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Feedback | 22 May 2004

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A fence against terror

Following Emma Williams’s article on the Israeli ‘wall’ (‘Trapped behind the wall’, 15 May), it’s time to talk facts, not fiction. The security fence is a temporary measure. It did not exist before the onslaught of terror attacks against Israel in September 2000 and it will be removed with the end of terror and the dismantling of terrorist organisations. In addition, the so-called wall is composed of 95 per cent chain-linked fence and only 5 per cent walled section, in areas vulnerable to sniper fire.

The fence has already proved its worth as a security measure. It has saved countless lives by significantly reducing the number of successful terrorist attacks in those areas in which it has been completed. Between April and December 2002 (before construction of the fence), 17 suicide attacks were committed within Israel by terrorists who infiltrated from Samaria. Yet in 2003 (after construction) there were only five attacks by terrorists infiltrating from Samaria.

The Palestinian people have a right to freedom of movement, but the Israelis have a right to life.

Nikki Ginsberg

Emma Williams’s excellent report on the miseries caused by Israel’s illegal wall asks if there is a way out of this cycle of violence. Of course there is and she touched on it in her report — that of a single binational state. The right of the Palestinians to return to their country must be enshrined in the solution and they must be compensated for their suffering and for their loss of dignity and humanity since the state of Israel, by an act of international brigandry of the order of the invasion of Iraq, was imposed on them in 1948. The resultant demographics would end the problem once and for all. The zealotry which stems from the beliefs of Judaism and Islam will erode as soon as ignorance and poverty in the area are wiped out and the funds invested in armaments are deployed in education and development.

Arthur O’Connor
Sunbury on Thames, Surrey

Fake it and sue

The investigations to check out the truth, if any, behind the cruelty accusations against British troops in Iraq continue (Politics, 15 May), and hopefully with all speed. But there are two aspects of our decadent society that indicate such claims will only be the precursors of a dismal list.

One is the compensation culture. The dim and greedy have learnt that it is only necessary to sustain a few bruises, perhaps from a friendly relative, and some equally mendacious support, to be able to claim huge sums.

The Law Lords have pronounced open season on our soldiers, and a solicitor is already in situ hunting up Iraqis ready to sue the British army for fortunes.

The other aspect is chequebook journalism. Those of a mood have only to draw up some horrible accusation, concoct a ‘cod’ roll of film (with digital technology extremely easy and virtually unprovable) and it’s off to the Riviera via the editorial offices of the Daily Mirror.

There is, of course, a condign remedy. A lying claimant should pay all his own costs including forfeiture of all assets, and editors falling for conmen should pay ten times the purchase price of the lies to charity, half from the editor’s salary. Of course that would take political guts which, alas, we lack. But it would stop the rot.

Frederick Forsyth

The pictures of low-life American guards grinning at the camera over Iraqis put into humiliating positions for the benefit of the photographer are an affront to the prisoners’ dignity. They do not, however distasteful they are, show real physical abuse.

If Peter Oborne thinks they are ‘the most bestial of the atrocities’, I think that he needs to get out more.

Tom Livingston
Winchester, Hampshire

Jonathan Mirsky (Letters, 15 May) is completely wrong-headed, morally, organisationally and geographically, when he accuses the British army of teaching torture. There is no such organisation as the ‘joint services interrogation centre’, nor is there any type of intelligence organisation based at Ashford in Kent. More importantly, to suggest that the British army trains soldiers in the use of torture is dangerously false and could lead to retaliatory kidnapping and further attacks upon British soldiers in Iraq.

There are personnel within the British military establishment trained for debriefing and interrogation duties in order to gather intelligence. These men and women are carefully screened senior NCOs and officers who are taught to gather information without resort to the physical and sexual abuse of prisoners. Indeed, these appalling US military episodes of abuse from Iraq show that prisoners placed in the control of untrained soldiers are at greater risk of human rights abuses.

Experienced debriefers know that people who have just been through a traumatic experience, such as risking their lives in a gun battle or witnessing some horror of war, are all too willing to ‘talk out’ their trauma and tell all they know if the right questions are asked. The use of physical or sexual violence is therefore counterproductive in establishing the successful rapport required to induce the prisoner to talk. So aside from the ethical considerations, and good leadership from the chain of command which prevents its use, torture is not an effective means of information-gathering and is certainly not taught in the British army.

H.S. Gilbert
Hythe, Kent

Prison teaches discipline

Dr Theodore Dalrymple obviously works in a prison which holds some pretty nasty people (Second opinion, 15 May). But do nasty people deserve to die? I am a member of the Independent Monitoring Board (formerly the Board of Visitors) at a Category C prison. Many of the prisoners have done some horrible things. But I think Dr Dalrymple should recognise that a large number of these men have learnt a lot from their time behind bars. A great many of them have never, before they came inside, been treated with any decency, kindness or respect. They learn in jail what they should have learnt at home and at school — discipline. They begin to realise that mutual respect makes life a good deal pleasanter all round.

