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Monday 3 August 2009
Letters: The extradition of Gary McKinnon
Gary McKinnon has nothing to fear from US justice
A large part of the argument against Gary McKinnon being extradited to Virginia to face computer hacking charges is the fear that he will not get a fair trial there (report, 1 August).
Many clearly share this view on the grounds, coloured by images of Guatanamo, that US justice is severe in the extreme. These fears and prejudices are understandable, but from my own experience some years ago, I could not speak more highly of the decency and fairness of the people, and of US justice, in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
In our case, a young family member got into a lot of difficulties involving car theft, unlicensed driving, alcohol, and out-of-control student "hazing".
In due course, through the courts, what could have been a felony with a criminal record was commuted to a misdemeanour. A six-month jail sentence was commuted to two weeks in the local town jail – including being released each afternoon to attend college. And a month's community service, which could have been litter-clearing on the highways, or worse, ended up being a month working in the local probation office.
Whatever McKinnon and his family may fear, I would expect him to be treated well in what we found to be a notably intelligent, decent, and expeditious legal system, with much personal consideration.
Why are we kow-towing to the Americans to extradite this very bright hacker, who has not harmed a single person? We should be recruiting him for M15 or M16, or enlisting him in the fight against identitheft and other internet crimes. In whose interests is it to subject a man with Asperger's syndrome to a maximum-security jail?
Right-to-die laws put weak at risk
With Debbie Purdy's victory, voluntary euthanasia must be just around the corner; this is only one step away from when it becomes compulsory - for the disabled, the elderly, or anyone else society may deem "disposable".
Persistently low birth-rates have serious social, political and economic consequences for any nation. In the UK, fewer young people are available to join the work-force, power the economy and contribute to pension schemes, while the elderly are living well beyond their three-score-years-and-ten. The social-security system is not sustainable in the current situation.
The government is well aware of this pensions "black hole". It may purport to take a neutral stance, but it must be salivating over the prospect of no longer having to finance those choosing to end their own lives, as well as those who will inevitably have the "choice" made for them.
This will be Ms Purdy's legacy; I hope she's proud of herself.
What should not be allowed to pass unchallenged in the case of Debbie Purdy is the notion that personal autonomy should trump all, as if a person's own desires and wishes were not themselves largely socially determined.
I am who I am only in relation to others, and the view I have of myself turns largely on how others view me. If society as a whole no longer believes and affirms – unconditionally – the value of my life, if the signals it sends, not least in legislation, is that, ultimately, I am expendable, then expendable I will think that I am.
In short, "I choose to die" may look like an assertion of freedom when in fact it is the cry of a person in chains, not least the chains of choice itself.
The Rev Kim Fabricius
Congratulations to Debbie Purdy for starting the wheels turning and brava Amy Jenkins for taking the case further (1 August). I agree with both of you. What I do not see is why the NHS, the church or the lawyers should be involved. Rule 28 clearly states that the golfer is the sole judge of whether his ball is unplayable. I think I should be the sole judge of when my life is worth living. I hope to see the day when this rule applies to everyone.
Suicide in MS sufferers occurs at nearly twice the general population rate but it is not true, as claimed by Charlie Courtauld (Comment, 1 August), that 15 per cent of MS sufferers kill themselves. The true figure is nearer a tenth of that. Neither is it true, as assumed by most of the opinion-mongers currently writing about the topic, that suicide in people with chronic debilitating disease is entirely a response to serious handicap or intractable pain. Loneliness, lack of social support, and previous problems with depression or alcohol-use are all higher risk factors.
Further, in this debate we risk being blinded by the appeal to individual rights, and the sanctity not of life, but of autonomy.
Debbie Purdy should not be treated as an exemplar of the mass of sufferers from MS or any other chronic disease. Policy made in the name of the articulate and affluent rarely serves the best interests of the weakest and most vulnerable people to whom it applies, and this is the real risk that resides in a change in legislation.
Professor Allan House
Director, Leeds Institute of Health Sciences, LEEDS
Spending priorities at defence ministry
The increasing death toll in Afghanistan and the efforts by the government to conceal the number of injuries sustained and minimise compensation paid to injured troops is helping to turn public sentiment against the war (report, 28 July).
In July 2004 it was reported that the MoD had bought each of the 3,150 Whitehall civil servants a Herman Miller Aeron chair with an RRP of £1,050 as part of a £342m refurbishment. The chairs were described as "the most comfortable office chair in the world". In the face of criticism, the MoD refused to reveal the actual price paid for each chair as it was a commercially sensitive matter. They claimed that the expenditure would improve efficiency.
If the MoD had shown the same concern with protecting the backs of the front-line troops as the behinds of their civil servants then they might not have found themselves in their present predicament. The public can judge how much the new chairs have improved the MoD's performance.
