From Vietnam through many subsequent wars – Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria – many of us who read The Independent have opposed intervention by the US and UK. But we need to cut the Prime Minister and President Obama some slack in dealing with Islamic State.
This is a potential genocide, with similarities to Rwanda, including the possible speed of events. It meets the criteria for the UN’s evolving norm of the Responsibility to Protect. For the record, it also meets Tony Blair’s criteria for humanitarian intervention offered in his 1999 Chicago speech – would that he had applied them. There is no issue about material or air support, as requested by the parties, which requires Security Council consent.
David Cameron is reported still to be fuming that Labour pulled its support for intervention in Syria last summer. But the grim reality is that, when it comes to armed intervention, there is a big difference between the response to a past atrocity and to a potential genocide. For the former, eventual prosecution or other sanctions may do. Not so the latter.
The risk now is that the PM will be too cautious and focus only on humanitarian aid, when material and air support to the Kurds and Iraq stands a reasonable chance of staving off an epic humanitarian disaster.
Prior to the 2015 election, the PM cannot afford to lose another vote on intervention. I for one hope that Labour and the Liberal Democrats won’t play politics on this issue, will see that these are different circumstances, and will give the PM the assurances he needs to provide material and air support as a matter of urgency.
The claim of Isis to be a state, indeed the revived Caliphate destined to take over the world for Islam, raises legal and constitutional questions.
Isis has been with us for about a year. Its birth has not been registered. There does not seem to be any functioning organisation or any welfare services or any legal structure – or any plans to establish any of them. It appears to consist of hysterical gun-wielding fanatics living in a bloody present with no clear vision of the future. The other Muslim nations have greeted this addition to their turbulent company without enthusiasm.
Does Isis intend to apply for membership of the United Nations? If so, how? What happens if the Baghdad government recovers, combines, however briefly, with the de facto Kurdistan government and, with or without western aid, breaks it? Will its gun-toters be treated as PoWs, or be shot out of hand, or be arrested with a view to trial as war criminals?
What will happen to areas now in the possession of their “state”? If a vacuum is created, what will fill it?
I hope that western governments have plans A, B and C in the pipeline to deal with an entity that is both a state and not a state – and surrounded by those in little better case.
America has spent years and billions of dollars fighting a “war on terror”, with at best spurious evidence. Remember those WMDs they knew were there, but never found. Now we have real terrorists, flying their own flag and taking over territory in Iraq and Syria, but America and it allies are doing virtually nothing to combat them. How ironic and sad.
No ‘rubber stamping’ of search warrants
The description of the lay justice system as the “Achilles heel of our civil liberties”, by Geoffrey Robertson QC, commenting on the police raid on Cliff Richard’s home (16 August), is as inaccurate as it is offensive.
He is right that an officer seeking a search warrant must show that it is “not practicable to communicate” with the occupant or owner of the premises. However, this is quite different from it being not possible to communicate with them. Without wishing to comment on the particular case he highlights, I doubt that much evidential material would be recovered from searches if occupants generally knew that the police were going to arrive.
Magistrates are unpaid and give up a huge amount of time in public service. They undergo rigorous selection, and receive thorough training, and those who consider out-of hours-warrant applications (often at very unsocial hours) are specially trained and always have the support of a qualified legal adviser when necessary.
They are acutely aware of the interests of justice as they apply to all parties, and decisions are never taken by means of a “rubber stamp”.
The statistics speak for themselves. Most criminal cases start and finish in the magistrates’ courts. Only a tiny fraction result in successful appeals, far fewer than in matters dealt with in the courts above.
Yes, mistakes are sometimes made, by magistrates as well as senior judges, but Mr Robertson’s remarks do not reflect the realities of a system that has served this country well for centuries, or the efforts and goodwill of those who continue participate in it.
Howard M Winik
Unwelcome Sound of music on the train
Ronan Breslin (letter, 15 August) completely misses the point of David Carter’s letter (13 August). Why should any passenger have to put up with “trish-trash noise” of headphone leakage, which is hardly “minor” compared with the insignificant noise produced by today’s quiet trains?
Why should the insulting reaction of the youth Mr Carter asked to turn the volume down be allowed to pass unnoticed? Quite apart from this, Ronan Breslin’s reference to his fellow correspondent as a “curmudgeonly bully” is the sort of name-calling, only too common nowadays, that should have no place in the The Independent.
When I travel by train I use the “quiet coach” if there is one. I am sensitive to intrusive background sounds. Several times I have walked out of restaurants and shops because I cannot cope with the background so-called music.
But my wife is not aware of these sounds until I complain about them. It’s probable that most people are like my wife and don’t notice the sounds. But if you are like me the quiet coach is highly desirable and makes a rail journey a pleasant experience rather than a taste of purgatory.
On the Continent they don’t have “quiet coaches”, but “silent compartments” – not only no mobile phones or iPods, but no talking either. It’s about time the rail industry here got a by-law to allow train staff to enforce the rules for quiet carriages.
Ian K Watson
Those exercised about noise in railway carriages might try my solution: I always travel with a pair of industrial-grade ear protectors. They look like headphones. Young people think I’m listening to rock music and consider me cool.
Scots myth of English domination
I must take issue with Brian Palmer’s blithe assertion (letter, 14 August) that England just seeks dominance in its relationship with Scotland.
Scotland already enjoys more autonomy within the UK than any other country or region. More is to come with the 2012 Scotland Act, and yet more will come if there is a No vote and the promises of the major parties mean anything.
The Better Together campaign has made much of its slogan that Scotland can enjoy the best of both worlds by staying within the Union. Arguably it already does, so evidence of a desire for “dominance” seems hard to find.
There is certainly a view in some quarters that Scotland’s ills, real or imagined, are somehow the fault of the English and that Scots can break free with one bound on 18 September. Independence as offered by the SNP can only diminish Scotland. The fact that it might also diminish England sadly appears to motivate some Scots to vote Yes.
Courageous Jews who speak out over Gaza
Even if Jewish support for Netanyahu were 100 per cent, it would not make me anti-Semitic (letters, 16 August), but it would make me sad. So, as a non-Jew, I humbly salute the courageous Jews in Israel and around the world who have spoken out against the human catastrophe of Gaza. They are the best friends their own people could possibly have.
Leaders without computers
John Rentoul (article, 15 August) seems puzzled that world leaders don’t have computers on their desks. This might have something to do with the leaders’ awareness of the vulnerability of electronic communications.
The President of the United States in particular should have some insights into the capabilities of the US National Security Agency and its surveillance programs.