Sir: I found myself getting irritated by the article "Murder is murder, whatever the victim's character" (Comment, 26 December). The writer states that "crack-addicted [and I guess he would include heroin] people seldom behave well; they are notorious more for their self-absorption than other, better qualities".
So what's new? That is the nature of addiction. Many will have started their drug dependence as teenagers, the time of life when probably one is most self-absorbed. The drug habit halts emotional growth and they are trapped in that state of self-absorption. And, by definition, they are criminals.
From my experience of working for 10 years with people with drug problems who were asking for help, it is hard to make generalisations. The causes of their drug use were multifactorial. Social, economic, ethnic, geographic, probably genetic causes all seem to play a part.
I do not agree that people on heroin have a false belief that they are driven by their addiction and cannot help themselves.
I have known people who are able to use heroin on an experimental basis, never to be used again, on a recreational basis, and the majority who are chemically dependent and, I would argue, are driven by their addiction.
You have only to listen to the stories from drug users asking for help, of totally chaotic and miserable lives which revolve around where to get the next load of dosh (usually by criminal means) to buy the next fix to understand that they are being controlled by the drug.
I believe it is essential that we look at alternative treatments for the problem of drug use, and one would be to make these drugs legally available in a controlled manner. Then you are providing users with real choice.
DR NICK MAURICE
The mixed legacy of a hanged tyrant
Sir: I never thought I would hear myself objecting to exacting punishment on the former Iraqi president, Saddam Hussein. Two of my cousins were killed, members of my family were tortured by Saddam's government, members of my immediate and extended family were exiled. Yet, I feel that executing the president of Iraq after a flawed trial "marred by political interference", as Human Rights Watch stated, is a betrayal for all the Iraqi people, not just Saddam's victims.
What took place is a politically motivated show trial fit for a dictatorship. Why was the sentence not delayed until Saddam finished facing the charges over the gassing at Halabjah? This incident was often cited as a pretext for Bush and Blair's war on Iraq. What are the reasons for the urgent need to silence him?
Whenever I hear Bush and Blair's self-congratulatory claims that progress in Iraq is being made while the situation continues to deteriorate, I am reminded of Saddam's post-1991 war speech in which he calls on the people to rejoice as they have emerged victorious from this war.
Iraqis are living in an endless nightmare, fearing for their lives, inside their homes, outside their homes, in their place of work, in their markets, and in their own neighbourhoods. Iraqi towns and villages are being bombed from the air still, as an act of collective punishment on the pretext of "fighting terrorism". I believe a similar excuse was given by Saddam when he attacked Kurdish villages.
Three million Iraqis are displaced both internally and outside Iraq according to the UN. Iraqis top the league table for asylum-seeking in the West. I do not dare to think what would Iraq be like when the "job is done" as Blair and Bush wish.
Sir: So Saddam has faced his inevitable execution. But I feel no sense of justice, despite the mass murder and cruelty of his regime, for which there can be no defence. All I feel is shame for the nation in which I live.
I mourn the lack of genuine moral leadership that led us to the Iraq war, born of deceit, twisted truths, a very dubious legality and spineless politicians. Then, having defeated the Iraqi army, we were unable to show the Iraqi people that our way is better than theirs, and they merely swapped one form of repression with another.
I abhor the pictures that show Saddam going to the gallows. We were supposed to be better than that, to have moved on from medieval notions of public executions and display of corpses as an example to other would-be criminals. All of us deserve some dignity in our final hours.
It is an indictment of us all in Britain, that we have not been more outspoken in our views. That, as a nation, we regarded poll tax as a worthier cause to fight than such a dreadful war, which has cost so many lives and created so many enemies for generations.
It is deeply shaming that we allow ourselves to be led by a government, that fears such apposite public protest. It is a sign of great weakness in our government that it feels the need for such repressive laws, over-zealously enforced, which are more appropriate to the dictatorship that was Iraq than to a free democracy.
Sir: Those amongst us who feel a sense of moral justice at the execution of Saddam Hussein could do well to reflect on a few points.
The verdict based on the killing of 148 Shias leaves the Kurdish population unsatisfied about Saddam's Anfal campaign against them, which included the notorious Halabja gassing of 1988. The prosecution for that genocidal crime was found to be "deeply flawed", perhaps because of the West's involvement in supplying the means by which Saddam created the chemical weapons used on the Kurds. There is also the "arms to Iraq" affair during the time of the Major government.
If the war on Iraq was prosecuted on the final basis of ridding the world of a ruthless dictator who committed atrocities on his own people, then perhaps the US and Britain should be pursuing a campaign against the ruling elite in Saudi Arabia.
Although not on the same scale, that country has an atrocious human rights record, including employment of only 5 per cent of the female population (even prohibiting them from driving or cycling), public executions, beheading and amputations for stealing, stoning and the lash for homosexuals.
There is another regime we count among our allies in the "war against terror" and that is Uzbekistan, where the majority Muslim population is persecuted and many tortured. A recent demonstration resulted in the killing of up to 1,000 people, including women and children. Our former ambassador, Craig Murray, has said President Islom Karimov ordered boiling people to death.
These regimes are protected from the West's condemnation and prosecution because they are our clients, as Saddam was. Woe betide them and their peoples if their leaders turn defiant the way Saddam did.
ST CLEMENT'S HILL, NORWICH
Sir: I do not celebrate the hanging of Saddam. Tyrant that he was, he was destined to face the hangman as soon as the real axis of evil realised they could get a foothold in Iraq by blaming 9/11 on him. Blair and the US President always intended to topple Saddam and kill him in revenge for the 9/11 outrage, which had nothing to do with him.
