Letters: Border checks

Schengen blamed for lax border terrorist checks
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The Independent Online

The foiled attack on Northwest Airlines flight No253 on Christmas Day should be a wake-up call demonstrating that European airports lack crucial basic scrutiny and security mechanisms needed to stop terrorism.

The root of the problem is the European Union's Schengen Agreement, which has opened the borders in 25 countries, including at Amsterdam's Schiphol airport. Under Schengen rules, anyone in those 25 countries can freely cross their own international borders. This allows terrorists, smugglers and other nefarious persons to operate with little fear of being caught even though we know border controls prevent terrorism. Just look at the foiled 1999 Millennium Plot when an alert US border agent caught an Algerian terrorist crossing between British Columbia and Washington; she found nitroglycerin and four timing devices concealed in the car's spare-tire compartment.

The Christmas Day suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, clearly was not subjected to any sufficient Dutch passport control at Schiphol on a continent where passport checks appear to have become largely a formality.

He faced little security or scrutiny despite the fact that he appeared in intelligence databases as someone connected to terrorists, had a one-way ticket that was purchased with cash and was travelling on a nearly-expired US visitor's visa.

The only way to stop terrorists from getting anywhere in Europe and reaching the United States is strong border controls. The US government must pressure the European Union to strengthen border security to ensure Europe won't continue being an attractive launching-point for would-be terrorists.

Dennis Lennox

Drain Commissioner, County of Cheboygan, Michigan USA

Wrong drugs laws killed Akmal Shaikh

It's a shame the way the Akmal Shaikh killing has been focused on as a miscarriage of justice around mental health issues, or worse still, as some kind of moral superiority posturing of the supporters of the British penal system over the Chinese.

The lowest comments have come from those most influenced by the pervasive belief in the worthiness of the war on drugs, many suggesting that, far from criticising China, Britain ought to emulate them and bring back the noose for various drug offences. Unfortunately, Shaikh became a victim of the legacy of the drug trafficking history between Britain (the trafficker par excellence), and China during the Opium Wars a century ago.

Such executions are commonplace in many countries. Malaysia has just sentenced their former cycling champion to death by hanging for a cannabis offence. The responsibility for this madness lies with weak governments' blind adherence to the International Conventions on Psychotropic Drugs. These out-dated instruments facilitate a false moral certitude about good and bad drug use that underpins what are essentially irrational and discriminatory policies.

In fact, these treaties are surely at odds with the Human Rights Act and indeed our own primary drug control legislation. In the UK, the law is drafted to encompass any drug that causes social harm; yet we imprison for terms up to 20 years people involved with various non-toxic and arguably safe psychedelic drugs, and allow the manufacture and retail of killer tobacco products, and indeed alcohol (both are drugs within the meaning of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971).

If China were serious about eradicating the harm caused by dangerous addictive drugs, then, in line with the zero-tolerance approach they would have to execute the entire tobacco workforce for a start. Tobacco causes millions of deaths a year in China, an order of magnitude many times greater than those caused by the drugs singled out by the UN.

Darryl Bickler

Drug Equality Alliance, Leeds

It is heartening to see our Government being so outspoken when faced with balancing the interests of trade against human rights, and after the tragic fact, too, when there is little to be immediately gained and potentially more to lose.

In the case of the callous execution by China of Akmal Shaikh, there has also been encouraging unanimity across party lines. I would expect that the expressed feelings of revulsion by all the leaders of our main political parties at the judicial murder of a mentally ill man are shared by practically every citizen of Britain and beyond.

But we are all in a uniquely powerful position as consumers to show our disgust at China's behaviour in a focused way which could really hurt, given sufficient public support.

Next time you are about to buy an item of clothing, electronics or whatever, check to see where it's made. If it says made in China, don't buy it. Such a boycott would illustrate just how important exports are to China.

This is not just about the killing of one British man. When China stops executing its own citizens, as Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg put it, on a "near-industrial scale", and chooses to accept international norms on human rights, well, then we may consider resuming our consumption of China's exports.

Alasdair Gibson

Richmond upon Thames

The Prime Minister is "appalled and disappointed" over the latest act of savagery by the Chinese state. One of his ministers, Ivan Lewis, tells us we cannot cut off our dealings with the regime. Why not? What they have done is indeed appalling, and unless we actually stand up to them, and act in ways that demonstrate beyond doubt what we feel, then we simply leave more people vulnerable to their vicious and barbaric system. Trade cannot be placed above justice and morally acceptable behaviour.

A start would be to say that no Chinese athlete will be allowed to compete in the London Olympics, and deals similar to the proposed sale of Volvo from Ford, will not be allowed to go ahead.

H James Clarke

Kirkby Stephen, Cumbria

History steams to the rescue

What a delightful news report relating how the replica steam locomotive No60163 Tornado came to the rescue of passengers after their electric train broke down in the recent bad weather (24 December).

It took me back almost 50 years to the height of British Railway's modernisation programme, when perfectly capable but soon to be withdrawn steam locomotives were regularly summoned to assist new-fangled but untrustworthy diesels that couldn't be relied upon to keep running for more than a few hours without conking out.

