their sons’ executions; of the victims’ families, their faces hardened with grief; of the sudden stillness that came over the prisoners soon after the lethal drugs entered their bloodstreams. She could still see some of these men—their chests expanding, their chins stiffening as they took their last breaths.

These memories intruded with such frequency that Michelle no longer tried to push them out of her mind. Instead, she had started recording voice memos, letting her thoughts unspool as she drove alone in the car. She kept one eye on the road that morning as she rummaged through her purse for her iPhone, finally fishing it out and holding the microphone up to her mouth. “I support the death penalty,” she began. “I believe that there are some crimes that are so heinous that the only way you can truly pay your debt to society is with your life.” She spoke with the same deliberation she had used when addressing reporters outside the Walls after high-profile executions. “But in other cases, I feel very conflicted,” she added. “There are men I watched die that I don’t think should have.” A piece of folk art she had picked up on a trip to Austin—an evil-eye charm to ward off bad spirits—bobbed from her rearview mirror. “I thought being away from the prison system would make me think about it less, but it’s been quite the opposite,” she continued. “I think about it all the time.”

As she approached Houston’s outer suburbs, the East Texas pines receded, replaced by roadside billboards hawking vasectomy reversals and personal injury lawyers and Chick-fil-A. Michelle thought back to a few months earlier, when she had called her former boss, Larry Fitzgerald, on the way to work, as she did every now and then to check in on him. The authoritative sound of his voice—Larry had been a radio news reporter back in the sixties—had always reassured her. It was Larry who had recruited her to TDCJ, and their friendship had continued after he retired and Michelle succeeded him as the agency’s director of public information. Though Larry was 38 years her senior, they had remained close because of the peculiar history they shared. Wardens, guards, and prison administrators had come and gone, but she and Larry had each been a constant presence, attending virtually every execution during the period when George W. Bush’s bid for the presidency had thrust Texas into the international spotlight.

Despite all the time the two had spent together—the workday lunches, the happy hours, the long evenings waiting to hear if the appellate courts would grant a reprieve—Michelle had never asked Larry how he felt about watching inmates die, and he had never offered his opinion. So when she had phoned him from the road the previous fall and he had casually mentioned that he was having nightmares—which he downplayed by calling them dreams—about his time inside the Walls, his words had sent a jolt through her. She could still picture the exact moment he made this admission: she had been making a turn onto the Hardy Toll Road, and the morning sun had been unbearably bright. That Larry too was struggling had unnerved her. He had always been the less serious one, the one who could shrug off the solemnity of the moment with a dry aside. Often after they exited the Death House, he would suggest they go drink margaritas.

Michelle had forgotten where she had left off with her dictation. She was thinking about Larry, wondering which executions he relived in his dreams. Her own hard moments came when she was awake. She could still picture Ricky McGinn’s mother, an elderly woman who had arrived at her son’s execution in a floral dress and pearls. Michelle would never forget watching her try to rise from her wheelchair so she could see through the large pane of glass that separated her from the death chamber. On the other side lay her son, who had been sentenced to death for the rape and murder of a twelve-year-old girl. McGinn was flat on his back, each limb restrained with leather straps, an IV line stuck in each arm. The old woman, her wrinkled hands pressed to the glass, had watched intently as her son’s body went slack. Michelle thought about her as she drove to work that morning. When the Houston skyline rose up in front of her, she realized her face was wet with tears.”

O artigo completo está aqui. 

Leitura para o fim-de-semana: O eremita da floresta do Maine

Durante 27 anos, Christopher Knight viveu isolado do mundo. Numa floresta. De vez em quando saia de entre as árvores para roubar roupa, comida ou baterias para as lanternas. Nunca ninguém o viu. À medida que os objectos iam desaparecendo, tornou-se uma lenda para os moradores do Central Maine. Até que, um dia, a4 de Abril de 2013, foi apanhado. E disse as suas primeiras palavras em décadas. Uma reportagem excepcional, publicada na GQ.

