Letters: Guantanamo, ugly stain on America

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You are absolutely right to brand Guantánamo Bay an "unmitigated disaster" (leading article, 11 January). If its aim was to help bring to justice the perpetrators of the 11 September atrocities, it has signally failed. Only one of the 779 detainees in the past 10 years has been put on trial in a federal court in the US. Indeed, only six have faced the prison's unfair and much-criticised "military commissions".

Two and half years ago, President Obama condemned Guantánamo as a "misguided experiment". Now he leads a country that passes laws allowing for indefinite detention without trial of "enemy combatants" on US soil and the probable long-term continuation of Guantánamo.

David Cameron says the UK is still negotiating the possible release of Shaker Aamer, the former UK resident still held there without charge or trial. These negotiations have been underway for our years. How much longer must we wait for the US to undo the disastrous mistakes?

Kate Allen

Director, Amnesty International UK, London EC2

On the 10th anniversary of transfers to Guantánamo Bay, the Prime Minister told parliament that the Government has taken steps to "try and achieve some closure about what happened in the past" through a settlement with former detainees and by setting up a proper inquiry into UK complicity in torture.

It will be impossible to achieve this closure because of a seriously deficient detainee inquiry which does not have the necessary powers to get to the truth or allow meaningful participation by victims. Last week, human rights experts including UN mandate-holders and leading academics in international law added their voices to the survivors, NGOs and lawyers who have urged the government to fix these problems before proceeding with a process woefully lacking in credibility.

At the time of this sad anniversary, the UK Government should reflect on the positive impact a decisive step towards achieving accountability could have on other governments who stand accused of serious human rights violations and end the denial of justice to the victims and families who have waited so long.

Keith Best

Chief Executive, Freedom from Torture

Carla Ferstman

Director, REDRESS, London N7

The image that the United States claims to portray as a champion of the rule of law diminishes further each day Guantánamo remains open. For the past decade, this notorious symbol of hypocrisy and interventionist militarism has been synonymous with torture and human rights abuses.

Rather than vilifying other countries for human rights abuses, the US should tackle its own violations in Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib. If combating terrorism is the objective of Guantánamo, it has been a catastrophic failure. In fact, it has fuelled terrorism through further anti-western resentment in the Muslim world.

President Obama must keep his campaign pledge and shut Guantánamo.

Omar Mesbahuddin

London SW19

To be driven to a constitutional crisis is ridiculous

Between Tuesday and Wednesday, our politicians managed to turn a straightforward and sensitive issue about a referendum into a contentious fight (letters, 12 January).

One of the most important political issues so far this century has been reduced to a shouting match where the word "Britain" already really means England, and out of nowhere, a question about whether 16-year-olds should be given the vote is mixed into the turmoil about what date on which to hold the referendum.

Scots and English have gone head to head in less than half a week with Scotland declaring that they will hold the referendum when they say so and not Westminster, with the ridiculous spectre of a constitutional crisis rearing its head.

Mr Cameron could not apparently see that he would alienate even those Scots not wanting independence by telling them what they would do and when, just like his behaviour in Europe. It won't be long now before his standing up against people he thinks are getting uppity will have independence for the South-east.

Vaughan Thomas

Gwent, South Wales

The stance of the SNP is cynical and disingenuous. In attempting to dictate the timing of the referendum to late 2014, and to include a question on transferring of further powers, they are trying to allow themselves as much time as possible to "work on" the Scottish people, while having a fallback of securing a "yes" vote on the devomax question and, in so doing, taking an incremental step toward eventual separation.

Of course, with no downside, Scottish voters are much more likely to vote "yes" on devomax than on "yes-no", and I suspect Salmond and his cronies would take that. Eventually, they would be asking the question, "What is the point in staying in?"

I accept that "yes-no" is for the Scots to answer, but contend that devomax is a question for all British citizens, because it represents some losses for the rest of us.

The government should call the SNP's bluff over this issue, and co-operate on the referendum, putting the "yes-no" question to the Scottish people, and at the same time, the devomax question to the British people. I believe the outcome would then be a resounding "no" on both counts, and it would expose the SNP for what they are, a one-issue pressure group.

Peter Morris


It is a bit rich for Alex Salmond and others to accuse the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of meddling in Scottish affairs when, for many years, MPs representing Scottish constituencies at Westminster have contributed to decision-making on English affairs, and some of those decisions have left the English worse off than the Scots.