Had a Saudi Arabian leader killed millions of his fellow citizens, would his country have been invaded, even though it was Saudi citizens responsible for 9/11? Of course not. Oil would have seen to that.
Sir: Never mind all this self-righteous pap on the rights and wrongs of hanging Saddam, only one thing matters, and it's not him, nor us and our syrupy ideals.
If hanging Saddam makes just one other genocidal maniac in Burma, Sudan, central Asia or Africa take note that, just possibly, the world may not stand by while they butcher and torture their own people, and that, just maybe, justice may reach them too.
If hanging Saddam slows their hand from murdering or torturing even just one innocent civilian then hell, hang him. Hang him high.
Never mind our enlightenment, it is the genocidal torturer who needs enlightening first, and they speak another language.
Sir: While I can hardly be accused of being a fan of Saddam Hussein, the vicarious enjoyment that seems to be gained by those who are parading his hanging for the delectation of front pages worldwide after a farce of a trial makes me wonder whether the snuff movie has finally become an acceptable spectacle.
I am sick to the depths of my heart at this being the symbol with which to end 2006, along with the news of the death of the 3000th American soldier. A plague on both their houses.
Turkey continues in illegal occupation
Sir: Your outline of how Cyprus became a member of the EU is mistaken, as is your belief that Turkey's present difficulties in her EU accession negotiations are a consequence of Cyprus's accession while divided ("An impasse, not an impossibility", 13 December).
The accession of Cyprus to the EU was never made dependent on the solution of the Cyprus problem. In fact, during the long period of our negotiations, the EU took several strategic decisions in support of Cyprus' future entry and made clear it was to be independent of the efforts to solve the Cyprus problem.
The EU was reacting to Turkey's long-standing negative attitude towards solving the problem, so refused to grant her a veto over Cyprus' entry. That EU policy was judged by many, including the UN and Britain, to be a catalyst in achieving the desired goal.
Hence, the result of the Greek Cypriot referendum on the UN plan in 2004 did not affect Cyprus' accession to the EU, nor was it related to it. Equally, Turkey's present obligations towards the EU regarding the Ankara Protocol have nothing to do with the so-called "isolation" of the Turkish Cypriots. This was confirmed again by December's EU General Affairs Council in Brussels.
Turkey is still in illegal occupation of a substantial part of Cyprus territory, thereby violating international laws and the basic human rights of all Cypriots. That is unacceptable.
HIGH COMMISSIONER, CYPRUS HIGH COMMISSION, LONDON W1
University is still open to all
Sir: D J Taylor is right to celebrate the achievements of the Open University ("A fond farewell to 'Televarsity' ", 15 December), but he tells only part of the story.
On reading this article, you would be forgiven for thinking the Open University will no longer be broadcasting TV programmes. Far from it: while the broadcast of course-related material has now ended, the university's general interest peak-time series on BBC TV and radio will continue as part of the university's mandate to educate all.
The "occasional foray" into the mainstream to which DJ Taylor refers is now a regular occurrence, with the university funding a number of series to engage the public, including Nobody's Normal, Battle of the Geeks and Nation on Film. In addition, the university is committed to a number of high-profile co-productions with the BBC, including Coast and The Money Programme.
So, the farewell D J Taylor makes requires qualification.
DR SALLY CROMPTON
HEAD OF THE OPEN BROADCASTING UNIT, THE OPEN UNIVERSITY, MILTON KEYNES
Sir: If the wages and salaries gap is increasing, as reported, it is because of our irresponsible economic system. The minimum wage will make good sense only when it is related to the top 30 per cent of incomes, rather than the average wage. Only then will both ends keep in touch.
R W S STANDING
EAST PRESTON, SUSSEX
El Niño not new
Sir: I'm wondering what UK climatologists really know about El Niño (article, 1 January). I'm a 34-year-old Peruvian and I have experienced three Niños since I was born. The 1982-83 and 1997 Niños were the worst, since they can indeed be called catastrophic. But nobody talks about the weak 1987-88 Niño. We had a St Martin's summer until May, when it's supposed to get cold here, yet that Niño vanished and we had a normal winter. It's a similar scenario now. We don't expect a Hollywood-like Niño this year. El Niño has been part of our climate history for 5,000 years.
Sir: Joan Bakewell (Comment, 29 December) is wrong. Tesco still accepts cheques, but only to the card guarantee limit. At my checkout, I see perhaps two or three a week, and they do take some time. As regards fivers, while I will accept worn notes, I will not return them as change, sending them to the cash office instead. Mind you, that shows my age (almost 66).
Sir: On inspection of a Christmas present, the Ordnance Survey Explorer No458 for West Lewis, at GR 191392 I see a post office in one of the most remote parts of the United Kingdom. On the map, a 2003 edition, the building is 10 miles from a small village or township, at the end of a minor road, and it warmed my heart. I live in a town of 70,000 souls whose post office has closed.
BINGLEY, WEST YORKSHIRE
Sir: Assuming Gordon Brown succeeds Tony Blair in 2007, he will be the first British prime minister for more than 60 years to be unencumbered by an outstanding war loan debt to the United States. But what he will spend his annual windfall on? Perhaps an improved high-speed rail service from London to Edinburgh, or maybe a full-time prime minister's executive jet to whisk the Brown family off to a permanent, government holiday home, thereby avoiding speculation on who is funding their annual holiday?
Sir: If your leading article, "Now wash your hands" (30 December), was meant to be taken seriously, how have we come to a situation where doctors and nurses, universally regarded as medical professionals, have to be "reminded of basic responsibilities at every turn"?
MARLOW, BUCKINGHAMSHIREReuse content