Letters: Fate of Gary McKinnon

Why have ministers failed to help Gary McKinnon?
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The Independent Online

The execution of Akmai Shaikh in China has provoked strong criticism from Gordon Brown, who said he was "appalled and disappointed" that no assessment was made of Shaikh's medical condition. Ivan Lewis, the Foreign Office minister, told the Chinese ambassador, "China has failed in its basic human rights responsibilities" (report, 30 December).

The heroin-smuggling crime was committed in China and no medical evidence of any mental illness suffered by Mr Shaikh has been produced, before or after trial. In July this year, Gary McKinnon, accused of hacking into Pentagon computers, lost all appeals to be extradited to the USA to stand trial and face up to 60 years in prison.

This is after seven years of legal action, during which the High Court upheld a refusal by the Director of Public Prosecutions to hold a trial in this country. Mr McKinnon, who is now 42, is officially diagnosed as suffering from Asperger's syndrome, and his lawyers have said that extradition could lead to "disastrous consequences" for his health, including possible psychosis and suicide.

It was stated that Jacqui Smith, the former home secretary, had taken into account Mr McKinnon's condition when considering the US extradition request. Alan Johnson, the present Home Secretary, said: "It would be illegal for me to stop the extradition of Gary McKinnon, which the court ruling has made clear."

There are great differences in the punishments of these people, although some would argue that death would be preferable to 60 years in jail, but why does our government offer all support to one UK national while politicians fail to help another mentally ill Briton facing trial in another country, especially when the alleged crime was committed in the UK?

Brad Ingram

Saffron Walden, Essex

Entangled in the Islamic briar-patch

Washington's successive bombings, invasions and occupations of Islamic countries is beginning to resemble Br'er Rabbit's entanglement with the Tar Baby ("The lessons of Flight 253", 28 December). The more the West seeks to control, the greater the blowback, sometimes even in our homelands. The West's kneejerk reaction to blowback, alas, is to plunge further into the Islamic briar- patch.

The irony is that the architects of the "War on Terror", the West's ideologically-driven globalists, promoted mass immigration which has facilitated the ingress into our countries of Islamists seeking revenge. The choice is ours. Either wage endless wars or stop sending our troops abroad in search of demons to slay. There's more than enough to do in our own backyard, ensuring, for instance, that the British state continues to naturally command the allegiance of its people.

Yugo Kovach

Winterborne Houghton, Dorset

It is surely a matter of luck that the terrorist attempt to destroy Flight 253 flight failed, but it emphasises the need for constant vigilance and enhanced security for all passengers. This year, Manchester airport introduced passenger X-ray scanning, which was subjected to problems and criticism not least from those purporting to uphold human rights. Indeed, I believe that an early decision was made not to screen passengers under the age of 18.

The rationale for such a decision doesn't stand up to any kind of reasoned scrutiny. If my memory serves me correctly I also recall that certain sectors of our society refused to be screened by "sniffer dogs", it being contrary to their faith or beliefs. I don't, for one moment question the right of any individual to hold a particular view. But when that belief either impinges on, or may threaten, the lives of others, a line has to be drawn. Those wishing to travel by air must be prepared to subject themselves to whatever security measures are deemed necessary. If not, they don't travel.

Nick Daber

Stockport, Cheshire

Blaming Schengen for the failed Flight 253 attack is ludicrous (letters, 31 December, 2 January). Given that Nigeria is not a member of the Schengen Zone, how we can point the finger at the EU for this is beyond me. How can Dennis Lennox claim European airports lack "crucial basic scrutiny and security mechanisms"? Fox News has repeatedly reported that most airport scanners would not have detected the PETN explosive. Would full body scanners have worked? Probably. But that's a debate for another day.

Despite Schengen, passport checks still exist in Europe. If they didn't, then how come various ETA terrorists have been apprehended trying to cross the Spanish border into France? The comparison with the 1999 Millennium Plot is also somewhat misleading, given that said plotters had timing devices and an over-abundance of explosives concealed in an automobile, relatively easier to detect than the mere six grams of PETN tucked in underpants.

And Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's two-year US visa had not "nearly expired" but had six months (a quarter of its validity) to go. Even entering the US on a one-way ticket with a visa is not out of the ordinary. I would also guess that paying with cash for a flight is quite common in Africa.

The real question is whether the US authorities alerted their Dutch counterparts about the possible threat posed by Abdulmutallab, especially when one considers that he was already on a US watch-list. Initial evidence would suggest they did not exchange this intelligence. Abdulmutallab also entered using a multiple-entry visa, which requires a greater depth of scrutiny than a visitor's visa. Did the Dutch issue this visa? No. What about revoking the visa after warnings about Abdulmutallab? Of course not.

Ewan Watt

St Paul, Minnesota, USA

According to Gordon Brown, Farouk Abdulmutallab was instructed by al-Qa'ida operatives in Yemen. Brown also says Yemen has become "an incubator and potential safe-haven for terrorism", then promises aid amounting to more than £100m.

Sitting under Yemen is one of the world's largest reserves of untapped oil, so I wondered if Brown's aid promise was more double-speak for another exercise in debt enslavement, so western allies could take a hand in the development of Yemen's oil reserve?

