Intelligence chiefs and Iraq dossier, Immigrants Howard should worry about and others

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Intelligence chiefs still using weasel words over Iraq dossier

Intelligence chiefs still using weasel words over Iraq dossier

Sir: As a former Australian intelligence liaison officer, I attended many meetings of the Joint Intelligence Committee in the 1980s. It was an organisation that I admired. I recall debates it had to select just the right words that would accurately reflect the intelligence available to it. Australia does not have an equivalent organisation and I used to think that we were the poorer. Not any more.

Last week the annual report of the Intelligence and Security Committee was presented to the British Parliament. In it, the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee reviews its performance in relation to Iraq, including the dossier it produced in September 2002. In admitting its mistakes the JIC is still weasel-wording its self-criticism to imply that it missed the mark by only a little.

The dossier stated: "Iraq could produce significant quantities of mustard within weeks, significant quantities of Sarin and VX within months, and, in the case of VX may already have done so." In its review the JIC now states: "Although a capability to produce some agents probably existed, this judgment has not been substantiated." What does the JIC mean by "not substantiated"? The Iraq Survey Group, which spent 18 months hunting for Iraq's missing weapons, reported last year that in fact Iraq had no capability to produce most of these agents after 1991.

On missiles, the JIC wrote in its dossier: "Iraq retains up to 20 al-Hussein ballistic missiles" but now says "This has not been substantiated." In fact, the ISG accounted for just about all the missiles. What the JIC is now saying is as absurd as saying that it cannot substantiate the Isle of Man's Scud missile programme.

It is word-smithing like this that resulted in the disastrous dossier in the first place. Intelligence assessment agencies are in an extremely powerful position, with access to sensitive material which the average citizen will never see. They therefore have an obligation to use words responsibly and not put their own spin on assessments, including assessments of their own performance.



Immigrants Howard should worry about

Sir: Michael Howard is quite right to worry about the number of immigrants in this country.

Yesterday was a typical day off for me. Travelling into town, I was picked up by a white South African taxi driver. He dropped me off at the hairdresser's where I had my hair cut by a young Australian lady. I then took coffee in a café where I was served by a guy from New Zealand. Following this, I shopped for a few items and was served respectively by, an Italian, an American and a very nice lady from Spain.

Travelling home, the bus conductor was Irish. Stopping for a lunchtime pint in my local, I was served by the full-time Australian barperson.

I am black and English, having been born and raised in Hackney. I (quite literally) fought the National Front in the 70s and have seen my fair share of racism. Well, right now I am scared. Not for myself, but for people like the hospital cleaners you featured on 11 April. These are the "'immigrants" that the cowardly BNP will target. If we lose these dedicated hospital cleaners and others who are doing the jobs that are too lowly for us "Westerners" , will Mr Howard be pleased with himself?

He should make it clear that when he says "immigrants" he includes white immigrants as well as black, Asian and Eastern Europeans. Or does he?



Sir: Whilst I commend your critique of Michael Howard for his divisive attack on immigration policy, he is sadly correct in his judgement that this Government's handling of the whole immigration system is a shambles. As the Government is well aware, whilst around 28 per cent of asylum seekers are granted asylum, only one fifth of those refused asylum are estimated to ever leave the country. The system is protracted, overly complex and unworkable - and it is blinkered to suggest otherwise.



Sir: After many months of deliberation I had finally decided to give Mr Blair a bloody nose at the general election for the way in which he had ignored the anti war sentiment. Then that silly Mr Howard decides to play the immigration/asylum card and I can no longer find it in me to vote for the Conservatives. I wonder how many more potential Labour "swing" voters Mr Howard has alienated in this way? Possibly more than he has attracted.



Sir: I notice from today's headline (11 April), that Michael Howard "has lit the touchpaper". Is it too much to hope that he will now "retire immediately"?



Taking licence with Strindberg play

Sir: Adrian Hamilton's article "Lost in translation" (9 April) struck a chord with me. A few weeks ago I attended the Royal National Theatre's production of A Dream Play. I was so disappointed that I wrote to Nick Hytner, the RNT's director, asking for my money back.

The burden of my complaint was that the show was marketed as being "by August Strindberg" when, as Adrian Hamilton confirms, the text has "only the remotest connection with the original". The specific point I made to Mr Hytner was that the production was falsely described. It should have credited Caryl Churchill as the author of a new play inspired by Strindberg. Authorship is further muddied by the RNT programme book's next line: "with additional material by Katie Mitchell [the director] and the company". Hytner wrote back conceding that Churchill and Mitchell "have stretched to the utmost the licence that translators and directors can claim" but adding that everybody at the National felt that "the result captures the spirit of the play better than a more self-consciously faithful version might have".

"Self-consciously faithful" is a weasel phrase. Surely we have the right to expect a translator to respect the basic structure of a play. Who, one wonders, has granted this "licence" to omit scenes, drop characters and invent others? Were the works of Strindberg still in copyright, his executors would have been on to the National like a ton of bricks. The Caryl Churchill play is ingenious, brilliantly performed and full of clever stage tricks, such as turning the clock backwards, but it has little of Strindberg's mysterious poetry. I'd still like to get my money back - would a claim qualify under the Trade Descriptions Act?



Labour's raid on pension funds

Sir: Your columnist Johann Hari (6 April) portrays the Labour raid on pensions as affecting only the well-off. This is wrong; many more people will be affected.

