Iraq, Blunkett and others

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The Independent Online

Archdruid's eisteddfod attack over Iraq was unfair

Sir: I am writing as someone who considers themselves a Welsh Iraqi. After attending my first eisteddfod last week I was amazed to see such a pleasurable celebration of culture, national identity and heritage with a reaffirmation of the civility, openness and good nature of Wales and being Welsh.

As Thursday was Wales and the World Day, perhaps it is necessary to point towards the need to remember the significant difference between being Welsh and having a Welsh identity in a modern world. This could not have been summed up better than by the Kurdish dancers from Newport who, after addressing the crowd in Welsh, clutched two flags while they danced - the Kurdish flag and the Welsh flag.

It is for this reason that I was amazed to read your report (12 August) of a personal attack on one of our most dignified MPs by Dr Robyn Lewis, the Archdruid of Wales. How could anyone question the relevance of the speech given by Ann Clwyd MP during the eisteddfod? The speech could not have been more fitting on Wales and the World Day.

She did not say that the world was now a safer place to live. The main point she made was that as a nation with so much unity, the least we can do is acknowledge the plight of others in our world. Ann Clwyd should not be used as a scapegoat for those trying to vent their anti-war sentiments, such as the Archdruid. Ann spent much of her political career fighting to indict and to remove Saddam Hussein and to put him on trial for crimes against humanity. It is because those calls weren't listened to that Iraq was allowed to slip further and this now needs more time until true steps towards peace and democracy can be taken. War was the last choice for her personally, but to Ann there are no national boundaries and the rights of humans should be treated the same, whether in Wales or Iraq.


Blunkett has killed my pride in Britain

Sir: I am shocked and horrified to read that facts admitted under torture may be used as evidence against accused terrorists - or indeed anyone (report, 12 August). This is a total repudiation of justice and all for which this country once stood. It's bad enough to have as an ally a country which runs Guantanamo camp and uses torture, but to have our own once honourable country as part of it is intolerable.

I was nursing all through the Second World War, through the London blitz, and later in the Burma campaign. The day I donned the uniform of the British Army was one of the proudest moments of my life. I can no longer feel that pride in my country.

David Blunkett is not fit for the high office he holds and should be dismissed. I challenge him to submit himself to torture and see what that would make him admit. I like to think I have courage, but under torture, mental or physical, I know I would say anything.

Appleby-in-Westmorland, Cumbria

Sir: Mr Blunkett is being disingenuous when he states that the Court of Appeal's decision that he acted lawfully when he detained the "terror 10" should end our concern that the detainees' rights are not being respected. Mr Blunkett may have acted in accordance with the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act (2001) but it is the provisions of the Act itself which should give us concern. It is that Act which denies the detainees many of the most fundamental legal rights integral to our criminal law processes.

Detainment is not subject to the criminal burden of proof requirements, even though it is undeniable that the Act imposes criminal sanctions on suspects. The decision of the Home Secretary may only be cancelled where the Special Immigration Appeals Tribunal (SIAC) finds that the Home Secretary had "no reasonable grounds for belief or suspicion". Therefore, at no stage in the lengthy and indeterminate detention of suspects does the Home Secretary need to prove to any standard of proof that a crime has been committed.

SIAC hears evidence in closed session and neither the suspect nor their lawyer may hear the evidence. In another recent Court of Appeal (Sec of State for the Home Dep v M - 18.03.04) the Lord Chief Justice stated that this put individuals appealing to SIAC under a "grave disadvantage". The court also stated that "to be detained without being charged or even knowing the evidence against you is a grave intrusion on an individual's rights".

It is therefore untrue to state that "at every stage, the detainees have made full use of their rights to go through a proper court process".

The Act contains serious breaches of the Human Rights Act and of course would be challengeable on that basis had the Government not sought and received a derogation from its provisions. Maybe it is therefore not unreasonable to question, as The Independent has often done, whether Mr Blunkett's commitment to civil and human rights is as profound as he would like to believe.

Charlbury, Oxfordshire

Sir: David Blunkett writes - in a garbled and resentful attack on us namby-pamby Independent readers - as if we are on the verge of apocalypse ("Freedom from terrorist attack is also a human right", 12 August).

Any one person's chance of being killed in a terrorist attack, this year or any other year, is practically zero. As usual, Mr Blunkett blows everything up out of all proportion. We are far more likely to be murdered by one of our relatives than some lurking "international terrorist", but nobody suggests that we should all be stripped of our rights because one day we may kill our wives in a fit of rage. Why then do these poor Muslims have a separate set of rules from the rest of us? This question needs answering, whether it be 14 out of 600, or "about half", as Mr Blunkett insists, of suspects who end up having charges laid at their door. I'd call a 50 per cent chance of being wrong "reasonable doubt", any day of the week.

The phrase "I must balance legal theory with the practical job of protecting people" demonstrates his contempt for the law. The Home Secretary's job should be to uphold the law in the face of public hysteria, not to fuel that hysteria. I would beg your paper to continue putting the wind up Blunkett so we can all be amused by more of this fearful hate-mongering.

Wirral, Merseyside

Sir: Human rights concepts evolved to protect individuals from state-sanctioned persecution, because an individual does not stand a chance when the state has it in for them: the power imbalance is simply too great. Human rights legislation is not about protecting individuals from other individuals, or individuals from non-state groups: that is covered by criminal or civil legislation.