In my opinion, the Prison Service will be well shot of the retiring governor whom Dr Dalrymple quotes as saying, ‘We do everything for them now. It’s not right.’ I have been on the IMB for nine years. When I arrived, very little indeed was done for prisoners and there were major incidents on a regular basis. Men were perpetually angry, bored and frustrated. Can Dr Dalrymple really believe that that is the way to show offenders how to improve their lives? Does he think that fear will make them nicer people? Prisons now focus much more on useful work and rehabilitation programmes. Rather than having everything done for them, prisoners have a chance to do something positive for themselves. OK, they have televisions in their tiny (frequently shared) cells. They have their lavatories in there, too. Scarcely the Ritz.

Caroline Kirk
Cavendish, Suffolk

Tackling Burma

In ‘Burma Jungle’ (15 May) John Bercow and Caroline Cox provide a harrowing account of human-rights abuses against the non-Burman national groups in Burma.

However, their proposals for action are doomed from the start. China (which has supplied over $2 billion in arms since 1988) and Russia (which in 2001 supplied ten MiG-29 Fulcrum fighter aircraft) would veto any resolution tabled in the UN Security Council to impose an arms embargo. France would probably abstain. This would make the US and the UK look very foolish — so much so that it is highly unlikely that they would sponsor any such resolution in the first place.

The EU could certainly impose both trade and investment sanctions, but this would not seriously damage the Burmese subsistence econo my, which is increasingly dominated by Chinese, ASEAN, Korean, Indian and Japanese interests. The junta is likely to react by applying even tighter economic and financial controls, to the benefit of its cronies, to the detriment of private entrepreneurs who could be the backbone of economic and political liberalism in the country, and to the further impoverishment of all the Burmese nationalities.

In short, the actions proposed by John Bercow and Caroline Cox are likely not to weaken but to strengthen the regime. Our Asian-Pacific competitors would be delighted for us to give them a free hand to operate in Burma, and to complete the takeover of Western businesses and industries which is already well under way.

The better and more constructive approach would be to encourage Burma’s close neighbours in China, India and the ASEAN to join the EU in a more pro-active, critical engagement with Burma. Our Prime Minister may well have suggested something on these lines to his Chinese counterpart when they met in London last week and human rights were discussed. A united effort is needed.

It is pointless and irresponsible, out of sheer outrage, to advocate policies which are only likely to make matters worse and to entrench the junta in power, while limiting even further our own waning influence. We need to get Burma, like Iraq, on to the first rung of the democracy ladder. It is that first step which is always the most difficult.

Derek Tonkin
British Ambassador to Thailand 1986–89
Worplesdon, Surrey

In search of youth

Your indefatigable correspondent from the ancient world, Peter Jones, has got Gilgamesh slightly wrong (15 May). The king did not go ‘down to the underworld to seek immortality’ but sailed to Dilmun, the ancient name of the Bahrain Islands, to find the plant of renewed youth growing on the seabed. His ancestor, Ziusudra, the only mortal to be granted eternal life by the gods, resided in Dilmun; he was the protagonist of the myth of the Universal Deluge, which was so shamelessly plagiarised by the redactors of the Book of Genesis, where he is disguised as Noah. Gilgamesh was the king of the Sumerian city of Uruk and, distraught at the anguished death of his beloved Enkiddu, sought Ziusudra’s advice on how the descent into old age might be arrested. Ziusudra told him of the rejuvenating plant and Gilgamesh determined to find it and take it back to Uruk, so that the old men of his city might become young again.

Gilgamesh tied weights to his feet, in the manner of the Gulf pearl-divers, and plunged into the sea, found the plant, returned to the surface and then, sadly, lost it to a predatory serpent. This, of course, is why the serpent sloughs its skin.

Michael Rice
Baldock, Hertfordshire

Transcending aristocracy

Robert Salisbury, in one respect, has taken hold, with a characteristically firm grip, of the wrong end of the stick (Books, 15 May). No, I am not calling for a revival of hereditary aristocracy but rather for an appreciative inscription to be put on its tombstone — i.e., for the end of anti-aristocracy. Every country needs a political class, and the current prejudice against aristocracy in England, which in turn has bred a uniquely vicious strain of English anti-elitism, is a barrier to this country producing a good one. Hence the collapse of our political institutions. Only by doing justice to what aristocracy stood for in the past can we hope to transcend aristocracy in the future.

Peregrine Worsthorne
Hedgerley, Buckinghamshire

Don’t buy their wine

What is to be done about the quite ludicrous mark-ups which many London restaurants are applying to the price of their wines? Multiples of four, five or even six times retail, far less wholesale, prices are not unusual. And this before the restaurateur chooses to add a further 12–15 per cent to the price as a compulsory service charge. In some establishments it has become little short of licensed larceny.

Two thoughts: first, that all lunchers and diners boycott the wine lists in all restaurants for a specified week and simultaneously benefit their health. Second, that it becomes acceptable by all restaurants for diners to take in their own wine, as in Cape Town and other less greedy capitals, with a corkage to be charged up to, say, a maximum of £10 a bottle.

Jeremy Deedes
Compton, Berkshire