The more I read about the case of Gary McKinnon, the more astonished and angry I get. This is perhaps because my own daughter is on the autistic spectrum and is also highly intelligent, so these issues personalise themselves. But the whole thing is just ridiculous in any case. McKinnon is accused of hacking into U.S. military computers and causing $800,000 of damage (he denies the second of these charges) – roughly what the U.S. spends on maintaining its military presence in Iraq every few minutes, I’ve no doubt.
The U.S. Government (headed by Bush when proceedings began), embarrassed and vengeful, want to extradite him under a 2003 treaty formed with the aim of bringing terrorists to justice. But McKinnon is no terrorist. He has Asperger’s Syndrome and is obsessed with UFOs. He claims he hacked the data because he was convinced the U.S. were hiding evidence of UFOs.
The whole idea that someone with Asperger’s Syndrome could defend himself adequately in a trial, especially one far from familiar surroundings, is insane. The stress of a trial would, in itself, play havoc with his state of mind. There was clearly nothing malicious in what he did. He will have been single-minded about it. Nothing would have been allowed to get in his way once he’d decided the computers were hiding secret UFO data. The idea that he might have been doing something wrong won’t even have occurred to him.
The argument that the bulk of the evidence is situated in the USA may be true, but the offence took place in the UK. Therefore, the UK authorities and legal counsels could quite easily argue that a trial should take place in the UK and that extradition isn’t necessary.
But there are other serious issues at stake here. The U.S. penal system could impose a sentence of 70 years imprisonment on Gary McKinnon. What’s to be gained for anyone by that? His mum claims he is very shy, too timid even to use the London Metro system. What's jail going to do for him? What’s it going to achieve for anyone else? Surely we have the ability to formulate a more appropriate form of punishment. It occurs to me that someone of Mr McKinnon’s obvious talents could be highly useful to both the UK and U.S Governments!
The extradition treaty contains the following clauses: that a) the U.S. has to prove ‘reasonable suspicion’ for extradition of a British citizen, and that b) to extradite an American from the US, Britain must prove ‘probable cause.’ It seems to me that this treaty is grossly unequal. Surely ‘probable cause’ is a greater burden of proof than ‘reasonable suspicion’! You have to ask why the UK government signed under these terms. What were they thinking? No doubt Blair was acting as Bush’s toady as usual, but this ought to be revisited at the earliest possible opportunity. Gary McKinnon’s mother has petitioned Obama today. Will Obama listen? Or have the realities of power made that impossible for him without paying a heavy domestic price? We’ll soon see.
And as for Britain’s MPs, they ought to be ashamed of themselves. Pressure should be brought to bear on the Home Secretary, Alan Johnson – not just the inevitable pressure from opposition MPs and a few rebels, but from every fair-minded Labour MP (are there any left?) – to refuse the extradition. I note that 90 percent of American requests for extradition have been backed by the UK, and only 70 percent of British requests have been backed by the USA. It’s about time that inequality was placed under careful scrutiny as well.
Gary McKinnon is a pawn in a game. There is heavy external pressure on the UK politicians who could do something about this if they wanted to. It’s clear the U.S authorities, for reasons best known to themselves, will stop at nothing to bring McKinnon to trial in the U.S. He’s compromised their security and shown everyone that an intelligent hacker can invade their systems. How embarrassing for them… They obviously plan to do whatever it takes, for however long it takes. They are behaving like someone with Asperger’s Syndrome! Someone should tell them…
You can keep up to date with developments at the Free Gary McKinnon website.