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Court OKs UFO hacker’s extradition

Published time: July 31, 2009 16:16
Edited time: July 31, 2009 16:16

A British hacker has lost a court appeal to avoid extradition to the USA. Gary McKinnon is accused of hacking the Pentagon and NASA systems in 2001 and 2002, claiming he was looking for evidence of extraterrestrial life.

It was supposed to be hacker Gary McKinnon's day in court, but he was too ill to attend.

McKinnon's defense team has argued that the US authorities are likely to make an example of McKinnon and punish him with the maximum possible sentence of 60 years in a maximum security prison.

The hacker says he is scared of facing trial.

“Main implication will be this ridiculously lengthy jail sentence and also it wouldn’t be a fair trial. They don’t have to prove the damage they are accusing me of. It wouldn’t be a jury of my peers, because in Virginia most people work for defense contractors so they are indirectly related to the Department of Defense. It’s awful,” McKinnon earlier said in an interview with RT.

The stress of the ongoing appeal against his extradition to America has left him fragile.

His mother, Janis Sharp, is less so and arriving at the Royal Courts of Justice, she predicted the case would not go well for her son.

"I was not confident [of the outcome], no, because our government seems to care more about the treaty than it does about protecting its citizens,” the woman told RT.

Janis Sharp made a direct appeal to President Obama following the hearing, asking him to halt the extradition.

"Obama wouldn't have this. He doesn't want the first guy extradited for computer misuse to be a guy with Asperger's [syndrome], a UFO guy. He wouldn't want this,” cites British newspaper The Telegraph.

The appeal against the extradition failed, the argument that McKinnon had been diagnosed with autism – rejected.

The National Autistic Society is campaigning in support of McKinnon and says extraditing him could have a devastating effect.

“A lot of people with Asperger Syndrome suffer mental health problems because of lack of support, particularly when they’re away from their support networks, which they so desperately need. And that’s what we’re so worried about in this case,” a campaign manager at the National Autistic Society, Matthew Downie, explained.

Although Friday’s hearing was unsuccessful for the McKinnon team, they are not finished yet.

“The High Court judges have come back and said the two judicial reviews have failed. But they have said we’ve got 28 days to lodge grounds for an appeal,” a solicitor, Karen Todner, has said.

McKinnon has the backing of a number of celebrities and the case has raised important human rights issues.

Under the terms of the extradition treaty, the US does not have to provide evidence to back up their request.

The human rights organization Liberty says parliament has already passed an amendment to this, but it has never come into force.

In 2006, parliament passed a law that would allow a court to have the discretion to bar extradition if the conduct constituting the offence took place in the UK and if it would be in the interests of justice not to extradite. So, for example, with his Asperger’s syndrome, that might be a reason why you might not want to extradite,” Anita Coles of the Liberty explained.

But even if that does happen, it will not help McKinnon, who says he was only looking to prove the existence of UFOs.

“As well as being very upset, I’m also very angry,” says Gary McKinnon’s mother. “Gary hasn’t murdered anyone, he hasn’t raped anyone, this is a non-violent crime. Robert Gates says there’s tens of thousands of intrusions into the Pentagon every month – why should Gary be victimized, because he actually admitted to computer misuse without a lawyer? It’s wrong.”

Gary McKinnon’s mother and lawyer are adamant the government should intervene to save him from extradition, but that certainly did not happen on Friday. So now it is on to the Supreme Court, which takes over as the highest level of appeal in October, and if that does not work – to Europe.

But if anything has come out of this appearance, it is that the McKinnon campaign shows no sign of slowing down.

“Gary should be charged in his country”

Michael White, a blogger from guardian.co.uk, says the punishment McKinnon could get in the US is disproportionate to the crime:

“McKinnon's geeky offence was relatively minor, whatever the unintended consequences, and might have got him a few months in jail from British magistrates, not the up-to-70-years stuff that US prosecutors apparently threaten.”

Nick Farrell from the Inquirer shares the same opinion:

“McKinnon's fellow lags undoubtedly would be amused to find out that he will be inside for six times longer than a murderer simply because he miffed the US military.”

Articles devoted to the issues abound with critical comments of the decision.

“We should also not extradite criminals to countries whose standards of justice fall below our own,” writes PSJ on the Spectator.co.uk web site. “America, with its denial of bail to foreigners, its emphasis on plea bargaining, which encourages the innocent to plead guilty, its allowing police officers to lie during interrogations and its absurdly long prison sentences for trivial offences is one such. We should not extradite British citizens where they face longer sentences than they do here.”

Steve.W, in his comment to the same article, notes:

“Strangely or not, in August 2008 the European Court of Human Rights refused to hear Gary McKinnon's appeal. Yet, in this same month, this same court accepted an appeal by Abu Hamza, thus postponing his extradition, as sending him to a maximum security US jail might breach his human rights!”