In 1997 Britain had one of the strongest pension provisions in Europe. Labour was elected on the basis that people wanted to pay more taxes to invest in the NHS, schools and tackling poverty, but not to the extent that the means to look after themselves and their families was removed.

In the medium term, as people start to realise the amount of money they have to find in order to avoid poverty in retirement, it will force the political consensus from the need to invest more public money in important areas, to the need to cut taxes in order for individuals to cover their pension shortfall. This will result in less investment, and probably cuts in public services.

In the longer term, large amounts of money will be required to support an increasing non-working population without the means to look after itself, from a decreasing workforce. The effect of Labour's policy will therefore be to increase those in poverty, while decreasing the money spent on public services.



Why we need a law on religious hatred

Sir: Salman Rushdie (Opinion, 8 April) ends by suggesting that the proposal to create an offence of "incitement to religious hatred" is the last straw for him.

This new law will not inhibit freedom of speech, because it specifically targets activities intended to stir up religious hatred. The key issue here is getting rid of the legal loophole that allows extremists to stir up religious hatred with impunity.

We should not be taken in by the pseudo-libertarian rhetoric about restricting individual freedoms from comedians and writers. I for one would welcome a "Dave Allen" type comedian emerging from the Muslim communities, taking the mickey of the village mullahs coming to our shores and claiming community leadership. Indeed if Osama Bin Laden claims to be the world leader of all Muslims, then maybe I should apply to be the Pope.

But this is not going to happen while Muslim communities feel under siege, and that is why we need the proposed outlawing of religious hatred.



The right title for John Paul II

Sir: The late Pope was so remarkable a man that it is inevitable he will be remembered with some kind of title. I hope it will not be "John-Paul the Great", because that will make it more difficult for his successors to make the changes in the Catholic church which are so necessary.

I am thinking of a greater place for women in the church at every level, a discreet silence about homosexuality and condoms, and a degree of freedom for academics. None of these is contrary to Biblical teaching or the central doctrines of the church, but would be hard to put into effect if the late Pope is seen as "the Great", because he was so opposed to that way of thinking .

But if he is called "John-Paul the Evangelist", there would be more freedom for change where it is much needed , and that title describes his special gifts more closely. He could and did reach the hearts of millions with the message of the love of Jesus. He deserves a title which reflects that achievment.



Our new 'fresh and modern' design

Sir: Each time The Independent is redesigned, there is a very good reason given. This time it's to give the paper a "fresh and modern look". I look forward to the next one, which will no doubt be done to give the paper a "clean, uncluttered look".

The pages of the new paper are full of lines, boxes, headings and indexes. The overall philosophy of the design seems to be that every item needs to be explained. We are even told that the third article on the leader page is "The Third Leader". I would never have guessed.



Sir: Congratulations - new layout very smart, and very European. A move ahead of the proposed Guardian's euro-size and layout? Now the Saturday edition needs a makeover.



Sir: The Independent is Newspaper of the Year for goodness sake. Why change it? I am afraid the consultancy in Barcelona were seeking some sort of revenge for the Chelsea result. You've been had.

No doubt the content will be as high quality as ever, but sadly, style and look do matter. I guess we're stuck with it.



Sir: Very good - but why on earth have you abolished the Review section again? After all the hoo- ha from readers last time!

We can't be the only people now trying to work out how to split up the paper so that we can each read part of it simultaneously. Which is almost impossible actually, and very tedious. And it makes the main section so bulky. Some bits just won't get read, and that's a real shame.

Seems like a mistake but you must have your reasons - maybe they're in there somewhere ... ?



Sir: Not discomfited,infuriated. My wife and I enjoy sharing The Independent over breakfast with her taking the Review section and completing the concise crossword while I scan the main section.

I suspect that only a long-distance train commuter wishes to have all 92 pages in one lump. There is an old adage: "if it ain't broke don't fix it."

Furthermore, I am sure that I am not the only one to find the new font more difficult to read.



Sir: With the introduction of the new "Sun" type-face for headlines can we expect Sun-style headlines as well? I think we should be told.



Sudan 'success'

Sir: Am I imagining things, or did Hilary Benn write to you (letter, 9 April) claiming the brokering of a peace agreement in Sudan after 20 years of conflict and two million deaths as a success?



Germ warfare

Sir: Many thanks for your Review article on "germ warfare" (11 April). I pass this fatuous Tory poster every day into work and the children in the car are getting weary of my outraged shouts of "It's very difficult to keep a place like a hospital clean!" I wonder to what extent the rest of the Tory election posters are based in reality.



Nazi crimes

Sir: David McDowall (letter, 8 April) not only ignores the wholesale devastation of the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem during the Jordanian occupation from 1948 to 1967, but he also draws an untenable parallel between Israel's actions and the "ethnic bullying" of the Nazis. I stood yesterday in the camp of Theresienstadt, where in November 1944 Jewish slave labourers were forced to pour the ashes of 22,000 fellow human beings, most of whom were ethnically Jewish, into the waters of the river Ohre. The Nazis' crimes were incomparably inhuman, and Mr McDowall demeans the Palestinians' just cause by forgetting that fact.



My vote is lost

Sir: Henry Wickens (letter, 11 April) is not alone in finding himself disenfranchised at this election. I am among the many who, at the start of the Iraq war, vowed never again to vote for Tony Blair.