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Wednesday 7 September 2011
Letters: Libya torture inquiry must get the truth
David Cameron is entitled to feel events have justified his leading "support" role in bringing down the Gaddafi regime. But he needs to show equal determination in ensuring the Gibson inquiry rigorously investigates evidence that Britain's security services were complicit in the rendition and alleged torture of Gaddafi opponents in 2004.
The allegations being made by Abdelhakim Belhaj, the man who led the victorious capture of Tripoli, are very serious, not least because he is set to be a key figure in a (hopefully) democratic post-Gaddafi government. It would be ironic indeed if Belhaj's bitterness over the abuse and torture he suffered at the hands of Gaddafi's infamous internal security goons undermined Britain's future relations with an emergent Gaddafi-free Libya, despite the UK's prominent support for the liberating forces.
Realpolitik might well still justify the Blair government's role in bringing Gaddafi in from international pariah status in return for abandoning his atomic weapons programme and belatedly renouncing international terrorism. But it cannot justify complicity in illegal rendition and torture.
Which is why Belhaj and others deserve a thorough whitewash-free investigation by the present UK government. Future relations with an affluent, oil-rich and democratic Libya could well depend on it.
St Albans, Hertfordshire
As the task of the two branches of the secret services is to protect us from our enemies both foreign and domestic it was their job to protect Saif Gaddafi from an attack on UK or friendly territory – as indeed it is their job to have relationships with all manner of unwholesome people and unpleasant regimes.
The horrible reality is that the world is full of deeply unpleasant governments and organisations, many of whom hate us and want to kill us, and we must deal with them by robust methods short of war wherever possible, and maintain the means and will to fight them if we must. Wishing it was different is simply not an option for a grown-up country.
R S Foster
Squabbling spooks and 9/11
John Carlin's report (5 September) highlights the failure of the CIA to share with the FBI concrete intelligence it had on al-Qa'ida members, including that they had US visas, which arguably could have prevented the 9/11 atrocities.
Similar concerns about the reluctance of the various US agencies to share information on terrorist suspects were aired in the official reports on those attacks. Sometimes the cause was sheer inefficiency or human error but sometimes it was attributable to turf wars or a desire to hoard material because knowledge gives power and justifies an organisation's continued existence.
The reaction of the Bush administration was not to tackle these inter-agency squabbles, but rather to displace the problem. They chose to hugely extend the mass collection of data on everyone, such as demanding that airlines hand over the "passenger name record" (PNR) they collect for us to be able to fly. Just today I heard Michael Chertoff, who was George Bush's Homeland Security Secretary, 2004-9, claim that if the US had had PNR data in 2001 they would have been able to link 15 of the 19 terrorists responsible for 9/11.
I have no further details to test that particular assertion, but in the European Parliament we have heard many general and usually vague claims to justify mass surveillance schemes. It may be that some data collection can be useful in helping identify broad patterns in the way crimes such as drug-smuggling are committed, but the usefulness of "needle in a haystack" information to prevent specific crimes is highly debatable.
It is much harder to get agencies to overcome their jealousies and work together than it is to snoop on everyone, mainly entirely innocent citizens. But the former, time and again, is shown to be more effective.
Baroness Sarah Ludford MEP
Liberal Democrat European justice & human rights spokeswoman, London N1
Peter Popham has taken a superficial view of the problems faced by gypsies and other travelling communities (Notebook, 5 September). An independent study undertaken by the South East England Regional Authority in 2008 found that in practice such communities are not really itinerant.
Seventy-five per cent of those sampled had lived in their current accommodation more than five years and only 13.5 per cent had travelled in the last 12 months, mainly on a seasonal basis. Moreover they had poor health, low education attainment and a low standard of living. They also suffered from the mistrust of the neighbouring settled community, who believe that they are dishonest, disruptive and careless of the environment.
It is by no means obvious that these problems can be solved by providing more ghettos in which so-called travellers can live, separated from the local community and with special privileges in the application of planning laws. This will only perpetuate antagonism from the settled community, and lead to the belief that the inhabitants of such ghettos are outside the scope of the law.
