Gary McKinnon Not Extradited to the United States
Earlier this week I was delighted to hear that the Home Secretary, Theresa May, had blocked the extradition of Gary McKinnon to the United States. The American authorities had been engaged in a seven-year battle to get McKinnon, who has Asperger’s Syndrome, sent to the U.S. to face charges with an attached prison sentence of up to 70 years.
So what had McKinnon done to cause such a lengthy and controversial legal battle?
In the late 1990s McKinnon, now 46 years old, began using his personal computer to hack in to U.S. military and NASA computers. He claims his quest was to find information on Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs), an interest he has held from an early age. McKinnon believed that the American Government were withholding crucial information on the topic and became somewhat obsessive in his search. He did not attempt to cover his tracks and admitted in a BBC interview in 2009 that he became so compelled to find evidence that he felt it eventually “ruined” him.
US intelligence soon discovered evidence of the hacking and claimed that McKinnon had caused over $700,000 worth of damage to U.S. military and NASA computer systems. As the hacking discovery occurred at the height of the United States’ “war on terror”, McKinnon was portrayed as a terrorist by U.S. authorities.
The lengthy extradition proceedings began in 2005 following the introduction of a controversial extradition treaty between the U.S. and UK. For a seven-year period, McKinnon, his mother and legal team fought tirelessly to prevent his removal from the UK. During this time, McKinnon was also formally diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. It was highlighted that his obsessive search for documents relating to UFOs was consistent with the diagnosis. McKinnon was also suffering from depression and became a suicide risk during proceedings.
When Theresa May became Home Secretary in 2010, she promised to look afresh at McKinnon’s case. When delivering her ruling last Wednesday she stated that “Mr. McKinnon’s extradition would give rise to such a high risk of him ending his life that a decision to extradite would be incompatible with Mr. McKinnon’s human rights.” As a result of Theresa May’s decision, McKinnon will not be sent to America for trial but may still be prosecuted under English law.
I have read numerous articles about this case. A number of journalists who have met McKinnon have stated that he is anything but a criminal mastermind, describing him instead as a quiet and harmless individual. McKinnon does not deny that he hacked into American computer systems but stresses he did not do so with criminal intent, his aim was to unearth a conspiracy theory that plagued his mind.
I believe that Theresa May’s decision was a courageous but logical one. Courageous because the charges were of a serious nature and her decision went against the wishes of a powerful and influential country. It was logical because she didn’t overlook McKinnon’s Asperger’s diagnosis and mental health problems.
The ruling was a victory for the underdog which was unfortunately a long time in coming. I just hope that McKinnon and his mother can now move on with their lives and return to some kind of normality.
By Imogen Revell, Development Intern