So, when our dear old Home Secretary evokes human rights arguments to defend state-sanctioned persecution we should remember that this Labour government has been to the European Court of Human Rights to fight against the rights of members of the armed forces to have a family and private life, and that Blunkett himself has made sure that certain prisoners such as Maxine Carr do not get equal treatment under the law.


Sir: Referring to the detention of suspects of terrorism under the Terrorism Act, David Blunkett says that "to protect our human rights we are not allowing them on to our streets in order to resume the activities that they were engaged in before they were picked up".

I trust that the last part of his sentence was meant to read "in order to resume the activities that we believe they were engaged in before they were picked up". Otherwise it would be a case of "sentence first, verdict afterwards", as the Queen of Hearts put it. Such an Alice in Wonderland procedure would be unworthy of a Home Secretary who prides himself on his common touch.

Introducing such powers "because there is a state of public emergency" is a ruse that has been used by countless totalitarian governments to justify oppression.


Sir: Even during the darkest days of apartheid, the judiciary in South Africa always managed to uphold the principle that evidence extracted under the torture, which was the police's normal recourse, could never be admissible. While the government introduced ever more draconian legislation in the face of what it saw as a "total onslaught" of "terrorism", the judges cherished their independence from government sufficiently to refuse the argument that the end ever justified the means.

Our Home Secretary is presiding without a qualm over the demise of Britain's international reputation as an upholder of human rights. His agonising on the human rights front would appear to be restricted to joining the tabloids in fretting over the rather less fundamental question of whether prisoners should be allowed access to their lottery winnings.


Aircraft pollution

Sir: Your leader "Air travellers should pay the price of pollution" (10 August) gives the proportion of greenhouse effects globally due to aviation as 3.5 per cent now, rising to 15 per cent by 2050. This might be the case if greenhouse gas emissions had not been curbed by that date, but to limit the risk of catastrophic climate change, it is generally agreed that emissions will need to be reduced by about 60 per cent on this timescale.

On this basis, aviation would use up about one third of the atmosphere's carrying capacity for greenhouse gases, squeezing out some other energy sectors which are more essential to human well-being than many air journeys. The time for aviation to bear the costs of its environmental impact is now.

Architects & Engineers for Social Responsibility
Stroud, Gloucestershire

Sir: In your concern for the environment, your leading article omits to mention the very real price which would immediately be paid for taxing aviation fuel. At a time when substantial parts of this country's transport infrastructure are in a pitiful condition, aviation is a diamond shining up from the coals: it would be irresponsible to jeopardise its growth by introducing new taxes which would have an unknowable effect on demand.

Aviation is already the mode of transportation for 20 per cent of our exports. And £8bn of the £11bn generated by overseas visitors to the UK last year was derived from those using the five main London airports alone. Government is, and should continue, working in partnership with the industry to ensure that cleaner models of aircraft evolve: this is a time for carrots and not sticks.

London Chamber of Commerce and Industry, London EC4

Police media coverage

Sir: Under what circumstances it is appropriate for the Commissioner or other very senior officers to intervene in Met promotion processes will no doubt be debated in the coming months.

One thing is certain - there have been several such interventions in senior promotions in the last few years. All have involved immensely experienced and skilled, bright officers like Jill McTigue. As far as I know, all the other instances involved men and passed without even a murmur, let alone the "row" you describe in relation to Jill (report, 6 August).

She has now been the subject of extensive press coverage, presumably again because she is a woman, also glamorous and photogenic. Despite several inaccuracies in the reporting, Jill has maintained a dignified silence. Is it too much to hope that she will now be left alone to carry out complex, high-risk operations against organised criminals - something she is very good at?

Metropolitan Police Specialist Crime Directorate
London SW1

Subjective analysis  

Sir: John Wood (letter, 12 August) is prepared, at least in part, to condemn Adam Rickwood because in a photograph he is perceived to be "intimidating, looking the camera square in the face and challenging it". Where is he supposed to look? Where do most people look when being photographed? Nobody's character should be assessed on such subjective grounds.


Emergency measures

Sir: Say what you like about the Government's leaflet on what to do in a terrorist attack: I have found it invaluable in coping with an emergency. I came back from holiday to find a wasps' nest in the eaves. The leaflet, in its original envelope, is the perfect size and weight for swatting wasps.

Leamington Spa, Warwickshire

Sir: This morning I received my booklet concerning what to do in an emergency. Having read it I can only conclude that the Government sexed up the wrong document.

Newbury, Berkshire

Gigantic error

Sir: I read with interest your piece regarding the growth rate of the Tyrannosaurus rex (12 August), but have to raise my voice at your assertion that it was "the largest living terrestrial carnivore" - this honour, of course, belonged to Giganotosaurus, discovered in 1994. My apologies for my pedantry, but my dinosaur-obsessed five-year-old son would never forgive me, if your error were to go uncorrected!

Ashton-in-Makerfield, Lancs

Sign language

Sir: I recently saw a sign which read "Pedestrian Casualty Reduction Signal Timings Experiment". Have we now decided that it is easier to just place key words together and let readers work out the meaning themselves?

London N16