Letters: The trial of Saddam Hussein

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Sir: The trial of Saddam Hussein by an Iraqi court, on highly specific charges of relating to mass murder in 1982 (and thus prior to the full scale western re-engagement with Iraq, which predominated for the rest of the 1980s) is from the US point of view a carefully constructed exercise in damage limitation.

The Bush administration's rejection of the International Criminal Court has been portrayed as a means of preventing US soldiers facing war crimes charges. It is also paying dividends in this case, in keeping "interfering" liberal European lawyers off the pitch, and thus the more unsavoury aspects of US foreign policy out of the full glare of the western media. On the surface a local trial for local people, it is taking place in the Green Zone under a US military occupation of Iraq.

The last thing the neo-conservatives want is Donald Rumsfeld's "loans and weapons" meetings with Saddam Hussein (when in 1983-84 as Reagan's special envoy, his job was to reintegrate Iraq into the US fold for policing the Middle East region) open to new scrutiny.

The smart lie of Bush junior's war on Iraq, that America the brave altruistically took on Saddam the evil, remains intact as long as western complicity in aiding and abetting Saddam during the years of his worst crimes remains off record. With only the unheeded courthouse ramblings of the former dictator himself, living up to his allotted role of entirely unreliable witness, to challenge the official narrative, US Perception Management Inc will score a much needed victory in the information war that remains essential to its Iraq mission.

The Saddam trial, configured as pantomime for western audiences, will thus only prolong the utter disaster of the US's fifty-year history of covert and overt meddling in Iraq.



Sir: Is it too much to hope that Saddam will call Donald Rumsfeld as a good character witness?



Carbon emissions exported to China

Sir: The reason so many western politicians "queue up" to sing China's praises ("The China Crisis", 19 October) is because that country's economic boom conveniently allows them to keep voters happy by performing an apparent miracle. On the one hand the UK can self righteously proclaim its own environmental credentials through its commitments to the likes of Kyoto, while at the same time keeping the high street full of ever cheaper goods.

This miracle can only be achieved by exporting our carbon emissions and corporate social responsibility to countries such as China and India. The hypocrisy is made even more ironic by the fact that in many cases the goods we are importing are the least sustainable because of the extra carbon emitted by travelling half way round the world.

Apparently progress for the west is that we no longer dirty our hands with the messy business of manufacturing and can luxuriate in a world built on hedge funds and aromatherapy. But our choice to pursue this division of global labour means we are inextricably linked to the environmental disasters in China.

Greenpeace of all organisations should be grappling with the root cause of global environmental deterioration, which is the excessive consumption level of modern lifestyles built on the twin towers of consumer greed and profligate waste.



Sir: The UK timber trade wholly condemns illegal logging and the practices that support it. Wood provides the world's only sustainable building material; it its therefore vital that we protect and manage this resource and do all we can to stop the illegal trade.

Working with suppliers in producer countries is central to success. UK timber traders have done much to help producers deliver legal, sustainable wood. The Timber Trade Federation for example has this year launched its Responsible Purchasing Policy, which minimises the risk of illegal material entering the supply chain, something the Greenpeace report calls for.

What we must not do is cut off western markets to responsible suppliers. Chinese plywood is 94-96 per cent poplar, a local, sustainable Chinese product giving a living to thousands of Chinese smallholders. And as the Greenpeace report acknowledges most Chinese plywood is not made from potentially illegal logs.

Encouraging positive action will achieve sustainable, globally beneficial change.



Sir: J. Russell is seriously mistaken in thinking that overpopulation is simply "a function of the standard of living" (letter, 19 October). This is to assume that economic factors are the sole criterion rather than the ecological carrying capacity, or "footprint" of human activity. It was an assumption made by Tony Blair in his recent speech to American business leaders, and is a recipe for disaster.

Britain had already exceeded its carrying capacity in the early 19th century but was able to mask this by imperial expansion and exploitation, now continuing as globalisation. Unfortunately, the finite resources of the earth are unable to sustain this level of exploitation. According to ecological markers humans were using 100 per cent of nature's yearly output in the 1980s and by 1999 it was 125 per cent. As your excellent article "My dirty big footprint" (17 October) made clear, our current standard of living requires up to 10 more planets to sustain it. Clearly, this is the road to bankruptcy and can only be averted by a reduction in our consumption and population size.

The Independent is to be commended on the excellent coverage it is giving to ecological issues. It could also do with joined-up-thinking - as to how these relate to issues of human migration and immigration.



How we are helping earthquake victims

Sir: Andreas Whittam Smith's suggestion that the Government's response to the earthquake in South Asia has been "shamefully weak" is simply wrong (Opinion, 17 October).

When the earthquake struck, we immediately offered assistance, and the first aid flight, organised by the Department for International Development, with search and rescue teams was on the way in less than 24 hours. This flight brought the first international search and rescue team and relief supplies to Pakistan. On the same day we agreed to fund the World Health Organisation to provide health kits to support 40,000 people for three months.

Within two days, we offered to pay for any relief flights for the Disasters Emergency Committee, to ensure that every penny donated by the public is spent on relief items rather than transport costs.

