Letters: Saddam's trial

We suffered under Saddam, but it was still just a show trial
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Sir: I lived under Saddam's regime until I was 18, when I had to flee for my life. My father was in Abu Ghraib prison for three years and routinely tortured purely because he refused to join the Baath party. Despite this, neither he nor myself agree with the manner the sentence on Saddam Hussein has been handed down. It has been little more than a show trial and one cannot help but wonder at the timing in relation to the American elections.

Saddam has been sentenced for the murder of 146 men in Dujail and is awaiting sentence for the massacre of 180,000 in the Anfal campaign. Considering 650,000 Iraqis have now been killed since Saddam was ousted due to the Blair/ Bush adventure, can we also hope to see Mr Blair and Mr Bush stand trial for their crimes?



Sir: Michael Petek responds to the argument that Messrs Blair and Bush should stand before the International Criminal Court by suggesting that court has no jurisdiction over the crime of aggression (Letters, 4 November). He also argues that the 2003 invasion of Iraq was legalised by Security Council Resolution 1483. Neither assertion is true.

That the state parties to the ICC Statute could not agree on a definition of aggression does not mean the court has no jurisdiction. Nor does it downplay the seriousness of this international crime. The Statute of the ICC specifically states the court does have jurisdiction over the crime of aggression precisely because it is one of the four "most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole".

As regards Security Council Resolution 1483, the fact that the Resolution remained silent on the legality of the invasion has no significance. The resolution refers to the US and Britain as occupying powers, but the duties of an occupying power arise regardless of the legality or otherwise of the invasion.



Sir: Did anybody doubt this would be the verdict? By no stretch of the imagination could the trial be called fair. Saddam will most likely go down as a martyr for Iraqi freedom, and the poor US grunts in the field will suffer for it, as will British troops.

I am sad the British government, with its history of controlling an empire better than other powers, allowed itself to be associated with this farce. After all, the Bombay Mutiny, which caused Britain's withdrawal from India, was caused by the trial of the leaders of the Indian National Army. So historical precedent is there.

America has proved itself to be probably the most inept imperial power in history, with the possible exception of Mussolini's fascist state.



Sir: Presumably those cheering, or excusing, the death sentence on Saddam Hussein will feel just as emollient if a Chilean court sentences Augusto Pinochet to death, for all the same reasons.



Fear for Madonna adoption orphanage

Sir: I am writing for the UK-registered charity set up in 1998 to raise support for the Home of Hope Orphanage in Malawi, which is where Madonna found the child she hopes to adopt. We have been disturbed that people have been given a very negative impression of the quality of life there.

The home is a 40-acre site with its own nursery, primary and secondary schools. Most of the food is grown on a 58-acre farm next door. The children are fed three meals a day and are cared for by 28 volunteer foster mothers. Health care is overseen by a matron and a nurse, and there is a clinic on site.

It is often very difficult to obtain medicines, but the home is only a few kilometres from the hospital at Mchinji, and often there are no medicines at the hospital either.

We are concerned that what has been said publicly will have an adverse effect on our fundraising. No money has come to the home as result of this adoption, and financial resources are very limited. We are desperately worried people will cease donating as a result of Madonna's comments, and this will make a difference between life and death for some of the most vulnerable children at the home.



Sir: In your leading article on Madonna (3 November), you acknowledge that Madonna's adoption of a Malawian child, David Banda, is a legitimate issue for a programme of Newsnight's standing to explore but you accuse us of succumbing to "celebrity-power". This allegation is unsubstantiated.

First, you suggest the questions had been agreed in advance and specific areas were off limits, without suggesting what those areas might have been. No questions were agreed in advance nor was anything ruled in or out.

You also state that the questions were "unchallenging" and that Kirsty Wark failed to tackle Madonna about David's family. The top line of the interview, which ran on the previous night's programme and in the national and international media, was Madonna's response to questioning on this issue. Kirsty Wark asked Madonna about reports that members of David Banda's family visited him regularly at the orphanage and asked if she had considered supporting them as a family unit, to which Madonna replied that she had. Kirsty Wark also repeatedly questioned whether Madonna had bent the rules in the adoption process. This was no "soft" interview.

You also take exception to the interview backdrop "from the candlelight to the ruched curtains". Madonna had agreed to several television interviews back-to-back, so in the slot allocated to Newsnight there was not enough time to reset.



Sir: You are right in your leading article on Madonna. She probably is generously enough motivated in the adoption affair, and the boy may well be better off with her family. But where Kirsty Wark is usually terrier-like with politicians and others in public life, talks over them and barely lets some of them make their case, it was quite disturbing to watch her conducting such a soft and unchallenging interview with Madonna.



Predecessors of Porgy and Bess

Sir: As Richard Packer has pointed out (Letters, 30 October), Porgy and Bess had a predecessor as a black opera in Kounga, by Delius in 1899. Between the two should be put a black opera by a black composer, namely Treemonisha, by Scott Joplin. It was completed in 1910 and the score published at the composer's expense; it was favourably reviewed.