Trevor Cooper

Truro, Cornwall

The three main UK parties all say any referendum on independence or devolution for Scotland must be a straight choice between the status quo or independence, yet both Labour and the Lib Dems campaigned for a "yes" vote in the 1997 devolution referendum.

How can they claim Scottish voters are entitled to choose to devolve some domestic powers, but not others, particularly when polls show 67 per cent want more powers devolved?

Cameron can't prevent the Scottish government holding a consultative, non-binding referendum, including the option of increased devolution; it would be difficult to deny the democratic legitimacy of whatever result came from it. The only doubtful part of the SNP's plan is suggesting 16- and 17-year-olds should be allowed to vote in it.

Duncan McFarlane

Carluke, Lanarkshire

It is true that the Scottish electorate turned to the SNP in the last Holyrood election. But the reason thousands voted SNP was because there was no realistic alternative. The Lib Dems had lost credibility, Labour was a shambles and the Tories were unelectable.

Most people did not vote for constitutional change. They voted for a party that could manage things better at the time.

Henry Mennie

Conon Bridge, Ross & Cromarty

Who makes the money on HS2?

In 2008, the 78.5km high-speed railway between Bologna and Florence was completed at a cost of €5.2bn (£4.3bn, approximately £86m per mile. Ninety-four per cent of the route is in tunnels, most of them cut at a depth of 600 to 700 metres through the solid rock of the Apennines. Only 2.25 miles of the route is not either a tunnel or a viaduct.

Here in the UK, the budgeted cost of the new railway between London and Birmingham is £117m per mile, although only 22.5 miles of the route is under the soft rock of the Chilterns, and most of it runs through flat, open countryside.

Does this mean that most of the cost of HS2 will, in true British fashion, go to the consultants, bankers, lawyers and lobbyists rather than to the engineers who do the work?

Aidan Harrison

Rothbury, Northumberland

I would welcome new high-speed train plans if they replaced airplanes as they seem to in other countries. Given the hassle of flying these days, it would be faster and more economic (two and a half hours to Paris from London is a good example), but we are a small island and so the benefit would be minimal.

How can saving 30 minutes from a journey, wrecking one of the prettiest areas of countryside still surviving in southern Britain in the process, bring prosperity to a region? Surely a regular and efficient "fast" service would be a more sensible option. Why not use the money that the new project is supposed to cost and massively revamp the existing rail infrastructure?

Or, if a big project is needed to boost the economy, then the construction of a pipeline to bring water from the North and Wales to the South-east (where it is urgently needed) could also bring greater benefit.

Emilie Lamplough

Trowbridge, Wiltshire

Drink to me only with thy nanny

One could have been forgiven for thinking that the nanny state would disappear with the last Labour government. It appears to be fit and well, possibly stronger than ever, advising its citizens not only on the number of units of alcohol per week it is safe to consume (letters, 11 January), but also how to apportion them. Who are these people? It's enough to drive one to drink, if only for five days out of seven.

Roger Wilson

Hayling Island, Hampshire

Glasgow belongs

Your correspondent Dr Nigel Knight (letters, 9 January) notes that The Independent equates Britain with South-east England. Your report the same day quotes Birmingham as Britain's second city. It's no wonder that Alex Salmond is thinking about Scotland leaving the UK. Clearly, Birmingham is England's second city; Glasgow is Britain's second city.

Ian K Watson


Mole litterer

Long ago, I was much vexed by mole-hills in our lawn. One day, I spotted the earth moving on top of one. My then 10-year-old son managed to dig out the mole, unharmed, and pop it into a bucket. He obliged me to drive to a nearby grazing field where we placed the mole into our carefully formed mole "hollow". Twenty years later, I still get a pang of guilt when I observe the numerous molehills littering our chosen field.

Barrie Spooner


Highly strung

How refreshing to read Tom Sutcliffe's sensible comments (Arts, 6 January) on the fabled superiority of old master violins. Interestingly, the results of blind-tests over the years have almost always favoured contemporary instruments. Luthiers still rarely get the recognition they deserve, and often struggle to make a living.

CE Evans-Pughe

Owner, Evans-Pughe Strings Ltd, Hitchin, Hertfordshire

Watch the birdie

Odd road warnings are everywhere. On a forest road in Victoria, Australia, a sign read, Lyre Birds Cross. We managed to escape their wrath.

L Cornish