Sir: The good news from the Petraeus congressional presentation – more troops means less violence – is the implicit acknowledgement of the stupidity of the original "invasion-lite" decision by Rumsfeld. The bad news is the absence of any achievable political objective which underlies the current military deployment.
Sir: The White House argues that the existence of al-Qa'ida in Iraq requires US forces to remain there. The goal of al-Qa'ida is presumably to further entangle the coalition in Iraq. They are achieving this by encouraging civil war. If the coalition were to withdraw, what possible interest could al-Qa'ida then have to continue in Iraq? The Iraqis themselves would focus on removing al-Qa'ida. The very existence of coalition forces in Iraq provides al-Qa'ida with the rationale for being there.
Mark S Bretscher
Sir: I can enlighten anyone puzzled by General Petraeus's chestful of medals. According to the website Operation Iraqi Freedom, his awards and decorations include the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, two awards of the Distinguished Service Medal, two awards of the Defence Superior Service Medal, four awards of the Legion of Merit, the Bronze Star Medal for valour, the State Department Superior Honour Award, the Nato Meritorious Service Medal and the Gold Award of the Iraqi Order of the Date Palm. He is a Master Parachutist and is Air Assault and Ranger qualified. He has also earned the Combat Action Badge and French, British, and German Jump Wings.One wonders what honour he would get if he ever saw action. Truly, America's ability for unintentional self-parody is limitless.
We can learn from Portuguese police
Sir: In the current business about a missing toddler, the Portuguese authorities – particularly the police – have conducted themselves with unimpeachable dignity. They have tolerated outrageous disparaging and condescending attacks from the UK tabloid press, which has been rabid even by its own low standards.
It is interesting that Portuguese law forbids the public discussion of a case under investigation. Perhaps we have something to learn from our oldest ally and can put an end in this country to trial by media.
The UK tabloid view seems to be that because Portugal doesn't do things as we do in the UK and because Portuguese procedures do not help the UK tabloids to sell shedloads of papers on the back of the misfortune of others, Portugal's entire system must be somehow retarded and certainly incapable of giving anyone a fair trial.
These attacks on the Portuguese police verge on the racist. It was, of course, Portugal that found itself in need of contempt laws to rein back newspapers' inappropriate contacts with (and payments to) key trial witnesses. It was, of course, the Portuguese system that gave us the Guildford Four, the Birmingham Six etc ad nauseam.
Far from being the butt of this bilious tabloid opprobrium, the Portuguese system and authorities should be applauded for the painstaking manner in which they have tackled the case in very trying circumstances. Needless to say, were a Portuguese tot to go missing in Leicestershire, I don't suppose there would be anything like the fuss – and Heaven help any Portuguese tabloid that questioned the effectiveness of Leicestershire's finest.
So let's hear it for Portugal and the Portuguese authorities on this one. Let's also leave them to continue their investigation unmolested. Lord knows what other investigations are being sidelined by the undue enforced concentration of resources on this case, serious though it is.
Sir: Thank you, Dominic Lawson, for speaking my mind ("This tidal wave of emotional tyranny", 11 September). Do we really need to watch how a family, who seem to have refused to play the "helpless victim" and "blame" game, are becoming villains precisely because of that? It is indeed sad that quiet determination and a will not to give up seem to count for nothing in large sections of society – or, maybe even worse, aren't even understood. If the latter is the case – now, I find that frightening.
Sir: How dare Mr Lawson attack Melanie Jones for showing emotion for her son? How dare he compare her to the suspect Kate McCann?
Sir: Were I the Policia Judiciaria, and were I relying on a DNA match from a car hired by the McCanns 25 days after the tragic disappearance of Madeleine, I would not be hounding the parents, but rather the person(s) who had held the keys to the vehicle on the evening of the disappearance. But perhaps I have been watching too much Poirot.
Allan J Organ
Dry Drayton, Cambridgeshire
Guests know they must behave
Sir: Once again, thanks to ridiculous Swiss right-wing party politics, real social issues are being drawn into spheres of ridicule and mixed with racism, bigotry and bias (7 September). Once again, we Swiss are the laughing stock.
Deporting criminals and their families is probably the single most effective way to keep most foreign juveniles within the boundaries of the law. I know what I am talking about. I spent 17 of the first 20 years of my life in Asia, as a foreign juvenile. I was a guest and was taught from a very young age to respect my hosts, their opinions, their laws and their nation, no matter what. If I didn't like it there, I could leave. If I chose to misbehave, my family and I could be forced to leave. This never seemed anything but logical to me.
In Singapore, where I lived for three years, it was a known fact that if you were caught messing with drugs, vandalising, or doing any other seemingly typical teenage misbehaviour, you were in deep trouble and could be deported along with your parents. Cases of deportation were rare, but they happened. It wasn't the cane you worried about, it was the prospect of your family having to pack up and leave their job and the country, having been deported for your misbehaviour.
The result? There were no drugs at our school, no weapons, and virtually nobody did anything illegal. We were forced to come up with more intelligent ways to pass our spare time and beef up our street-cred than shoplifting, dealing dope and beating up innocent people.