But there was only one, very unsatisfactory, run-through performance, without orchestra or scenery, in Joplin's lifetime. There have been more recent productions, notably in Atlanta. The finale was performed by Jessye Norman, with chorus and orchestra, at a royal command performance at Covent Garden in the 1990s.

The opera is a fable about a black community in the American South and it stresses the great importance of education in overcoming superstition; it has a strong feminist emphasis.



How faith schools admit pupils

Sir: Research does not support the view that C of E schools are significantly more selective than other schools. A survey of 400 Greater London secondary schools by Professor David Jesson of York University showed that in 25 C of E schools 22 per cent of pupils had free school meals, the figure for all schools being 23 per cent.

A total of 31 per cent of pupils in C of E schools had English as their second language, as against 33 per cent of all pupils. The average score in Key Stage 2 standard attainment tests for all pupils entering C of E schools in London was 27.3, and for all pupils 26.6.

Data on six million pupils in English schools studied by the National Foundation for Educational Research showed church schools admit "slightly lower proportions of pupils eligible for free school meals" and a slightly lower proportion of black and ethnic minority pupils and tended to admit a slightly higher proportion of higher-ability pupils.

The reason for these differences is presumably that, for historic reasons, C of E schools tend to be in villages in prosperous parts of the country, and C of E schools simply take all comers, as they do round here.



Sir: After this Government's "change of heart" on the issue of legislation to ensure faith schools should include a proportion of pupils whose parents are not members of the particular religion concerned, it is now implausible to argue along with Trevor Phillips that "we are sleepwalking to segregation". We are actually walking wide awake into segregation.



Sir: All children have to be educated and are paid for by the taxpayer, whether they attend faith schools (Letters, 30 October) or not. Faith schools are cheaper for the taxpayer; in the case of Catholic schools, 20 per cent of the cost of setting up and running them is paid for by the Church.



Hard to monitor student workload

Sir: Your report on the findings of a recent student survey ("Media studies courses 'need less work than science and medicine' ", 31 October) claims it provides "conclusive proof" that students of some degrees do much less work than others.

The reality is far more subtle than your report suggests. The teaching of heavily factual degrees such as medicine is easier to monitor, while that of some arts degrees occurs in more diffuse ways, which are not counted in the survey (such as debate and discussion groups) but are none the less equally important.

Equally, the report acknowledges a low response rate in some areas (as few as five students in year one and five in year two in one case). This is hardly authoritative data on which to base your conclusion. This study does raise interesting questions for further research but does not provide enough evidence to question the entire, and long-established, quality of English higher education degrees.



Sir: Many parents must have been aware for some time that some university courses involve modest amounts of input both from university and student. This is now confirmed in your report.

Is it not time to consider whether some courses might be reduced to two-year ones rather than three-year? That would surely reduce the cost of university education to the taxpayer, and the amount of debt incurred by students.



You cannot make extra daylight

Sir: Robert Smith (Letters, 1 November) advocates adoption of European time to produce various benefits from lighter evenings. In fact, every year, when clocks go forward or back, there are calls for the UK to do this.

What the campaigners always seem to forget is that you can't manufacture extra daylight; for every hour gained in the evening, one is lost in the morning. Savings in power use in the evenings will be offset by the extra power needed in the darker mornings, and so on.

Mr Smith asks whether European time is worth a trial. In fact, we've had one. In the late 1960s, we had BST all year round for several years. In December, it was light until 5pm, but was dark in the mornings until 9am. In Scotland it didn't get light until 10am, which is one reason why the experiment was abandoned.

I went to college in the dark, and came home in the dark. At least now I can go to work in daylight all the year round.



Victims of smoking

Sir. I fully support the views of Dr Hugo Wellesley regarding hospital-acquired infections (Letters, 30 October). His observations regarding the reduced incidence of post-operative deep-vein thrombosis in smokers is interesting but makes the assumption that the patients have not previously lost their legs due to peripheral vascular disease brought on by their smoking habit.



Gay anthems

Sir: I resent the article "Sing if you're glad to be gay" (1 November). As gay male, I find it offensive that gay life is trivialised in this way. Gay culture is presented as shallow and obsessed with appearances. Your article serves only to perpetuate this myth. I have no affinity with those so-called gay anthems. Songs such as "I Will Survive" seem to glorify the role of gay men as victims. This may have been the case 30 years ago, but not now.



Scottish pioneers

Sir: It makes me proud to be Scottish after reading about Robert Watson-Watt (article, 2 November). The list of Scottish pioneers had a small error: Sir Alexander Fleming was born in Darvel, not Dalry. I saw him when I attended the local school prize-giving; I was about four.



Village crime-wave

Sir: In the leading article "Civil liberties" (2 November), you say the Government "remains pathetically in thrall to populist hysteria over crime". We live in a village in Northamptonshire. Within the past two weeks, the parish church has been broken into, the Baptist chapel has been broken into, the village hall has been broken into and the Poppy Day box has been stolen from the post office. We do not consider the anxiety and annoyance that is felt in the village should be belittled as "populist hysteria".



Art that has lost its way

Sir: Not wishing to defame the artistic talent of Jackson Pollock, but his painting (front page, 3 November) reminds me of how my satellite navigation screen looked when it went berserk a few weeks ago.