Sir: I applaud the editorial of 28 December on the lawless and murky parallel world created by a number of governments. A leading operator in this field is Mr Blair's government and a public inquiry is long overdue. It is also high time for the abolition of the murky powers conferred long ago by the transfer of the Royal Prerogative of the absolute powers of the monarchy to the government in office. Downing St and the Home Office have been exercising these powers to appalling effect over the last four years.
The Canadian citizen Maher Arar and his lawyer Lorne Waldeman spent some hours with me in Toronto in January 2004. I heard the horrendous story of Maher's abduction in JFK airport, his incarceration in a New York prison, and his rendition to the Syrian torturers. They also gave me Maher's deposition, prepared for the Canadian public inquiry, announced following the uproar when Canadians first heard Maher's story. It is chilling.
So were and are the stories of the British citizens and UK residents who were rendered to Afghanistan and then to Guantanamo Bay. They were interrogated under torture, and "rendered" with the complicity of the British government in lawless defiance of the Geneva Conventions.
It is a matter of pride that our Law Lords have reminded our government of the values and legal rights on which democracy depends. It is a matter of the gravest concern that Mr Blair and his myrmidons seek to take away the historic role of the judiciary in this country, which is its independence of the politics of the executive, and the authority to pronounce a legal ruling against the government of the day.
Sir: Your newspaper is right to highlight the horrendous practice of "extraordinary rendition", which is an indictment to our so-called civilised society. Moreover, it is yet another pill of disillusionment which Muslims have had to swallow.
Illegal occupation, massacre of civilians, torture, dawn raids, detention without trial, house arrest, extradition and now "rendition" are the chain of oppressive measures under which Muslims have had to suffer in this perverse "war on terror". The victims are overwhelmingly Muslim, whether they happen to be of Afghan, Pakistani, Iraqi or North African descent and in most cases are found to be innocent. Such actions will do little to ease the growing discontent among Muslims and their perception of our country, people and values; and as a consequence will inspire terrorism, not thwart it.
I whole-heartedly support the work of human rights activists, civil liberties groups and those in the media who are astute enough to realise the injustices being done and are putting pressure on a government whose views on human life and dignity are increasingly worrying.
DR RASHED AKHTAR
National service or a new slavery?
Sir: Richard Askwith's article "Bring back National Service - but not for the young" (29 December) didn't just "sound a bit silly" as he put it. It was downright threatening and offensive to older people, and to all people.
Mr Askwith believes that some older people might respond to compulsory national service "with tantrums" because of "the postponement of their long-promised twilights on golf course or cruise-ship". Most of us who have older relatives would consider this comment an indication that Mr Askwith has led a very privileged and sheltered life. If another age group resented such a blatant attack on their human rights as compulsory national service, would he also accuse them of "having a tantrum"? If the Government ever tries to enforce slavery in all but name on any age group I hope for all our sakes millions of people of all ages "have a tantrum" big enough to bring down such a regime.
I guess in the interests of free speech I can't complain that The Independent has seen fit to allow this bigoted fascist to air his stomach-churning opinions. But his supposedly reflective views must be challenged and exposed for the dangerous extremism they really represent. If such attitudes aren't rejected and marginalised, then in the long run our free society has no future.
Sir: Richard Askwith is correct in recognising that older people have much to offer. Our own experience shows an increasing trend towards "older career-gappers" looking to ensure they don't fall into a rut. An additional 10,000 over-50s take part in our Retired and Senior Volunteers Programme. Many report it renews purpose in their lives and improves their health.
But we must not deny this opportunity to the other end of the age spectrum. Research shows that younger people who take part in community service improve their employability in the workplace. Experience gained through volunteering improves communication skills, team-working and problem-solving abilities.
COMMUNITY SERVICE VOLUNTEERS LONDON N1
Sir: I'm afraid Richard Askwith has missed the boat with his proposal for National Service for the elderly. Where does he think the UK's vast army of dedicated and unpaid carers and volunteers already comes from? Mainly from us, aged 60 to 90-plus. And, what's more, we do a lot better in our various fields when not hampered by the directives of inexperienced juveniles in offices, blinded by targets and statistics.
Rewards of learning foreign languages
Sir: As a graduate in 1978, I took my first job teaching English in Italy. Embarrassed by my typically English monolingualism I learned fluent Italian in three years. I then learned Spanish by living and working in Spain and taught myself French. I have since learned elementary German and am making (slow) progress with basic Japanese.