The Ministry of Defence has air-lifted two chartered Puma helicopters which the UK helped fund to Pakistan, for use by the International Committee of the Red Cross, for medical evacuations and the transport of relief supplies. The helicopters were due to arrive in Islamabad during the night on Monday 17 October. We have also given £1m to the UN and the ICRC to provide additional helicopters.

Given the urgent need for shelter, we have to date provided 40,000 sleeping mats, 30,000 tarpaulins, 28,000 blankets, 19,000 jerry cans and 5,500 winter tents by plane from our stores in the UK and Dubai, and by truck from Lahore. These goods are being distributed to the affected population.

In total, we have already provided £13m of assistance and we will do more. The Government of Pakistan has expressed its appreciation for our help and we will go on giving it to those who have suffered so much.



Flawed arguments for ID card scheme

Sir: There is no convincing case for ID cards or the National Identity Register.

The Home Office says that they would be useful for fighting crime and terrorism. The police's problem with "general" crime is not identifying suspects, but with linking them to the crime. ID cards could not assist with this. Those who committed the atrocities in London would have qualified for the cards and registration could not prevent such events; those responsible for the 9/11 and Madrid terrorist attacks had valid identification.

They will have no impact on illegal immigration as those seeking asylum have been required to carry cards since 2000 while employers hiring illegal workers are unlikely to check their immigration status. The impact on benefit fraud would be minimal as this is usually about financial circumstances not identity.

Specifically on identity theft, this is mostly done remotely, online, by phone, or using false "seed" documents (driving licences, passports etc). Unless businesses were to have biometric scanners and access to the database for verification - at prohibitive cost - the cards would have to be taken at face value, undermining the whole scheme.

This flawed and misguided scheme wrongly alters the fundamental relationship between the individual and the state, while failing to demonstrate any compelling argument justifying ID cards.



Homophobia and gay sex in public

Sir: Philip Hensher puts the killing of Jody Dobrowski in the context of the "annoyance" to the "wider" community of gay men having sex in public ("We must change some of our behaviour", 19 October).

He fails to mention that two men merely holding hands or kissing anywhere outside gay "zones" will almost certainly be assaulted verbally and physically. It is this gnawing homophobia in all sections of society that provides the background to the recent crime: to implicate the gay community itself is to turn attention away from the real issue.

Middle-class gay columnists in relatively tolerant London may be somewhat cocooned from the reality of life: those who serve them behind the bar, and those who live outside the city know that life for gay men is still very difficult.



Sir: Philip Hensher's piece holds a resonance for the Clapham residents who frequent the Common not for cruising but for more orthodox pursuits, in my case walking the dog. Most people don't believe that it is acceptable for heterosexuals to have sex in public spaces, so why for gays?

Many in the gay community bridle at the public antics of their more flagrant peers, not least because of the seedy stereotype this pastime reinforces within the broader community. Their self-obsessed behaviour serves to alienate the rest of the community, who are broadly tolerant of others' lifestyles as long as they keep these within certain boundaries.

Neither is it acceptable for a section of the community to hijack common land and turn it into a no-go area with the collusion of the police. It is as much our Common as theirs. The liberal policing regime seems to have heightened dangers for gays and exacerbated resentment in the broader community. Homophobes know where to go to attack gays. The police are only to be seen on the Common in the wake of an attack.



Time to regulate the supermarkets?

Sir: Is it finally time for an independent supermarket regulator? ("Small retailers revolt over the Tesco-isation of the high street", 19 October.)

We have to ask if we want independent retailers swallowed up by the supermarkets. This may be reality as early as in 2015 if the current trend continues. The Government must take a serious look at this issue and make sure that enough is done to protect our independent retailers. Only the appointment of an independent supermarket regulator would allow us to do that.



The right students

Sir: Is it just possible that Buckinghamshire (letter, 20 October) achieves good exam results because it has less than its fair share of inner cities and poverty? It is easy to attribute success to this or that type of schooling when there are far more factors at play.



Britain expects . . .

Sir: Colin Brown's article "The Black Heroes of Trafalgar" (19 October) contains references to England which are insulting. It was not "England's" most significant naval victory but Britain's. This confusion between "England" and "Britain" is only too common and causes irritation in the other constituent countries of the United Kingdom. Nelson himself was not immune from the same error as his words to the British Fleet clearly indicate. If we really do have an English Navy then why is the whole cost not met by English taxpayers?



Too naughty

Sir: Guy Keleny writes "...it became acceptable to print naughty words in a respectable newspaper" (Errors and Omissions, 15 October) and it may be so within the circle of newspaper publishing, but not so, I maintain, to the wider circle of readers. I cannot say that I know anyone who uses, for example, the word attributed to "Crowe" by Guy.



Congestion tax

Sir: Embassies may be quite correct to refuse to pay the Congestion Charge. It is a tax every bit as much as the annual licence disc is a tax for putting your car on a public road. The C-charge is a supplementary licence to put a car on a public road in a prescribed area during prescribed hours. As such it is a tax.



Night to remember

Sir: Your readers (Letters, 19 October) want to refer to Bonfire Night as 5/11 or 11/5. In the interests of those less antiquated than them and me, should we not get up-to-date and refer to 30p or 57p? "30p day" probably has the better ring.



Banned birds

Sir: Further to the proposed ban on hen nights (Letters, 20 October), I suggest a 50 per cent shortening of cock and bull stories and a complete cull of the seasonal round robin.