By all means help the poor and vulnerable, whatever their origins, but integration with the rest of society is a far better way to achieve this.
G G Moore
As a young lad I had an uncle who ran a pub in the heart of the Kent countryside. He frequently allowed Romany folk to stay over in the orchards attached to the property. They often repaid this kindness by picking and boxing the apples and other fruit. They never stole or caused any other problems, and when they left would mark my uncle's property as a good place to stay.
The problem with the so-called permanent traveller sites is that they are no more (or less) than sink estates on wheels, with all the social ills inevitably found in sink estates built of brick.
West Wittering, West Sussex
Gurkhas made redundant
Brigadier Richard Nugee's comments ("Gurkhas to get lower payoffs in Army cuts", 2 September) regarding overstaffing of the Brigade of Gurkhas due to the Gurkhas' acceptance of longer terms of service are rather misleading.
The Brigadier did not note that the Gurkhas have had their numbers cut by many thousands since 1994 – or that the changes to the Gurkhas' terms of service were extended only to those who joined the Army since 1997. Consequently there is a real danger that those Gurkhas who have served since before 1997 will receive smaller pensions, and join the thousands of Gurkha veterans already struggling and in near poverty in both the UK and Nepal.
The MoD, like any organisation, can only work within its budget and if Gurkhas are to have equal terms of service to their British colleagues then this must be with the understanding that they are as vulnerable as any other part of the armed forces to redundancy as the MoD attempts to meet its financial obligations. However, these cuts must be proportional and ensure that Gurkhas made redundant are treated equally with their British colleagues – including in the provision of pensions.
British Gurkha Welfare Society
Can anyone please explain to me why the armed services are being cut while the intention to build a new Trident fleet, for which no one has been able to specify a plausible strategic purpose, has been retained?
Robert A Hinde
St John's College,Cambridge
Homeless in America
Homelessness is not a new phenomenon in California ("Motel California", Magazine, 3 September).
What is new – and alarming – is that more and more of the homeless are families that once believed they were secure members of the middle class. The growing trend is a sign that a feared second recession could push the poor over the edge and make a solid recovery even harder.
More than two years into the economic recovery, there isn't yet a light at the end of the tunnel for California's economy and stubborn unemployment. The number of job losses in the state is still much higher than the worst moments of the 2001 and 1990 recessions. The state's jobless rate hit 12 per cent last month, the second worst in the nation.
The world today has over 1,200 billionaires, perhaps 24 million millionaires, and 120 million homeless. It has half a billion who eat too much, and an equal number who eat scarcely enough to stay alive. Equity of income distribution is worse today than at any time since records have been kept.
At present the US has more homeless than any other industrialised country on Earth.
Ted Rudow III
Palo Alto, California, USA
Challenges for 'Newsnight'
Stephen Glover asserts something "has gone" from Newsnight and it needs a makeover (Media Studies, 5 September). That's a personal opinion to which he is of course entitled, but it is an opinion entirely at odds with the evidence – in fact Newsnight has had a very strong summer, which perhaps Mr Glover missed.
Newsnight regularly recorded audiences of between 1.2 million and 1.3 million throughout the hacking scandal and in the weeks following the riots. Its average figure for the year to date is more than 700,000.
Stephen Glover's figure of "a mere 166,000" for 19 May is simply wrong, as is the suggestion that Newsnight's average audience has ever fallen to 450,000. We would have been pleased to help with accurate figures had we been asked. Appreciation scores measured by independent research are also higher than they have ever been, regardless of who is presenting.
There are challenges for programmes like Newsnight, given the wide choice people now have regarding news provision, just as there are challenges for newspapers like The Independent. To meet these challenges we regularly review and refresh the programme, providing a rich mix of testing interviews and debates, analysis and longer-form films. Recent examples include Harriet Harman vs Michael Gove on the cause of the riots, David Starkey on race and culture, in-depth analysis of the financial crisis and eurozone and Sue Lloyd Roberts' undercover reports from Syria.
