Iraq abuse, global warming, burning wigs and others

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Iraq abuse shames Americans and destroys case for war

Iraq abuse shames Americans and destroys case for war

Sir: When the first pictures of abuse in Abu Ghraib surfaced I hoped that the pictures would turn out to be fake as their British counterparts had been, but as someone who had grown up in conservative small-town America I knew that they wouldn't be.

I have seen and known these military types before; I went to university with several. They got reduced tuition costs for their service to god and country and had part time jobs, some at the university parking services with me. They liked country music, gas guzzling Ford trucks and hunting and hated anything they deemed "un-American". They all called themselves Christians.

Giving the thumbs-up sign, baring toothy grins, these soldiers showed their pride in the torturing of their fellow human beings. Perhaps the one I found most upsetting was of a female "guard" smiling over the corpse of an Iraqi man.

Following orders or not, these people have shamed each and every one of us Americans. We should all feel a sense of responsibility for what is happening. For every gallon of gas we pay too little for, for every vote we have offered up to George Bush and his government, or in my case for every election I have simply not voted in, because I haven't been bothered.

London N1

Sir: After reading Keith Gilmour's letter (17 May) I have become alarmed at the growing number of column inches given to those who seem to be justifying the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

The argument that such abuse during interrogation may yield "life-saving" information is precisely the attitude that has led to the culture of abuse now evident in Abu Ghraib.

Historical precedent from the French experience in Algeria to the

British involvement in Northern Ireland has shown that whilst maltreatment of prisoners may "loosen tongues", in the long run such methods serve only to harden the resolve of the opposition, increase their own conviction in the morality of their cause and fuel recruitment of a new generation of fighters.

In the absence of any WMD, both the US administration and British government have sought to justify the war and subsequent occupation on moral terms, stating the objective in Iraq is to remove a tyrannical, oppressive regime, giving freedom to the Iraqi people, and to establish a foothold for democracy in the Middle East. I am afraid the abhorrent treatment of Iraqis at the hands of US and British troops represents the failure of Mr Bush's and Mr Bair's "moral" war.


Sir: Tony Blair just does not get it. Behind all the flimflam moralising about Iraq, the basic issue is that Britain and America have got no right to be in that country. Blair, Straw and Hoon have got it all wrong. They should either own up or resign.

Milton Keynes

No nuclear quick fix for global warming

Sir: James Lovelock's view that nuclear power has a role to play in mitigating carbon dioxide emissions ("Nuclear power is the only green solution", 24 May) may well be right. But this will not be without a cost. The capital costs of nuclear power plants are high and they have not been offset by low running costs, particularly if waste disposal/storage and decommissioning (or "back-end") costs are taken into account.

The private sector has generally proved unwilling to meet these liabilities without government financial support. Nuclear power has exhibited poor cost competitiveness in our liberalised energy market, and uncertainty remains over the long-term storage of radioactive waste.

The UK government has established an aspirational target of reducing carbon dioxide emissions to 60 per cent of their existing figure by 2050. The only way in which a fall of this magnitude could be achieved is by significantly reducing energy consumption to between 45 per cent and 75 per cent of the present demand; depending on the energy technology mix - fossil fuels, nuclear power, or renewable energy technologies.

Energy efficiency measures currently displace between 2.5 and 20 times more carbon dioxide than would new nuclear power plants per pound (dollar/euro/yen) invested. All fossil-fuelled power stations suffer from pollutant emissions that lead to environmental degradation on local and global scales. Methods of carbon sequestration or capture from such plants are in their infancy. The renewable energy technologies benefit, like nuclear power, from near-zero carbon dioxide (and other) emissions, but have a low energy density and intermittent operation. We must therefore take the challenge of energy conservation seriously.

Department of Mechanical Engineering
University of Bath

Sir: James Lovelock eloquently describes the climate change problem, but reaches for the wrong solution.

He is right that we burn too much carbon for energy. But the solution is to use less energy, not to squabble over the best way of harnessing it. If we insulate our homes and drive less then we won't need nuclear. If Britain is to truly lead the world in climate science, then we need to learn to love cities that are less energy-intensive, so that others may learn to love them too.

And that is why Greens must continue to focus on the human environment - we cannot achieve the necessary change without consent.


Sir: Professor Lovelock says wind, tide and water power cannot provide enough energy in time to head off global disaster. Rubbish. A Severn barrage could supply as much electricity as five nuclear power stations, though some misguided environmentalists might object. It could be operating in five years.

Wave energy devices, mounted on ships the size of oil tankers which could be endlessly mass-produced, can generate an almost infinite amount of energy. Wind energy, based offshore to avoid protests, can also be produced wholesale.

All that is lacking are the will (which has been frustrated by the nuclear lobby for 25 years now) and the money - a fraction of the amount already spent on nuclear power and needing to be spent in the future in clearing up the radioactive mess, even if we do not add to it.

London SE5

Sir: I have been trying to work out why it is that our government does not seem to take climate change seriously.

Is it perhaps that forcing industry to be more environmentally responsible is too expensive? It seems unlikely, when set against the cost of flood damage to our coastal cities.

So maybe it could be that they do not care about the millions of people likely to lose their lives when low-lying countries, such as Bangladesh, flood because of the rising seas. Again, it seems unlikely. We send aid to disaster-stricken countries, but seem reluctant to make a 'pre-emptive strike' against an impending global catastrophe.

