Letters: Perspectives on the death of Bin Laden

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The Independent Online

It was right to celebrate

The US "street" turned out to celebrate the deaths of a small number of identifiable subscribers to the idea that the people of the west are in general hateful and deserving of death – including the main instigator of that idea whose most notorious triumph was to kill over 3,000 innocent people – in circumstances that made it clear that he hoped if possible to kill many more. As nearly as I can recall the Arab/Islamist "street" turned out in rather larger numbers to celebrate those 3,000-plus deaths – and has turned out to celebrate subsequent western deaths – and give every impression that they also think us hateful and want to kill us.

Mr Andell (letters, 4 May) may not be able to distinguish between those rather different sorts of celebration – but I certainly can, and I rather hope the majority of my fellow Independent readers can as well.

R S Foster, Sheffield

This killing was pure vigilantism

Your leading article of 5 May states: "The line between summary justice and illegal killing is a fine one." That is wrong. The line between lawful and illegal killing is a clear one, though deciding whether a particular case falls on one side or the other can be very difficult, but almost always a question of fact rather than of law. Summary justice is more often called vigilantism. That is always illegal. The killing of Bin Laden would appear to fall into this category.

Bernard O'Sullivan, London SW8

One rule for US, another for Israel

When alleged Israeli secret agents assassinated Hamas chief Abdel-Aziz al-Rantissi in Dubai, the former British foreign secretary Jack Straw made his position quite clear: "The British Government has made it repeatedly clear that so-called targeted assassinations of this kind are unlawful, unjustified and unproductive." So does he condemn with ferocity the killing of Osama bin Laden? Or the attempts to kill Mr Gaddafi? Or does this strongly held principle apply only when Israel is alleged to have killed a known terrorist?

And in relation to the same incident, Foreign Secretary William Hague condemned in the strongest terms the use of false foreign passports by the alleged Israeli assassins and even expelled an Israeli diplomat; but he made no comment when the SAS troop was caught in Libya with false foreign passports. So much for principles.

Clive Hyman, London NW11

Robertson's views on justice

The Geoffrey Robertson currently bewailing the shooting of Osama bin Laden (3 May) wouldn't happen to be the same Geoffrey Robertson who wrote in his autobiography The Justice Game, "I am not opposed to summary executions, in the case of necessity: the gunning down of tyrants... This is poetic justice, in the simple sense that it serves them right" would he?

Craig Purshouse, Doncaster

Don't forget this wicked war

At first glance, your front-page story "Secret memos expose link between oil firms and invasion of Iraq" (19 April) seems to be about as newsworthy as revelations regarding the religious affiliation of the Pope. But you were right to lead with it.

No one at this stage can honestly disbelieve that the government of the UK in 2003 was guilty of a calculated war of aggression waged in order to appropriate natural resources, nor that that war led directly to the murders of somewhere between 100,000 and 1,000,000 individuals (Stalin said one death is a tragedy, a million is a statistic. General Tommy Franks said, "we don't do body counts").

That no one has stood trial for this is disgraceful. It isn't just Blair who needs to be held responsible and criminally prosecuted – but that he is among those who should be is beyond reasonable doubt.

That's why "non-stories" such as this are still important. The recent example of the successful suppression from the public consciousness of the grotesque human-rights abuses perpetrated in the dying days of the British Empire (Kenya being quite topical at the moment) demonstrate the uncomfortable truth that atrocities on a vast scale can be airbrushed from history if the perpetrators have the power to do so. We should do everything we can to deny that power to the architects of the Iraq war. We should not stop talking about it.

Qasim Salimi, London SE16

It is certainly true that somebody must be held to account for war crimes in Sri Lanka, even if it is unclear which side is guiltiest (leading article, 27 April). There is no such doubt about the identity of the perpetrators of the hideous crimes recorded in the "collateral murder" video taken from a US Apache helicopter over New Baghdad, and nor is there any doubt that such casual disregard for civilian life is commonplace. Should we not be demanding that the UN Security Council pursue these murderous conspirators with equal vigour, starting with those who have sought to cover up the crimes by imprisoning the whistle-blower and depriving him of his basic human rights?

Giles Watson, Uffington, Oxfordshire

Tesco's growth is anti-democratic

While I cannot condone violent riots and damage to property, I am sympathetic to the cause of demonstrating to Tesco that it's time to stop expanding and becoming ever bigger (report, 30 April). Generally, huge corporations have far too much power at the expense of the poor.

