Letters: Security and intelligence agencies

Disgraceful claim that secret services collude in torture
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The Independent Online

We are very concerned that coverage of the Binyam Mohamed case will leave a false impression about the work and ethics, not to mention the accountability, of our security and intelligence agencies. This is not just unfair on the staff concerned, but dangerous for the country.

The allegation that our security and intelligence agencies have licence to collude in torture is disgraceful, untrue and one we vigorously deny. The Government's clear policy is not to participate in, solicit, encourage or condone the use of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment for any purpose. If allegations of wrongdoing are made, they are always taken seriously, and referred, if necessary, to the appropriate authorities to consider whether there is a basis for inviting the police to investigate. When the Intelligence and Security Committee has completed its scrutiny of the guidance for agency officers, we will, for the first time, publish that guidance for the country to see.

It appears that after 9/11 the US authorities changed the rules of engagement for their staff in the fight against international terrorism. When this became clear to us, agency guidance to our own staff was changed to make clear their responsibilities not just to avoid any involvement or complicity in unacceptable practice, but also to report on them.

To suggest that the Government fought this case to avoid embarrassment or save face is just plain wrong. It was thanks to the British Government's efforts that Mr Mohamed's legal counsel in the US were given all the documents in 2008 about his treatment, and he was released from Guantanamo Bay. The appeal was about protecting our intelligence-sharing relationships, which depend on confidentiality. The Court of Appeal has upheld the principle that if a country shares its intelligence, they must agree before that intelligence is released. Nor did we influence the court improperly. To suggest that three of the most senior judges in the land were bamboozled or bullied is a slur not just on the Government but also on them.

Our security and intelligence agencies are world class and are committed to keeping this country safe. They work within the law to protect us all.

David Miliband, Foreign Secretary

Alan Johnson, Home Secretary

London SW1

Blair's 'sincerity' no defence in law

Mr Blair thinks we should all be "reasonable" people who simply disagree ("Blair attacks his critics", 9 February). Since 2002, my understanding of international law has led me to believe that the invasion of Iraq was illegal, and our prosecution of that invasion using such weapons as cluster munitions constituted war crimes.

The drip, drip of information from the Iraq Inquiry has reinforced that belief. If someone has committed murder, am I going to agree to disagree, to accept that we hold different views on the meaning of murder, listen to his justifications for his actions, and agree his "sincere belief that he was right" made his action legal? No. I'm going to call a policeman.

Mr Blair should stop his whingeing. If he really thinks his belief in himself over-rides international law, that should be tested in a court of law.

Lesley Docksey

Buckland Newton, Dorset

I have read several letters from your anti-Blair readers blaming him for hundreds of thousands of deaths, but how do they arrive at that estimate? Let us divide the record of Saddam's Iraq into four periods.

Period One is up to the invasion of Kuwait; during this, Saddam murdered 200,000 Iraqis. To these must be added a further 300,000, those Iraqis killed in the war on Iran and in the Kuwait war and the unnumbered "disappeared". Responsibility: Saddam.

Period Two is the first Gulf War to the Iraq War. The UN imposed sanctions during this which apparently resulted in the deaths of thousands of Iraqis due to lack of medical supplies etc. Responsibility: the UN and Saddam, who could have ended the sanctions.

Period Three is the Iraq War, with a toll estimated between 100,000 and 600,000. Responsibility: George Bush, Tony Blair and Saddam, who could have prevented the war by the "Idi Amin" escape offered to him.

Period Four stretches from the end of the war to the present. Iraqis could have started rebuilding their country and its economy, with generous international help, just as the Germans and Japanese did after the Second World War. But a minority chose to kill those of a different religious outlook and to attack the occupying soldiers, provoking reprisals, some causing innocent deaths. Those killers were Iraqi. Responsibility: Sunni and Shia extremists.

It took us 30 years to stop the Northern Irish killing each other, in a very small country with very tight security; how much more difficult would it have been in Iraq? Fortunately, the Iraqis seem to have learnt that civil war is counter-productive much sooner and they seem as if they could be taking the first steps to becoming the democratic and prosperous country Iraqis deserve.

T Hancock

Cherry Willingham, Lincolnshire

Mention is often made in your columns of Tony Blair's money-spinning lectures in the USA and elsewhere. I am intrigued to know what they are like but have never met anyone who has attended one, let alone paid to hear him. The idea is abhorrent to everyone I know.

Richard Welch

Nantglyn, Denbigh

Was it coincidence that in your 10 February crossword three consecutive solutions were "hogwash", "warlike" and "Tony Blair"?

Jim Bastow


Rights and wrongs of homeopathy

Dominic Lawson ("How can the state justify supporting homeopathy?", 9 February) comprehensively misrepresents the facts about homeopathy. His claim that "no double-blind test has ever validated" homeopathy is utter nonsense. In fact, there are 87 published clinical trials of homeopathy, 37 of them positive, the remainder nearly all inconclusive.

Diarrhoea, mentioned by Mr Lawson, is a case in point: three randomised double-blind trials by a team from the University of Washington have yielded positive results, and recommend considering homeopathy as an adjunct to oral rehydration therapy.