Bank fee figures are not credible
Sir: The Independent chose to give front page prominence to a report which extrapolated beyond credibility the results of an online survey on bank fees (31 August).
The extrapolations are clearly wrong. For example it is manifestly not correct that banks have paid out £2.6bn in repayments of customer defaults, when the amounts until this reporting season were so small as to be considered immaterial by auditors (and the amounts recently reported by the banks amount to £402m).
Similarly, how can it be true that 38 per cent of bank customers have paid a so-called default fee when we know that 80 to 85 per cent of customers never go into overdraft?
Chief Executive, British Bankers' Association, London EC2
Sir: Unfair bank charges – or corporate theft? Congratulations on the success of your inspired campaign. When I accused my own bank of fraud, this was accepted without question or argument. Keep up the good work.
M R Thorpe
Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk
Risk-free village pond is no fun
Sir: Joan Bakewell (7 September) is right about our attitude to risk.
Our village pond has been there so long its origins are lost in the mists of time. In the old days horses were watered there. Early in the 20th century the village school was built near it, and the children would fish in the pond. I can find no record of anyone coming to harm in it, though possibly one or two got wet.
Then a few years ago some mothers decided it was a danger to their offspring and campaigned to have it filled in or fenced in. Now it hides sadly behind some chestnut fencing: an eyesore, and no use to anybody but the ducks, who at least can still squeeze through the fence.
The cotton wool society is upon us.
Bad climate for economics
Sir: Hamish McRae identifies aspects of China's economic explosion that are not sustainable: their rapidly increasing consumption of finite oil supplies, for example ("The greatest boom the world has ever seen", 5 September). However, he does not address perhaps the most serious aspect: their exponentially increasing output of greenhouse gases.
It is remarkable how often one reads articles by economists who ignore this factor. I recently found one in a financial journal that observed, with apparent admiration, that China plans to complete 108 (yes, that's 108) new airports by 2010. The author made no mention of any negative environmental consequences such as global warming. When will those with money on their minds realise that, as recently observed by Leonardo DiCaprio, the economy is only a sub-system of the environment and is totally reliant upon it for its existence.
Of course, one cannot fully blame China for its rapid economic expansion and the consequent environmental damage. They are only playing catch-up with us. Responsibility lies in the abject failure of leadership in the West, particularly from George W Bush and Tony Blair, to adequately respond to the problem of climate change.
Shropshire Green PartyShrewsbury
Criminalising men who pay for sex
Sir: Tim Lott ("One law for prostitutes, another for their clients", 11 September) raises some valid points but fails to draw out a significant issue.
The increased social and economic independence which women have secured in the past 30 years has meant that many less physically attractive men find it increasingly difficult to find partners. In earlier decades, women, seeking a life partner, might have looked at an amiable but physically unpre-possessing man and thought, "Well, I could do worse." Nowadays they are more likely to conclude "I could do better" and confine their favours to good-looking men.
Celibacy is an option for the less-than-good-looking male, but proposals to criminalise prostitutes' punters are bordering on making ugliness or physical disability a statutory offence.
Sir: If men who pay for sex with women are to be prosecuted, will men who pay for sex with men also be liable for prosecution? And will women who pay men for sex – who are hammering at my door as I write – also be taken before the courts just because they cannot resist my body? Seems unfair to me.
Sir: So the Chinese are on the march: (Extra, 10 September) how soon can we expect a statement from the White House that President Bush has declared a War on Terracotta?
Colin Murison Small
Learn the language
Sir: Immigrants from outside the European Union must be able to "speak, read and write English" to C grade GCSE level, according to the Prime Minister. The BBC World Service had a programme called "English by Radio", with millions of listeners worldwide. They should revive it and it should go out on the BBC domestic channels as well, to help immigrants who are here already. Radio programmes are cheaper than TV and more accessible. Bring them back.
William Robert Haines
Sir: Kooshy Afshar (Letters, 10 September) ought to read Robert Fisk a little more carefully before complaining about him. Fisk was not saying that the Shahnameh was written in the Arabic language – of course not – but in Arabic script. His whole discussion was about script, not language. To see Fisk as attacking the "Iranian national heritage" is ludicrous.
Professor Edward James
School of History and ArchivesUniversity College Dublin
Sir: Brian Boughton asks why live viruses were discharged into the drainage system at Pirbright (letter, 10 September). They were not. They were sent down a pipe to a treatment tank located in another part of the site.The fault was that the pipe was apparently put underground like a common drainage pipe and thus subject to possible fracture. The pipe should have had good protection and been made accessible to routine checks.
Sir: While reading "Under Siege: What the surge really means in Baghdad" (10 September), I notice for the umpteenth time a reference to "the radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr". If it's not "radical" placed before his name, then it's "fiery". It is odd that no names of other politicians are automatically tagged with a label. So could we please have some consistency here? I look forward to your choice of suitably descriptive adjectives for George W Bush, Gordon Brown and others, to be used without fail whenever you print their names.
Sir: Ordering egg and chips is no easy matter if you want more than one egg (Letters, 10 September). "Two eggs and chips, please", often brings two meals, while it is worryingly uncertain that asking for "double egg and chips" will yield a different result. It's safer to offer the addendum that only one meal is required.
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