Finally, perhaps it is that no government is willing to commit to the inevitable short-term cost and difficulty of really taking on the environmental issue. Why should they, when the benefit may not be seen for tens or hundreds of years, well past the time when the current MPs will be in office to take the credit?

The Government should realise that it is not just there to win a popularity contest every four years. It has a moral responsibility to do what is best for everyone, and climate change is one of those rare issues where everyone's interests are very well aligned.

Alstone, Gloucestershire

Sir: James Lovelock is only two-thirds right. Yes, we need to do something drastic and urgent to combat global warming. Yes, the answer does not lie with renewable energy alone. But he is wrong to suggest that nuclear power is the panacea.

It is easy to lose sight of the best solution: energy conservation. We need bold political initiatives, based on fiscal, price and legal mechanisms to cut the umbilical cord between society and energy consumption. Every form of energy has its environmental downside, even wind power.

Lovelock's approach implies that if we shift to nuclear power and thereby resolve global warming all will be right with the world; that there is a simple technological fix to the world's environmental problems. But our patterns of consumption affect the environment in other ways: destruction of the ocean's biosphere thanks to over-fishing, digging up tracts of land for landfill thanks to our addiction to plastic packaging and bottles, depletion of groundwater supplies and so on.

Our approach to solving global warming will affect how we approach other environmental issues. Technological fixes are only part of the answer; the social, political and economic toolbag needs to be mined if we are to stop ourselves from destroying the planet that sustains our existence.


Wigs and idolatry

Sir: I had always assumed that the mark of a tolerant society was that people did not make derogatory remarks about other people's private beliefs and practices. I was therefore shocked to read Roger Payne's comparison of women who choose to burn their wigs to Nazi book-burning (letter, 24 May).

If a woman wishes to burn her wig, that is entirely her own business. That she might be influenced by a ruling from her rabbi that the hair was an idolatrous offering is of no more concern to anyone else than the Catholic Church's ruling on clerical celibacy is to non-Catholics.

Mr Payne is obviously not familiar with the Jewish religion, which has a strict ban on benefiting in any way from idolatrous offerings. A Jew is therefore obliged to burn any that he inadvertently acquires. Whether the rituals practiced at the temple in Tirupati involve idolatry is not yet entirely clear but some women are evidently not even prepared to risk the possibility.

His accusation of racism is particularly pernicious in that there is no problem with hair from India per se, only, possibly, that offered up in a certain religious ceremony. The same would arise with hair from a blonde European lady if she went through the same ritual.

His letter is itself guilty of fostering divisiveness and that is its relevance. Is it any wonder that we face a world today in such conflict?

Salford, Greater Manchester

Spiral of violence

Sir: Harvey Quilliam (letter, 20 May) claims that the West Bank and Gaza have been occupied for 37 years. Not so, they have been occupied for 56 years. From 1948 to 1967 they were occupied by Jordan and Egypt, respectively, who kept them as vast refugee camps and did not allow their economies to develop at all.

With friends like Patrick Tuohy (letters 21 May), we can do without enemies. The demolition of houses may be against the Geneva Convention in some cases, but then, so is the suicide bombing of civilian targets. The current demolitions in Rafah have a military justification: the interdiction of the terrorists' supply lines; hence this is not a war crime. Save your condemnation for the demolition of suicide bombers' family homes; and then explain that to the bombers' victims.

If we go back to 1948, we find that Israel was set up by UN Resolution 181 and was promptly attacked by its Arab neighbours; the result is history. Israel is still at war, still fighting for its life. Hamas and Islamic Jihad have sworn to destroy the country; they reject every offer of negotiation out of hand. They undermined the latest peace negotiations by restarting the intifada three years ago, despite being offered most of the land recovered by the Israelis from the Jordanians and Egyptians.

Until we can get these terrorists/freedom fighters to the negotiating table, we will be condemned to an ever increasing spiral of violence.

Maidenhead, Berkshire


Golden age of radio

Sir: In his contribution to Milton Schulman's obituary (24 May) Robert Robinson, chairman of Stop the Week, revealed that the panellists modestly thought of it as Stop the Rot. Such was the combative nature of that much-missed programme for grown-ups that it sounded here more like Stop the Weak.

Andover, Hampshire

Left out

Sir: The Green Party and Respect (letter, 21 May) must be aware that the Socialist Party and the Socialist Labour Party, both parties of long standing with elected councillors, have both been opposed to the war from the beginning. If the Socialist Workers Party is really trying to form a coalition of those opposed to the war, it needs to show them the respect of acknowledging their existence.


Overcrowded city

Sir: Your report "Traditionalists fear Smithfield will be devoured by developers (24 May) quotes the statement that "in the next 12 years, the City needs another 20 million square feet of office space and at least 90,000 more workers''. Why? With all of the fears about thousands more houses being built in the Green Belt, plus worries about the transport infrastructure not being able to cope, now is the time to form an alternative policy. Office jobs can surely be located in say the North of England - you know, somewhere up past Birmingham.

Lichfield, Staffordshire

Bid for freedom

Sir: The letter by Mr Range Eggs (22 May) reminds me of a former colleague who, after reviewing his mail every morning, would commit all the "special offers" to the bin with the complaint that he was still waiting for his "free Nelson Mandela".

Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk