Letters: Blair, Iraq and divine judgement

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Critics misread the subtext about Blair, Iraq and divine judgement

Sir: Your correspondents (Letters, 7 March) have misrepresented Blair's statements (and they are hardly alone in this).

Brian Connor's quote from Franco is irrelevant because Blair did not say that he would be answerable only to God.

Simon Sweeney apparently heard Blair say that God helps him make policy decisions. The Tooth Fairy must have been shouting particularly loudly in my ear at that point; I heard no such thing.

I also heard a rather different subtext to John O'Dwyer: "No Michael, I'm not going to fall into your trap and say that I prayed and God told me what to do. Let me explain my view of a Christian's relationship with God..."

I am an avowed atheist and was vehemently opposed to our intervention in Iraq. For me the most interesting aspect of the interview was that, for the first time, Blair appeared to accept the possibility that the war may have been a mistake. Perhaps he fears for his soul. Or perhaps I too was just hearing the "subtext" I wanted to hear.



Sir: As Bin Laden believed that he was authorised by God to plan and execute the lunatic action of ploughing planes into the twin towers, one assumes that he expects to be cleared by God. Blair also expects to be found not guilty by God for the subsequent illegal war on Iraq.

Faced with the conundrum of finding against either Blair or Bin Laden, both men of faith and sincere belief, God will have to refer the matter to a higher deity for judgement.



Why we need animal testing

Sir: One must of course congratulate Sharon Howe (Opinion, 6 March) on her first-class Oxford degree. Unfortunately her degree does not appear to be in a subject that gives her any authority to express an informed opinion on animal testing.

The problem is that man came on to this earth without a user manual. We do not have a complete map of the complex biochemical and physiological relationships between organs and systems. We know a great deal but we shall never know that we have everything that we need to know.

Fortunately, animal and human systems are, to a very large degree, identical. The systems used are the same. The biochemistry is the same. Effects in animals are very very similar to that in man. To that extent the pharmacology in one is similar to the pharmacology in the other. Natural diseases in animals can be treated by the same methods as in man. It is just not true to say that animal testing is of no value and is misleading. It is not.

Computer models and in vitro testing are valuable and are infinitely cheaper that keeping colonies of laboratory animals. It would be everybody's choice. They cannot however be universally applied. The reliable construction of a computer model demands a complete knowledge of the parameters, knowledge that we shall never have.

Who is going to take responsibility for an untried treatment in man? Who is going to be the first to prove that by its use no other unknown process is involved ? Will it be Sharon Howe?

The Oxford laboratory, together with many others, will be trying to disentangle these problems. Sharon Howe should ask for her degree back.



Sir: Sharon Howe denies that human exploitation of animals poses any ethical challenges, because animal experimentation is cruel and unnecessary. This way she sidesteps the need to make difficult ethical decisions, by reducing the debate to a no-brainer: those who support animal experiments must either be sadists or misguided idiots with little understanding of biomedical science.

The animal rights lobby is notorious for its campaign of misinformation: it is disappointing to find a highly educated person rehearsing their simple-minded arguments. We need proper debate about what is acceptable in our relations with other species - to claim there is no conflict of interest between humans and animals is to put one's head in the sand.



Sir: Colin Blakemore and Woody Caan claim to be appalled by the "oppressive violence" of anti-vivisectionists (Letters, 7 March). So does that mean they feel it isn't oppressively violent for research scientists to inflict deliberate injury on the brains of macaque monkeys? The use of these sensitive and sociable creatures in macabre experiments to find cures for diseases, such as Parkinson's, to which they have no natural susceptibility, is obscene.



Gas prices in a cold winter

Sir: Jeremy Warner (Outlook, 2 March) misunderstands Ofgem's position when he says that the "lazy explanation" for higher gas prices put forward by the regulator is the lack of liberalisation of the European gas market.

This winter was always going to be difficult as National Grid's winter outlook report to the market made clear when Ofgem first published it in May last year. It showed that in a cold winter we would have higher prices and tight gas supplies - even if the GB-Belgium gas pipeline flowed at full capacity into the UK.

However, this situation has been aggravated by the low flows through the interconnector in November and December. That is why we asked the European Commission to investigate the interconnector.

Mr Warner also points out that European companies are refusing to sell their storage gas to the UK. Lack of transparency in the European market makes this this difficult to prove one way or the other. However, Britain has played its part by exporting large volumes of cheap North Sea gas to Europe for the last six years. All we are asking is that the large continental companies, some of whom own supply companies in the UK, play by the rules and export gas to the UK when prices indicate that their gas is needed here.

The common theme to both UK and European markets is the need for transparency and access to information. Ofgem has insisted for many years that information on the North Sea - which we don't regulate - should be improved and we welcomed the breakthrough before last winter when the UK offshore industry agreed to make available more information.



Cuba a success against the odds

Sir: Terence Blacker, asks why the left still backs Castro (3 March). Speaking for myself, I do so because he has demonstrated that his model of development can be successful against all the odds, over 46 years. His model emphasises health and education on an equal basis for all citizens; so different from the model forced upon most poor countries by the west, the World Bank and the IMF. Cuba and has exported not arms or corporations, but large numbers of teachers and doctors to many poor countries over the years. There are other achievements, too, such as the support of Angola and the defeat of the South African army, one of the major causes of the fall of apartheid.