Why did Bristol planning department approve the Tesco application when there was so much opposition and a year-long campaign against it? Where is democracy in Bristol?

Tesco's new chief executive, Philip Clarke, has reason to be worried about the store's image and the resentment being shown. There is indeed a growing number of people who say: "Enough is enough!" having seen so many Tesco stores springing up, not only in this country, but all over the world.

Tesco claims it provides jobs. In fact they are taking away jobs from small retailers which cannot survive in the face of Big Brother's competition. Small shops are more human in every way. I for one try to support them and do my best to avoid darkening Tesco's doors.

Richard Podger, Canterbury

The continuing concentration of power into an ever smaller number of hands is never in the public interest. If governments allow this to happen, it is both a sign of weakness and an abdication of responsibility. In the case of the banks' successful resistance to real reform our government's weakness is now all too apparent.

If it is undesirable for the supply of money to be monopolised by four big players, how much less desirable for the supply of food to share the same fate. Food security is soon going to be an issue for all nations. In a period of diminishing supply and increasing demand, four food retailers enjoy an increasingly powerful position. A credit crunch can be relieved in the short term by printing money; we cannot print food, it has to be grown, but why should farmers bother when the big supermarkets have such a stranglehold on price?

Our dairy farmers are again giving up at an alarming rate, egg producers are going the same way. Why should they make the expensive long-term capital investment required to stay in production when the market is so skewed against them?

Our national policy of cheap food at any price coupled with an unquestioning assumption that you cannot have too many branches of Tesco is leading us towards a food crisis that could make the credit crunch look like a tea party.

James Gray, Winchester

I started reading Julie Burchill's piece (5 May) with enthusiasm because, yes, I also feel that those playing with fire and engaging in violent activism need to be stopped.

But I was taken by the example Burchill gives of the founder of Tesco who, in 1919 used his demob money to get himself started in the retail business. Here we should take a moment to consider today's equivalents and should consider how hard it is for anyone with a small stake and limited resources to break into the retail world. It is near impossible with the high street being ruled by a few dozen big names who have formed an almost "closed shop" to keep newcomers out.

So while these yobs should be stopped, the Government should also take serious measures to allow young entrepreneurs to get footholds in the almost monopolistic retail landscape that Britain has somehow developed.

Alan Mitcham, Cologne

Julie Burchill's eulogistic potted history of Tesco omitted reference to saintly Dame Shirley Porter (5 May), doubtless due to lack of space. But is it necessary for her to worship Tesco in order to condemn the act of damaging its shops?

Eddie Dougall, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk

Why Cuba lacks media access

I was staggered to read Patrick Cosgrove's letter (27 April) attacking Cuba for its media access. Did he not learn while he was there that because of the US blockade of Cuba the island has been denied access to the "worldwide information superhighway"?

Cuba only has access to expensive and slow satellite internet that must be paid for in precious hard currency. This situation is now being remedied by the laying of a fibre-optic cable from Venezuela to Cuba.

Although computers are readily available in Cuba, albeit for hard currency, US corporations such as Microsoft, Apple and Norton are forbidden, under the terms of the US blockade, from issuing licences for their software in Cuba. Only Cuban ingenuity finds a way around these difficulties.

As for the lack of access to CNN in Cuban homes, I have to say I would not want to inflict CNN on anyone. There is a very good alternative channel which is free and does not require the expensive purchase of a satellite dish. TeleSur is a joint venture between Cuba, Uruguay, Argentina and Venezuela and is the Al Jazeera of Latin America and the Caribbean. Had he watched this channel he would have seen full coverage of the events in the Middle East.

I once stayed with Cuban friends in a house in Santa Maria on the north coast of Cuba. We were able to pick up a US TV channel and I had the unenviable task of explaining the rules of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? to my Cuban mates, as well as translating the questions. Their bemusement had to be seen to be believed.

Phil Lenton, Newcastle upon Tyne

There's a world outside London

I have grown used to and finally accepted that, other than an obsession with Manchester United, The Independent cannot come to grips with the fact that there is another part of Britain outside London.