In 2007 the MoD awarded a civilian typist £484,000 for a repetitive strain injury. Currently it is attempting to claw back from injured soldiers awards which are less than 10 per cent of that amount. It says it is attempting to protect the government from unjustified compensation claims.
As the MoD employs thousands of civilian typists, has it thought of reviewing their claims for compensation? It is possible such reviews could save more money than the review of claims of injured soldiers, and create less public outrage.
George D Lewis
BNP proves our democracy works
That the Labour government is at long last attempting to engage with white working-class voters is proof that our electoral system is fair and works ("Ministers take far-right fight to estates", 1 August). Have no illusions; they are only doing this for fear of losing votes to the BNP. Hence, with a tiny percentage of the vote, the BNP is having an impact on the political stage and getting part of its agenda addressed, if not its hateful solution implemented.
The Labour government has shamefully taken votes for granted in certain areas and it has taken the rise of the BNP to get these areas the attention they deserve. It's a fillip for smaller parties and proves you don't need proportional representation to wield influence.
Shameful killings at Camp Ashraf
Considering that Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Journalists Without Borders and other international rights organisations have condemned the killings at Camp Ashraf of unarmed men and women, I am dismayed at Patrick Cockburn's biased account (31 July). Twelve people have been murdered and several hundred wounded in an attack on protected persons under the Fourth Geneva Convention. Cockburn's article will encourage the Iraqi government to believe it is immune from penalties for the bloodshed of these defenceless civilians.
You should investigate the complicity of the Iranian regime in this attack, which was celebrated in the Iranian parliament. There is plenty of material on YouTube, the only way the residents had of reporting to the outside world. You may not like the PMOI (or MEK, as Cockburn calls them), but they are not terrorists, the English and European courts have ruled.
House of Lords, London SW1
At a time when Iranian refugees are being slaughtered by Iraqi forces in an act of aggression that has received worldwide condemnation, I am appalled that Patrick Cockburn, in a truly baffling article, dodges describing the massacre of this unarmed civilian population and instead regurgitates propaganda and misinformation that the Iranian regime has relied upon to demonise its opposition.
I have six family members in Camp Ashraf, and my family and I have spent the better part of the past 70 hours scouring the internet, frantically watching the television and searching for images and information to provide any indication of the fate of our loved ones, not knowing whether they are alive, injured or taken by the Iraqi forces. To come across this article this morning has absolutely disabled me.
Pubs' decline and the smoking ban
Most of what Andrew Marsh says about the death of the British pub is quite true (letters, 27 July), but I disagree that the smoking ban is contributing to the malaise. Thanks to the smoking ban, the two-thirds of the population who do not smoke can now enjoy a pint or two, and maybe even a meal, in comfort, instead of gagging on the exhaust fumes of inconsiderate smokers.
Slaithwaite, West Yorkshire
To sum up the argument with regard to organic versus non-organic food (report, 30 July): lettuces grown in dead soil and sprayed 30 times with petrochemicals are as good for you as those grown in non-toxic conditions and in soil containing iodine, magnesium, selenium, manganese etc. Do not laugh; these industry-beholden quangos are funded by the taxpayer.
May I correct a sentence in your report "Quakers to conduct gay weddings" (1 August), in which you say that Quakers have "voted". Quakers never vote, because we feel that the practice emphasises difference. After full discussion the clerk drafts a minute which he/she believes represents the sense of the meeting. This is read out and may be adjusted by those attending until the wording is such that all present can unite with it. The minute then becomes the record of that decision. This principle is fundamental to the Quaker way.
In his survey of the Turnberry Open (21 July), James Lawton refers to Tiger Woods as "indisputably the greatest golfer who ever lived". Oh, come on now. Woods may well be the best around today but the "greatest ever"?
Had Woods, with his unreliable long game (often salvaged by his phenomenal putting), been a contemporary of Nicklaus, Palmer and Player, he would have been struggling for third place.
Richard Dawkins (letters, 30 July) gushes over the, as I estimate, 0.0012 per cent of British Atheist parents who have decided to send their kids to Camp Quest UK, while ignoring the 150,000-plus UK Christians who have attended Christian camps over the same summer. There's no militarism here, but Dawkins nevertheless prefers to rant on about a US camp where there (apparently) is. How on earth does Dawkins think he's making a fair comparison?
Henry Walker (letters, 29 July) wonders who paid for his school milk; it was probably his mother. From 1927, while at junior school (51 in class), my mother gave me 5d a week for milk. The milk was put in front of a blazing coal fire so that it was hot, and had a revolting skin on top. I used my milk money to buy sweets until someone told my mother. Why she expected me to drink milk at school when she knew how much I hated it at home is an unsolved mystery.
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