This has all been done despite constant attempts by the USA to overthrow the regime and assassinate Castro. To this end, the USA funds the activities of many dissidents within Cuba through its representatives there, and this was true of the 70 or so prisoners Blacker mentions. It recently appointed a USA Transition Coordinator for Cuba to run a programme to overthrow the Cuban government and replace it with a free-market orientated society in its own image and to its own liking.

It is this aggressive pressure from the USA and its embargo that have encouraged a pulling together of the population and inhibited change in Cuban society and the Cuban government. The most productive way to develop democracy in Cuba would be to back off, remove the embargo, encourage travel, and let Cuba continue to develop its own way.



A healthy hunger for cartoons

Sir: It was good to read Miles Kington's celebration of London's new Cartoon Museum (2 March), especially as this was one of the few reports of the opening that also mentioned the country's long-established Centre for the Study of Cartoons and Caricature, here at the University of Kent. This registered museum and archive was founded in 1973, and holds the national collection of over 120,000 original drawings from British newspapers and magazines, plus 80,000 cuttings.

I was pleased to see Miles Kington describe us as "flourishing", but are we really "hungry for originals"? In a way I suppose we are. As Miles Kington noted, Chris Beetles was at the opening of the Cartoon Museum with Jeffrey Archer, the first lamenting that he has no Wally Fawkes cartoons to sell in his gallery, the second that he has no Giles cartoons of grandma in his personal collection. In both cases the drought is partly because we have definitive collections of both cartoonists, having 8,500 of Wally Fawkes cartoons, drawn from many donors, and 5,500 Carl Giles cartoons, which came to us with his personal archive.

But I hope that this hunger won't be mistaken for greed. The Centre exists to preserve these cartoons, and make them available for research and exhibition. We don't even ask to own them, and a third of our archive is on loan to us, including much of the Fawkes and Giles collections. If there's a growing hunger for British cartoons I'd like to think that we're helping to satisfy it.



Wrong message on nuclear power

Sir; The sole consequence of the publication of the Sustainable Development Commission report (7 March) which "concluded that a new nuclear programme was not the answer to the twin challenges of climate change and security of supply" will be that the messenger will be shot.



Sir: Nobody seems to have realised that we are bound to "go nuclear". Either we do it ourselves or fail to find a solution to our energy needs have to go cap-in-hand to the French and pay whatever they demand for their nuclear-generated electricity.

Perhaps the compromise is to let EDF build the new generation of nuclear stations in UK, since they have offered to do so and appear to be able to do so in a way that the French people have found acceptable.



Sir: Given that terrorism is international, would The Independent please explain why the UK's not having a nuclear power programme would increase its security, when other countries such as France undoubtedly will?



Unknown prisoners of Guantanamo

Sir: The US authorities' belated disclosure of limited information on Guantanamo prisoners (leading article and report, 6 March) only increases our concern about the camp

That a widely discredited "Combat Status Review Tribunal" could ever have been employed as a quasi-judicial mechanism in the first place is worrying enough. That these reviews were used to justify the indefinite detention of some of the 500 prisoners is truly disturbing. Yet, four years in, we still don't know exactly who is being held, for how long they have been imprisoned or the full circumstances of their apprehension.

Meanwhile, only this week Amnesty International has published a new report condemning the detention without charge or trial by US forces in Iraq of almost 14,000 prisoners (30 times as many as at Guantanamo). Nearly 4,000 prisoners have been held for over a year.

A frightening pattern is emerging: of arbitrary US "war on terror" detentions that flout international law and undermine respect for human rights around the world.



Epic washing up

Sir: What world does Roger Cooper inhabit if he really believes it takes 63 litres to hand-wash a dishwasher load of dirty crocks (letter, 6 March)? That's more than 10 washing-up bowls full of water.



Anti-social cars

Sir: By Sean O'Grady's argument ("Don't shoot the messenger", 7 March), you should be publishing articles about the best cigarettes, porn films and ways to drop litter. Just because it's legal to buy SUVs, and lots of people do it, doesn't make it public-minded to publicise them in a way that encourages their consumption. You can't shrug off your culpability that easily.



End of romance

Sir: May I suggest that, in view of the Home Office's latest advice, the only safe course open to a man who wishes to avoid an accusation of rape would be to provide himself with a supply of suitably adapted hospital consent forms, and insist on a signature before making a move? This would, of course rather damage the romantic moment, but such is the world in which we live.



Stand firm against ID

Sir: The House of Lords is right to press the Government on its plans for state surveillance through the proposed National Identity Register. Forcing passport applicants to register details on a super-database is bullying from an executive which knows that, once the public finally realise what is in store for them, no one will wish to volunteer for such a dangerous scheme. The Lords should know that they have the support of an increasing share of the public, and stand firm so that we can stop now what we will otherwise regret later.



Massive haul

Sir: The size of HSBC's profits (report, 7 March), compared with the Tonbridge heist proceeds, brings to mind Bertolt Brecht's aphorism: what is the crime of robbing a bank compared with the crime of owning a bank?