Head of Programmes, BBC News,
Left out of consideration
I'm sure every nation has its share of the irredeemably insular, so it's perhaps unfair to pick on Americans, but Jack McKenna's letter (6 September) reminded me of a tortuous discussion I had with a fellow bus traveller in New York a few years ago on the subject of our driving on the left, which he found unbelievable.
Eventually he asked why we didn't switch to the right, to which I replied that, although Sweden had done this successfully in the late 1960s, the complexity of such a change would rule it out these days.
He considered this for a moment and said, "Well, you could change over one town at a time."
Scottish Tories in the wilderness
The ever hopeful deputy leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Murdo Fraser, has come up with a bold new plan to improve their standing in the Scottish political scene by disbanding the Scottish Conservatives and renaming them as a new centre-right party.
This betrays all the best of Conservative loyalties, and such a move would not fool the Scottish electorate when they see the same old faces and the same old policies pouring out from a renamed political party. The party would be lost in the Scottish political wilderness for many years to come.
The Scottish Tories don't need a change of name; what they need is a fair voting system for their Westminster candidates, as they have for the Scottish Parliament and local councils. Proportional representation is their only way forward.
Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain is clearly right that the introduction of Free Schools brings a new chapter to our education system (letter, 5 September). In case there is any uncertainty, I would like to reassure your readers that these schools will be subject to the same regular Ofsted inspection arrangements that are currently in place for all maintained schools and academies.
Director, Education and Care, Ofsted,
Cycles of hatred
So, the wearing of lycra and a safety helmet by a cyclist (letter, 6 September) can be seen as an aggressive act, by someone in charge of a ton of machinery? I must say from experience this would seem to be true. I weep for our generation
Southport , Merseyside
Perspectives on planning
Proposals mean a building free-for-all
Philip Hensher is wrong to suggest that Friends of the Earth is opposed to all development on open land ("The countryside is an illusion, so why not build?", 5 September).
If we're to create the low-carbon economy promised by the Government, then new infrastructure – such as anaerobic digesters, wind turbines and solar panels – will be essential. We'll also need more affordable and decent homes, built to high environmental standards – and some of these developments will need to be built in the countryside.
But the Government's current planning proposals are little more than a developers' charter. Ministers might talk about a presumption in favour of sustainable development, but by failing to define what this actually means their plans are likely to encourage a building free-for-all.
We need a planning system that ensures that the right sort of development is built in the right location, which is why the Government's planning proposals must be amended. They must include detailed guidance for local councils and communities on what sustainable development means so we can create the green jobs and industries we need, build affordable and energy-efficient, and protect Britain's environment and its value for generations to come.
Policy and Campaigns Director
Friends of the Earth, London N1
Developers will target greenfield sites
The draft National Planning Policy Framework promotes bad planning and inexorably undermines protection for landscapes and townscapes. Ministers have been telling us that this is not the case, but the reality is that communities and councils will only be able to refuse planning applications if their local plans are up to date. The latest data from the Government suggests that only 30 per cent of councils have up-to-date plans. Across most of England, urban and rural, we are set for a free-for-all in planning.
Developers will push ahead with schemes that would never have passed if a local plan had been in place. They will target greenfield sites, because the Government has swept away the rules that prioritise re-use of developed land and greenfield is cheaper. Little of the housing they will build will be affordable, because the Government has swept away national targets for affordable housing.
Very little of this development will be of the quality that Philip Hensher wishes for, because there will be almost no grounds for a council to turn a development down.
Ministers will trigger a short-term economic boom that will allow them to claim they are solving the nation's economic problems. The cost will be sprawling, unplanned and low-quality development. This Coalition Government is well on the road to be remembered for panicking about the housing crisis rather than planning to solve it.
More houses, more people
Here's an uncomfortable thought: houses generate people.
Everyone knows that new roads generate traffic. Nest-boxes encourage birds to breed. Endangered species are sometimes helped by providing nesting sites, such as platforms for ospreys or boxes for dormice. Traffic congestion is controlled by charges and restrictions, not by building roads. Isn't it likely that building more houses will increase the human population in the long term?
Of course we need more houses, and (of course) I already have a nice home, but simply reacting to short-term pressures is not the way to a satisfactory future.
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