Also the mention of terrorist activity usually leaves a window open for military action should debt bondage fails to achieve compliance. Or am I being cynical?

Shaun Walton

Bugbrooke, Northamptonshire

The silence of the Border Agency

Your report of two suicides of immigrants after questioning by the police (29 December) could be indicative of very serious problems with the way all immigrants are treated by officialdom. When I visited Cardiff Border Agency on behalf of others in March, I was not allowed to go into the building with them but had to sit on a wall outside for a couple of hours. I wrote, questioning the Agency whether a journey of such a distance for them was absolutely necessary, or if taking fingerprints from children for visas was essential.

There could well have been good reasons for all this inconvenience but I am still waiting to hear what they are. I have had no reply to any of my follow-up letters, despite copying them to my MP.

My experience tells me that the training in people skills in this Agency is probably nil. PR is not an important issue either. Later conversations with immigration officers on social occasions has confirmed a belief that the attitude of some workers in immigration control towards visitors, whatever their background or reason for being here, verge on the racist.

I can imagine that someone newly arrived, unsupported, left alone with "authority" for many hours, understanding with difficulty what is said and dismissed without proper explanations, could become demoralised and despairing enough to take their life.

If this is how our Border Agency operates towards me, an ordinary, law-abiding citizen, I wonder how, when nobody is looking, it treats strangers who are dependent on a fair judgement of their situation.

Jennifer Bell

Tiverton, Devon

Benn's BBC plan to buy The Times

As a new member of the national council of the National Graphical Association (NGA) in January 1979, I said we should support Tony Benn's proposal that The Times be bought by the BBC (report, 30 December). The print unions were facing rapidly advancing new technology.

In a decade or so, thousands of jobs were lost. The NGA and other unions tried to save as many as they could, but we were entering the era of "de-industrialisation", with the economic trend moving from industrial capital to finance capital. Mrs Thatcher took up the cause with a vengeance and left an economic vulnerability that is still taking its toll.

Had The Times been bought by the BBC, that may not have changed the subsequent decline in journalistic standards, but Britain would have had a newspaper where the principle of balance and impartiality would have had a decent space. And the paper would have had the best of the BBC journalists available.

I believe Rupert Murdoch was already "in the frame" to buy The Times when Tony Benn's proposal was mooted, possibly with promise of job guarantees etc. The Wapping dispute six years later gave the print unions a cold shower of reality. In these straitened times, Mr Benn's idea may be an idea whose time has come for newspapers facing survival.

John Pinkerton

Milton Keynes

Oil giant cutting carbon emissions

Your article, "Sussex will be desert before the climate deniers accept reality" (16 December), recycles discredited conspiracy theories. We at ExxonMobil believe the risks posed by rising greenhouse gas emissions are serious and warrant action, by governments, by companies, and by individuals.

We advocate a revenue-neutral carbon tax as a more administratively simple, transparent and efficient mechanism to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In our global operations in 2008, we reduced emissions by 10 million tonnes.

And when ExxonMobil provides financial support to public policy organisations we do so openly and transparently by publishing our contributions on our website. The 150 groups include some of the finest institutions in the world. They include Stanford University, the Brookings Institute and MIT. We do not fund the Heartland Institute and have not done so for years.

Nick R Thomas

Regional Director, Public & Government Affairs, ExxonMobil, Leatherhead, Surrey

Subject de-continued

Further to Kartar Uppal's letter about Colonel Gaddafi's son and his bodyguards and the legality of the term "de-arrested" (2 January); are we to assume that the de-arrestees have also had their DNA subsequently deleted from the national database? If so, is this de-legal?

Roy Mitchell

Brentford, Middlesex

Grit your teeth

Mary Nolze (letters, 31 December) suggests residents should be employed to clear snow and ice. Here, we actually do, and grit our roads and pavements, all done voluntarily. But the grit-bins on the side-roads are now empty and Lancashire County Council and Blackburn Council refuse to refill them. After one heavy snowfall during Christmas week, residents in one area were unable to drive up the side-roads safely because of the lack of grit, so parked their cars on the main road. They were given parking tickets early the next morning.

S Silgram Blackburn, Lancashire

Fox fable

Your correspondent John Charman (letters, 31 December) describes foxes as "vicious". In our small garden, we have an infra-red camera linked to a DVD recorder which records for six hours every night. We have monitored hundreds of hours of fox behaviour, and the word is "timid". Our cat has chased them out of the garden many times, and our neighbours' cat, half the size of ours, has no trouble in chasing them out as well.

Jean Elliott

Upminster, Essex

Swallow this

Another correspondent has totally misunderstood the action of Levonelle 1500 (letters, 2 January). It is not an abortion pill but a tablet that stops fertilisation, which is why it has to be taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex for it to be effective. As a pharmacist, I get very irritated by some assumptions about our work practices. We do not just hand these tablets out as the mood takes us; we counsel the customers and, if it isn't appropriate, we don't give the product out.

Linda Fisher

Huby, York

Blame the builders

It beats me why anyone would object to the sight of a mother breastfeeding, when we are daily subjected to the spectacle of young men and women in those awful low-slung jeans, revealing their bellies and bums to the entire high street.

Doraine Potts

Cheltenham, Gloucestershire