But the article headlined "National Gallery selects outpost in North-east England" (27 April) really takes the biscuit. Perhaps The Independent believes that Northumberland is so remote that it is surrounded by a wooden stockade in case of invasion from woad-painted ancient Brits. Or that the few paintings being allowed to travel to such an "outpost" will be compensation for not having the benefits that the civilised Londoners enjoy, such as TV, telephones etc?

J D Sharkey, Stafford

No plan to stop lights going out

Thank you for printing the letter from Tony Lodge of the Centre for Policy Studies (22 April), pointing out that the EU large combustion plant directive (LCPD) will require the shutting down of coal power plants by 2016 and power cuts in 2015. By that time, some of our older nuclear plants will have closed as well, so the problem could be even worse than Dr Lodge has said.

The previous government knew for at least 10 years that this was a possibility, but did nothing beyond producing bigger and better action plans. Chris Huhne at Department for Energy and Climate Change has put in place programmes to tackle climate change which cover conservation, a range of renewables and projects to capture and store CO2 from coal-fired power plants. But Huhne's planning is aimed at 2050, not 2015, so what is going to happen?

My guess is that we will build a few more natural-gas-fired power stations (quick and easy to build) and fill in any gaps by continuing to run old coal plant which will probably incur fines from the EU. The LCPD is mainly aimed at eliminating acid-rain gases (remember those?). Removing sulphur, which if allowed into the atmosphere produces diluted sulphuric acid, is a very expensive business and is only worth doing on large, modern coal plants.

Would it not be ironic if the Coalition Government got us successfully through the financial crisis and out the other side, only to be thrown out of office for not keeping the lights on?

Dr David Pollard, Blaby, Leicester

It's right to teach girls to say 'no'

MP Nadine Dorries wants teaching schoolgirls to say "no" to sex to go on the school curriculum (5 May).

She's provoked a lot of understandable kerfuffle but there's a serious point here and we need to be careful about giving Dorries the Mary Whitehouse treatment.

Dorries highlights the undisputable fact that our children are becoming sexualised at an ever younger age, and that it's an issue that needs to be tackled urgently.

Our society is so sexualised that it's impossible to shield children – and of course they do need to learn about sex in an appropriate context – but it should be possible to protect them from extreme elements and premature sexual activity.

Educating girls and boys that abstinence is an option is a very sensible thing to do. So sensible, that I doubt there's a decent school in the country that doesn't already do it.

Dr Helen Wright, President, Girls' Schools Association, Leicester

Our German royal family

Anybody who dismisses the German background of our Royal Family as insignificant (letters, 30 April) should think again very seriously.

Not so long ago, while browsing in a bookshop in Frankfurt am Main, I chanced upon a comprehensive reference book on the German Royals. Among the biographies of numerous princes, counts, barons, etc, I was astonished to find an illustrated section devoted to Prince Charles Philip Arthur George, the Prince of Wales. Unbeknown to most Britons, the heir to the British throne is listed in Germany as belonging to that country's Royal elite.

Dennis B Stuart, Brighton

Lovebirds at St Andrews

Brian Viner (29 April) comments that St Andrews boasts of more intermarriage per head of student population than any other seat of learning. I have always assumed that the reason for this was because the gender divide at St Andrews was very even. In fact when I was at Cambridge (1959-62) we were told that the student population at St Andrews was 60 per cent female to 40 per cent male, whereas our ratio was 11 men to one woman.

Nick Kemp, New Abbey, Dumfries and Galloway

Who's counting?

The economy is said to have grown by 0.5 per cent during the past three months but I have not been able to find any informed discussion of the accuracy of this calculation. As an engineer I'm sure it is not totally accurate; there has to be a band of values around the calculated value within which the true value should fall. How wide is this band? When the calculated value is as small as 0.5 per cent we really need to know this in order to interpret and understand the figures.

Dennis Leachman, Reading, Berkshire

Hess's crimes

Whatever the other merits of Keith Horne's "Nuremberg warning" (letter, 30 April), his implicit reference to the case of Rudolf Hess is misleading. The Tribunal sentenced Hitler's deputy to life imprisonment under the count of "conspiracy" as well as that of "crimes against peace", nor were any other defendants found guilty with reference to "aggression" alone.

Michael Biddiss, Alton, Hampshire


I think the readers of The Independent should have had some kind of a vote on whether they wanted the entire letters section (5 May) to be dedicated to discussing the voting system, FPTP, AV, STV, or whatever.

David McNickle, St Albans, Hertfordshire