Wednesday, July 15, 2009

McKinnon's crime is the worst: 'embarrassing a government'

The news that under our totally imbalanced extradition agreement with the USA, this government is prepared to expose a UFO fanatic to a potentially long prison sentence for the crime of hacking into US military computers looking for information about his favourite subject is worrying enough.

The Crown Prosecution Service say there's not enough evidence to charge him with any offence here even though he has admitted to hacking so clearly this is not the crime of the century. (Apparently, he found his way in to the Pentagon's network by guessing that the passwords would still be set to their default of 'password'.)

When you learn that the man in question, Paul McKinnon, has a form of autism, Asperger's Syndrome, it becomes doubly worrying. McKinnon's lawyers told the high court yesterday that former home secretary, Jacqui Smith's decision to extradite him was 'flawed' because it didn't take this into account. They're hoping to get the decision reversed.

If, as we're often told, we're all equal before the law, they should succeed. When Spain tried to extradite former Chilean dictator General Pinochet to answer war crimes charges, then home secretary Jack Straw turned the appeal down and let Pinochet fly home because, after looking at the medical evidence, he considered him medically-unfit to face trial. What's more McKinnon's case is far more clear cut than the General's. There was some doubt about Pinochet's medical capacity at the time and indeed, four years later Chilean judges ruled that he was perfectly capable of facing charges. But Asperger's Syndrome is not something that comes and goes.

McKinnon, whose Asperger's was diagnosed by the UK's leading authority Cambridge Professor Simon Baron-Cohen is backed by the National Autistic Society.

Mark Lever, chief executive of the National Autistic Society, said yesterday: 'We strongly believe that Gary should be allowed to stand trial in the UK where he has a familiar support network in place and his needs in relation to his Asperger syndrome can be better met. People with Asperger syndrome are often much more vulnerable than first appearances would suggest and are particularly susceptible to mental health difficulties; extradition would be highly inappropriate and potentially very damaging.'

McKinnon's only crime appears to be embarrassing the US government and no reasonable human being would want to see a man with a developmental disability clapped in jail for that. Trouble is, as we learned last week through the case of Ronnie Biggs: embarrassing a government is pretty much the worse crime you can commit.

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