In all cases my varying levels of competence have served me well throughout Europe, south America and Japan. It is astounding that Colin Hunt (letter, 30 December) claims that in a lifetime of working abroad knowing a foreign language would never have been of any use. He should be ashamed of such a philistine approach. Not speaking a foreign language deprives one of the simple pleasures of communication in another tongue and the culturally enriching opportunity to share in the language of others. Knowing the local language when abroad is like having a sixth sense.
English is doubtless a global lingua franca but over 80 per cent of the world's population do not speak it. The miserable state of language knowledge in the UK will not improve until it is made obligatory in all school years, preferably without tests. It could be the one area of the school curriculum that all children could enjoy without pressure.
SHERIFF HUTTON, YORK
Sir: Colin Hunt's comment about learning languages (letter, 30 December) reminds me of when I was appointed to an EU committee some years ago which comprised delegates from organisations in several member states.
At my first meeting, in Italy, I was surprised at the warmth of my welcome. "Let me explain," said a Greek lady, amid some good-natured laughter. "We have been meeting for two years. All meetings and documents are in English - by unanimous agreement since it is the language we all have in common. Now, for the first time, we have a native English speaker to tell us how well we are doing."
More recently, I joined a group from the Baltic countries. Nobody wanted me to even try to learn any of the other seven languages represented. As English was the only common language, speaking anything else was considered impolite.
Why badgers must be culled
Sir: George Davidson and Stella Smith (Letters, 17 December) have failed to take account of the important microbiological, pathological and epidemiological aspects of bovine tuberculosis (bTB).
TB in any form is always a major public health hazard and cannot be allowed to persist in our animals, domesticated or wild. Cattle are highly susceptible to bTB infection. Cows with bTB can excrete tubercle in the milk without any clinical signs, thus posing a serious risk to those unwise enough to consume unpasteurised dairy products.
Diseased badgers excrete large quantities of tubercle in all their bodily secretions, and may exhibit anomalous behaviour and wander into farm and cattle buildings. Infected badgers sharing habitat with cattle will result in infected cattle and this situation cannot be allowed to continue. In order to stop the spread of bTB we have to destroy the infected animals of all species.
It is a myth that intensive agriculture is associated with increased infection and disease. Larger and intensive herds and flocks of all species have proportionately lower infection, disease and mortality rates and higher levels of productivity. Much of this is due to higher standards of management, husbandry, nutrition and infection control which become possible from the improved cash-flow of larger units. Many of the recent bTB incidents have been in well-managed herds, and some in beef herds on extensive pasture. It is also to be noted that there is an increased incidence of TB in wild deer.
It is not clear when or how badgers in some areas became so heavily infected with bTB. Whilst better control of cattle movements will be required, those opposed to the control of badgers must put forward alternative measures to prevent further spread.
OLAF SWAARBRICK FRCVS
FONTWELL, WEST SUSSEX
Jails of the future
Sir: Frances Crook (Letters, 30 December) makes a compelling case against the insanity of prisons for private profit. How long will it be before transnational prison companies run their institutions for client countries on private islands, where they don't even have to pretend to uphold basic human rights?
THE REV DR DAVID USHER
Sir: So business people associate the Liverpool accent with lack of success and lack of trust (report, 29 December). This is no surprise when these tired but immensely damaging old stereotypes are repeatedly given airtime by the broadcast and print media. Complaints from scousers are met with "Where's your famous sense of humour?"
Sir: I think I know what Frank Scott means when he bemoans "the incompatibility of much teen culture with any sort of decent education" (letter, 29 December). But this is not a new phenomenon. I found the influence of Billy Bunter and the Just William stories affects me even today. I giggle at the drop of a hat, am frequently up to mischief, overindulge (especially at this time of year) and have little respect for authority. But it has had its negative effects too.
DR DAVID CARVEL
Sir: Isn't the correspondence on babycare getting a bit solemn? You have to wonder if some of these mothers have more than one ewe lamb. As a veteran of a four-children family, I can from experience assert that the only survival technique is to remember that you are bigger than they are and it's your house.
Sir: In Louise Jury's article "Mary Poppins show inspires Hollywood remake with a spoonful of Spielberg" (30 December) mention is made of Richard Eyre's film The Ploughman's Contract. I assume this was a little-known collaboration with Peter Greenaway, combining Eyre's film The Ploughman's Lunch with Greenaway's The Draughtsman's Contract.
DR CLIVE STANDLEY
WATERTOWN, MASSACHUSETTS, USAReuse content