In those days, it was widely accepted that, short of a catastrophic failure, a steam locomotive could usually be kept running so long as its crew had a hammer, a spanner and a length of wire, but if a fuse blew on a diesel it was knackered. Fifty years on and it seems little has changed. So much for progress, and well done, Tornado.

Terence Roy Smith

Biggleswade, Bedfordshire

Councils should show some grit

The answer to our unpreparedness for ice and snow can be found somewhere between the points made by correspondents Readman and Bramley-Harker (letters, 23 December). I refer particularly to pavements. It may well be uneconomical for local authorities to invest heavily in clearing equipment, but if you think safety is expensive, try accidents.

The village where I live has lethal pavements (as do many other places now) and the councils, both borough (Tunbridge Wells) and Kent County, have done nothing about it. But there are hundreds, maybe thousands, of able-bodied men and women living around here, who are happy enough to groan and gasp about the situation.

Local authorities ought to have some retained side-road and pavement clearers, recruited from local residents, paid at an appropriate rate for the hours they do. They would be needed only a few days a year, and some years not at all, in which case the cost would be nil.

Mary Nolze

Tunbridge Wells, Kent

Pius XII 'cleared' of Holocaust guilt

Rabbi David Rosen's "anger as Pius XII moves closer to sainthood" (report, 21 December) is ill-advised and offensive to Catholics. The argument that Pope Benedict should have waited until the archives were opened is negated by such a prejudicial view.

Whatever Pius did, he did not participate in the Holocaust and there is no evidence that he supported it morally. An attack on him is an insult to the many Catholics who died both in the death camps and in the fight against Nazism.

Pius may have worked silently against the Holocaust but he also turned a blind eye and thus supported Mgr O'Flaherty's lifeline that saved thousands of Jews from the Holocaust. Public announcements are not the way of diplomacy and if we are to use silence as approval one must wonder why the chief rabbis remain silent on the ethnic cleansing on Muslim and Christian Palestinians.

Frank Rice


In the book, The Last Three Popes and the Jews, by Pinchas Lapide, the Jewish scholar and Israeli diplomat, the publisher says on the inside flap, "Using mainly Jewish sources – the Zionist Central Archives, material at the Hebrew University, accounts from survivors and the archives of the Yad Vashem, one of the world's largest collections of documents on the fate of European Jewry – he [Lapide] demonstrates that the Catholic Church was instrumental in saving 860,000 lives.

"Country by country, he records what effect public denunciations and Vatican instructions had on the Nazi persecution. He shows that the Catholic Church saved more lives than all the other churches, religious institutions and rescue organisations combined and its record stands in startling contrast to the achievements of the International Red Cross and the Western democracies.

"The author neither received nor asked for assistance from the Vatican. He felt that a vindication of the Catholic policy must be made and that it must be made by a Jew."

I hope this will help to inform the discussion. And I am neither Jewish nor Roman Catholic.

Neil A Thomson


Your picture of Pope Pius XII is misleading (report, 21 December). It actually shows Archbishop Pacelli, not then a Pope, exiting the presidential palace during the days of the earlier Weimar Republic, not Nazi Germany.

J A Carney

Southport, Merseyside


The frozen limit

In your report, "Festive freeze delights skaters in the Fens" (24 December), you refer to "flooded fields around the Wash". What froze were The Washes, the wide, shallow fields that lie inland along the Fen river system. Designed to take fresh floodwater, they therefore freeze easily and have been a delight to skaters for centuries. They are not flooded fields around the Wash.

Sally Turff

King's Lynn, Norfolk

Voters won't buy it

So Jack Straw is upset by the Tories trying to "buy" the next election, is he (report, 30 December)? But it's a feature of a first-past-the-post system. The government of which he has been a minister for the past 12 years has had plenty of time to do something about it, but while it was favouring them they left it alone. And that's despite promising us a referendum on reforming the voting system in 1997. Now Gordon is going to repeat the offer, proof, if needed, that Labour regards us as fools.

John Hall

Telford, Shropshire

Pay up, Eurostar

Now the Eurostar debacle is apparently over, they need to clarify exactly what compensation is on offer for inconvenienced customers. Their website states that compensation is payable to those on the stranded trains. But they also say weekend passengers delayed for even a few hours will also get compensation, and travellers after that period are due nothing for their delayed travel. My mother was instructed to travel a day later than her booking, yet she is apparently due no compensation for that delay.

Laurence Williams

Thetford, Norfolk

Can Blue be Green?

Manda Scott (letters, 30 December) is right to point to the alarming number of climate-deniers amongst Tory MPs. Like Ms Scott, my vote will go to the party that has the courage to lead us away from the politics of denial (and the fossil-soaked past) towards "a resilient, sustainable alternative". For me to see the Conservatives in this fresh green light, David Cameron must first deal comprehensively with the "eco-sceptics within". If he cannot do this, voters may conclude that Blue is not Green.

Dave Hampton

Marlow, Buckinghamshire

Stuck on stamps

Could John Sharkey (letters, 28 December) please explain how he removes his unfranked stamps for re-use? We, too, get many unfranked letters, but steaming off self-adhesive stamps seems impossible.

Christina Jones

Retford, Nottinghamshire