Foto: Andy Molloy/ Kennebec Journal/ AP Photo

Foto: Andy Molloy/ Kennebec Journal/ AP Photo

The Strange & Curious Tale of the Last True Hermit

For nearly thirty years, a phantom haunted the woods of Central Maine. Unseen and unknown, he lived in secret, creeping into homes in the dead of night and surviving on what he could steal. To the spooked locals, he became a legend—or maybe a myth. They wondered how he could possibly be real. Until one day last year, the hermit came out of the forest
Thehermitsetoutofcampatmidnight,carryinghisbackpackandhisbagof break-in tools,andthreadedthroughtheforest, rock toroot to rock,everystepmemorized.Not abootprintleftbehind.Itwascoldandnearlymoonless, a finenight for araid,sohehikedaboutanhour tothePineTreesummercamp, afewdozencabinsspreadalongtheshorelineofNorthPond in centralMaine.Withanexperttwistof ascrewdriver,hepoppedopen adoorofthedininghallandslippedinside,scanningthepantryshelveswithhispenlight.Candy! Always good. Ten rolls of Smarties, stuffed in a pocket. Then, into his backpack, a bag of marshmallows, two tubs of ground coffee, some Humpty Dumpty potato chips. Burgers and bacon were in the locked freezer. On a previous raid at Pine Tree, he’d stolen a key to the walk-in, and now he used it to open the stainless-steel door. The key was attached to a plastic four-leaf-clover key chain, with one of the leaves partially broken off. A three-and-a-half-leaf clover.

He could’ve used a little more luck. Newly installed in the Pine Tree kitchen, hidden behind the ice machine, was a military-grade motion detector. The device remained silent in the kitchen but sounded an alarm in the home of Sergeant Terry Hughes, a game warden who’d become obsessed with catching the thief. Hughes lived a mile away. He raced to the camp in his pickup truck and sprinted to the rear of the dining hall. He peeked in a window.

And there he was. Probably. The person stealing food appeared entirely too clean, his face freshly shaved. He wore eyeglasses and a wool ski hat. Was this really the North Pond Hermit, a man who’d tormented the surrounding community for years—decades—yet the police still hadn’t learned his name?

Hughes used his cell phone, quietly, and asked the Maine State Police to alert trooper Diane Perkins-Vance, who had also been hunting the hermit. Before Perkins-Vance could get there, the burglar, his backpack full, started toward the exit. If the man stepped into the forest, Hughes understood, he might never be found again.

The burglar eased out of the dining hall, and Hughes used his left hand to blind the man with his flashlight; with his right he aimed his .357 square on his nose. “Get on the ground!” he bellowed.

The thief complied, no resistance, and lay facedown, candy spilling out of his pockets. It was one thirty in the morning on April 4, 2013. Perkins-Vance soon arrived, and the burglar was placed, handcuffed, in a plastic chair. The officers asked his name. He refused to answer. His skin was strangely pale; his glasses, with chunky plastic frames, were extremely outdated. But he wore a nice Columbia jacket, new Lands’ End blue jeans, and sturdy boots. The officers searched him, and no identification was located.

Hughes left the suspect alone with Perkins-Vance. She removed his handcuffs and gave him a bottle of water. And he started to speak. A little. When Perkins-Vance asked why he didn’t want to answer any questions, he said he was ashamed. He spoke haltingly, uncertainly; the connection between his mind and his mouth seemed to have atrophied from disuse. But over the next couple of hours, he gradually opened up.

His name, he revealed, was Christopher Thomas Knight. Born on December 7, 1965. He said he had no address, no vehicle, did not file a tax return, and did not receive mail. He said he lived in the woods.

“For how long?” wondered Perkins-Vance.

Knight thought for a bit, then asked when the Chernobyl nuclear-plant disaster occurred. He had long ago lost the habit of marking time in months or years; this was just a news event he happened to remember. The nuclear meltdown took place in 1986, the same year, Knight said, he went to live in the woods. He was 20 years old at the time, not long out of high school. He was now 47, a middle-aged man.

Knight stated that over all those years he slept only in a tent. He never lit a fire, for fear that smoke would give his camp away. He moved strictly at night. He said he didn’t know if his parents were alive or dead. He’d not made one phone call or driven in a car or spent any money. He had never in his life sent an e-mail or even seen the Internet.

He confessed that he’d committed approximately forty robberies a year while in the woods—a total of more than a thousand break-ins. But never when anyone was home. He said he stole only food and kitchenware and propane tanks and reading material and a few other items. Knight admitted that everything he possessed in the world, he’d stolen, including the clothes he was wearing, right down to his underwear. The only exception was his eyeglasses.

Perkins-Vance called dispatch and learned that Knight had no criminal record. He said he grew up in a nearby community, and his senior picture was soon located in the 1984 Lawrence High School yearbook. He was wearing the same eyeglasses.

For close to three decades, Knight said, he had not seen a doctor or taken any medicine. He mentioned that he had never once been sick. You had to have contact with other humans, he claimed, in order to get sick.

When, said Perkins-Vance, was the last time he’d had contact with another person?

Sometime in the 1990s, answered Knight, he passed a hiker while walking in the woods.

“What did you say?” asked Perkins-Vance.

“I said, ‘Hi,’ ” Knight replied. Other than that single syllable, he insisted, he had not spoken with or touched another human being, until this night, for twenty-seven years.”

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