Mr Lawson sneers at my responses to Evan Harris MP but again demonstrates ignorance of the science, which was cited in my submission. He claims that the NHS spends £10m a year on homeopathic medicines. In fact, it spends about £6m on homeopathic hospitals, a tiny fraction of this on homeopathic medicines.

The most important people involved, the patients, don't get a look-in. Anyone interested in their perspective should look at the NHS Choices website. One hundred per cent of patients would recommend the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital to a friend, and their comments make remarkable reading. Our patients, not our alleged "friends in high places", have enabled The Royal London Homoeopathic Hospital to survive in the face of attacks such as Mr Lawson's.

Dr Peter Fisher

Clinical Director, Royal London Homeopathic Hospital, London WC1

Prison officers locked in IT mess

Further to the excellent article "Labours computer blunders cost £18bn" (19 January); as a serving prisoner, I feel sorry for the officers in this prison, having to work with this monstrosity of an IT system, foisted on the penal estate through the National Offender Management Information.

At a cost of £155m (your figure), officers on the front line obliged to try to use this system daily say it has never worked efficiently. Privately, they describe it as a huge white elephant, and a total waste of taxpayers' money. It is not very often an inmate feels sorry for the officers, but I know how they struggle with this system to get it to work efficiently, even though the penal estate has had to spend thousands more on it to sort out some of the glitches. It is a pile of junk.

Perhaps the Public Accounts Committee should take charge of spending, before ministers are just given carte blanche to do so.

Anthony Dobson

HMP Manchester

No compassion for Chandlers

Peter Popham's essay (10 February) about the Chandlers held in Somalia paints a depressing picture of our government's compassion and its priorities. For the sake of a high-minded and clearly ineffective policy, the British Government is content to let two British citizens be held captive indefinitely.

Even with improved global media coverage I wonder how many hostage-takers have stopped short of taking British citizens hostage because of the knowledge of our government's official policy not to pay ransoms.

The Chandlers may be considered rash by some to be sailing in that particular area, but their only real "crime" was to be living a dream I suspect many would wish to replicate. We all need to hope we never need to rely on our government's compassion.

Simon Shearburn


Who's interested in the Super Bowl?

Why have some parts of the English media such an interest in the US Super Bowl? Two culprits are The Independent and the BBC. The latter cannot afford to broadcast Test cricket but wastes money on a dull foreign minority sport. The Independent has this week had extensive coverage of this event. Why?

There is no coverage of the Australian Rules grand final or of Gaelic sports from Ireland. Years ago, research was done on team sports to see how long the ball was actually in play during the game. If my memory is correct, Australian Rules came out on top. American gridiron was lowest, the ball being in play for just 17 minutes of the game, the inference being that it was a very dull sport.

J W Wright

Calne, Wiltshire

Fidler's Folly may be a national treasure

Mr Fidler's illegal castle has been the subject of a demolition order (report, 3 February). He has broken the law, but it does seem a pity all this hard work and material is to be reduced to rubble when perhaps a suitable fine could be levied?

This country is littered with similar follies. We have towers, Gothic temples, ruined churches on the skyline, staircases to heaven, some even uglier than Mr Fidler's, but all built undoubtedly without permission by aristocratic and idiosyncratic owners.

If it were allowed to remain, in 100 years people might be walking out to see Fidler's Folly just as we do today to look at the eccentricities of yesteryear.

Robin Ollington

London SW16


Key question

If I was miserable and my computer sensed this ("Can your computer make you happy?", 10 February), would it be male, telling me to get a grip, or female, telling me she understood exactly how I felt?

Susan Swan

Colchester, Essex

Arresting thought

Brian Paddick says his first meeting with disgraced commander Dizaei (Comment, 9 February) was during "three days of tests and interviews to get on a course that would give the ticket to the highest ranks". Dizaei had complained that a Muslim would be unlikely to know the answer to the question of "Who is Bart Simpson's mother?". Is such a question part of the criteria by which our most senior police officers are selected? I know we are dumbing down, but this seems extreme.

Robert Scott


Beyond reason

Our next Prime Minister thinks refugees should be allowed to stay if they have "a legitimate fear of persecution" for homosexuality. Many millions of people around the world experience or fear all kinds of persecution. Should every one of them be welcomed into Britain, or should some criteria, numerical or otherwise, govern admission and residence in this island?

Jason Robertson

Sheringham, Norfolk

Words and music by...

David Lister's approval of Daniel Barenboim rehearsing the RFH audience for Schoenberg (6 February) reminds me that in Europe this practice is well established. The Ravenna festival routinely opens with a "rehearsal concert" by its charismatic patron and chief conductor Ricardo Muti, a hugely popular event. I certainly benefited from Muti's elegant dissection of Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique and its sequel Lelio, and I enjoyed the subsequent full performance the more. Barenboim also addressed the audience at his concerts there.

Edward Rowe


Roll on Crisismas

There's an obvious way to reboot the global economy that Obama and Brown (et al) are overlooking. Retailers everywhere simply need an emergency festive season to kick-start consumer demand. May I suggest Midsummer's Day, 21 June? Call it Crisismas?

Kim Thonger

Olney, Buckinghamshire