The American government claims that McKinnon is responsible for what it calls the world's biggest ever military hack and says that his activities resulted in $800,000 worth of damage to computer systems maintained by a number of organisations including NASA and the US Navy. British lawyers based their case around McKinnon's mental fragility which they say may lead to psychosis or suicide as a result of his illness. Terry Waite, the human rights campaigner who was held hostage in Lebanon for four years, personally requested the USA to drop their extradition attempts and called for common sense. "No nation under the sun ought to convict an individual whose behaviour is occasioned by illness," he said, "Anyone who has the slightest acquaintance with [the condition] will know that while the sufferer can be, and indeed often is, brilliant in certain logical processes they can become irrationally obsessive in other directions."
If convicted, 43-year-old McKinnon - who e-mailed US authorities highlighting the weak spots in their computer security, using his own e-mail address - could face up to 70 years in prison. The US government has assured the Home Office that his mental health will be taken into account and that they will meet his welfare needs - promises that are likely to mean little to British ears when so many of us remain shocked at the human rights abuses carried out at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and in Uncle Sam's name at various extraordinary rendition flight destinations.
When we last reported on Mr. McKinnon, we provided a link to an online petition organised by the National Autistic Society. That petition was signed by 4339 people and it was not the only one: just Google "Gary McKinnon petition" and see all the hits - it is very obvious that a majority of British people do not want to see McKinnon extradited, not least of all due to the highly unfair nature of the UK-US Extradition Act of 2003, which allows the US to seek extradition of British citizens without having to provide prima facie evidence despite the fact that the UK still needs evidence when seeking extradition of an American.
"What does it take to make this government sit up and listen to the clear public view that Gary McKinnon should not be extradited?" asks McKinnon's lawyer Karen Todner. What indeed; and what's more, why are our Government - who are selected and voted into power by us to act as our representatives and to do a job that few of us could be bothered to do - ignoring the will of the British people and kowtowing to America? The British Government are our servants, not our masters, and as such ought to do what we request of them. Likewise, the USA is our ally, and though we should be grateful for all of the help they have offered to us over the years we are not beholden to them and should not sit back and let them act as though they are in charge of our legal system.
Since our own Government seems to have forgotten that it is the citizens who are ultimately in charge and are willing to ignore what we're saying, maybe McKinnon's mother Janis Sharp has the right idea - she's appealing directly to President Barach Obama. "Stand by us and make this world a better place, a more compassionate place," she asks, "I'm just praying, please hear us, Obama, because I know you would do the right thing." Got to be worth a try, hasn't it, especially since the White House website claims that Obama is "committed to creating the most open and accessible administration in American history"?
Fancy e-mailing the Prez yourself? Do so here.
Just fill in your details and change the subject field to "other" - you can copy and paste the following message if you don't have time to compose one of your own:
Dear President Obama,
You are doubtless well aware of the case of Gary McKinnon, the British citizen who faces extradition to your nation where he will face charges of hacking into NASA and other databases where he believed suppressed documents related to UFOs might be held, activities which it is claimed resulted in $800,000 worth of damage. He later contacted the authorities responsible for those databases and highlighted the weak spots in their security, leading human rights campaigner Terry Waite to say that the Pentagon should be thanking McKinnon for exposing their computers' vulnerability.
Mr. McKinnon suffers from the autistic condition Asperger's Syndrome. Sufferers of this condition are frequently of very high intelligence, but often display naivety and may become obsessed with a particular subject - as was the case with Mr. McKinnon, who is obsessed with UFOs. "No nation under the sun ought to convict an individual whose behaviour is occasioned by illness," says Mr. Waite.
Although the US Government has promised that Mr. McKinnon's health and welfare needs will be taken into account, his lawyers and family say that there is "clear, uncontradicted expert evidence" that his extradition could lead to psychosis which in turn could result in his suicide. That Mr. McKinnon did not act in a purposely malicious way seems obvious, and although it may be the case that he caused $800,000 worth of damage, is a human life not worth more?
Since you became President, many of us throughout the world have new faith that the USA is a force for good that will protect ourselves and our human rights. Please use this opportunity to demonstrate to us that we can trust in your own goodness and humanity by stopping the moves to extradite Mr. McKinnon and allowing him to be tried in a British court.
Your Name Here
...but make sure you take the opportunity to help save a mentally ill British man from an uncertain future at the hands of a foreign power.