Home Secretary Theresa May has announced that Gary McKinnon, who was accused of hacking into the Pentagon’s computer network, will not be extradited to the US. The move is due to the risk of McKinnon ending his own life.
The home secretary said that there is no doubt McKinnon is seriously ill, that she carefully examined the medical evidence and took legal advice, concluding that his extradition would pose such a high risk that he would end his life, which restricts his human rights.
McKinnon, 46, suffers from Asperger’s syndrome. If convicted in the US, he could face up to 60 years in jail.
The case of McKinnon has become the first time the British government has refused to extradite someone across the Atlantic since the existing UK-USA extradition treaty came into force in January 2004, The Independent reports.
The agreement is largely contested by dozens of British MPs, who call the current policy one-sided, basically meaning Washington can demand anyone's extradition without proof, while London is obliged to obey. The treaty makes it far easier for the USA to take people from the UK than the other way around.
In a treaty with the US, the Americans must only show “reasonable suspicion” if they want to extradite a Briton – compared with “probable cause” going the other way. As a result, more Britons have been extradited than Americans.
Between the January 1, 2004, when the treaty came into force, and October15, 2012, some 92 people were extradited from the UK to the US. By comparison, 43 people have been extradited from the US to the UK in the same period.
The latest medical study by professors Declan Murphy and Tom Fahy spelled out the risks the British government could face if it went ahead with the extradition.
The same experts in July concluded that McKinnon’s risk of suicide was “moderate.” Since then they have studied reports from three experts on Asperger’s and suicide, who examined McKinnon earlier in the year.
The new report, dated September 24, read: “It is clear that there is a significant risk of suicidal behavior and that Mr. McKinnon ‘will do’ what he has threatened for the last three to four years if the extradition proceeds. On this specific point, we cannot offer reassurance to the authorities who are dealing with the case.”
London Mayor Boris Johnson praised the court’s decision saying that “justice has prevailed." He said that the extradition would have been “extraordinarily cruel and inhumane.”
“I applaud the government's stance. If they had approved extradition they would have been saying that extradition on any grounds was OK. It's not," he said.
McKinnon's mother Janis Sharp thanked Home Secretary May for made a lifesaving decision for her son.
"Thank you Theresa May from the bottom of my heart – I always knew you had the strength and courage to do the right thing," she said.
McKinnon's family and supporters have fought a high profile campaign against extradition over the last seven years, since US proceedings to seek his custody began.
McKinnon was arrested in March 2002 for allegedly hacking into dozens of NASA and Pentagon computers over a 13-month period from his bedroom in North London. He has admitted the security breaches but said they were unintentional and that he was looking for evidence of UFOs.
The United States expressed disappointment with the decision to withdraw the extradition order.
"The United States is disappointed by the decision to deny Gary McKinnon's extradition to face long overdue justice in the United States. We are examining the details of the decision," a State Department spokeswoman told reporters.
The family of Babar Ahmad, a British citizen who was extradited to the US as a terror suspect two weeks ago, “strongly welcomed” the McKinnon decision, but accused the government of “double standards."
Babar was extradited along with four other people, including Talha Ahsan, who just like McKinnon has Asperger’s syndrome.
British authorities have refused to prosecute Babar and Talha in the UK due to a lack of evidence.
Babar, 38, was accused of running a US-hosted website that allegedly encouraged terrorism. He had been held in detention since 2004. Talha Ahsan has been in custody since 2006.
“A question needs to be asked as to why, within the space of two weeks, a British citizen with Asperger's accused of computer-related activity is not extradited, while two other British citizens, one with Asperger's, engaged in computer-related activity are extradited. A clear demonstration of double standards,” Babar’s family said in a statement in response to the court’s decision.
Babar’s family also stressed that “many of our supporters are angry at what appears to be blatant old-fashioned racism under which all British citizens are equal, but some are more equal than others.”
The “We Are Babar Ahmad” campaign has demanded clarification regarding Talha Ahsa.
“This is an unjust stance regarding the plight of two British citizens who are under duress under very similar circumstances,” Deputy Chairman of the campaign, Ismail Jalisi said.