Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Text 4 Gary - Text GARY to 65000

You have probably heard of the case of Gary McKinnon, the computer geek with Asperger’s who accessed US military and NASA computers in search of information on UFOs, who has for several years been fighting extradition to the USA. What you may not be aware of, however, is how this case represents a gross injustice against a vulnerable and peaceful man, and a frightening precedent under an extradition treaty that places every UK citizen at risk of summary extradition, even without a shred of evidence against them.

The Home Secretary has claimed (in Parliament, and in the press) that Gary McKinnon has admitted to the majority of the allegations against him, and that his actions, as admitted, constitute extremely serious offences. Yet the only crime to which Gary McKinnon has admitted is Computer Misuse – accessing the US machines. For those who do not know, Computer Misuse is a Summary Offence, which carries a maximum jail sentence of 6 months, and which, if admitted, and a first offence, may be disposed of by means of a caution. In any case, it is not an extraditable offence.

The more serious allegations against Mr McKinnon, upon which the extradition request rests - that he caused damage to US computer systems - would appear to be wholly groundless, in addition to which, he has always denied them. These allegations were not made until some 3 years after the events in question, coinciding with the introduction of the new extradition treaty between the US and UK, and coinciding with the exact sums required in order to create an extraditable offence. Convenient, no?

Such evidence for these allegations as was provided to the court by US prosecutors was rejected by the CPS as ‘hearsay’ and ‘no evidence’. The Judge (Lord Justice Stanley Burnton) and the CPS were in agreement that to prosecute these allegations would be an embarrassment to the prosecution. According to computer expert Professor Peter Sommers, at the same court hearing, the amounts of ‘damage’ claimed merely represent the costs of installing the passwords and firewalls which any competent organisation should have already had in place at the time. In other words, the amounts claimed do not actually represent ‘damage’ as such.

It would appear therefore, that even under the terms of the extradition treaty (which incidentally, has been denounced both by Liberty in the UK, and by the American Civil Liberties Union, but is strangely defended by the Home Secretary), the conditions for extradition are not met in Gary’s case. Specifically, it does not appear to be the case that “a reasonable person, acting without prejudice” would have grounds to suspect that the crimes being alleged ever took place.

The Home Secretary nevertheless claims that he is powerless to halt the extradition on any grounds other than the Human Rights Act, despite being directed by the Home Affairs Select Committee that he has far broader powers of discretion than that. Shami Chakrabati of Liberty also shares this view, as indeed does virtually everybody, except for Alan Johnson, a man with no legal training whatsoever. Who do you believe?

The Home Secretary has also been very keen to make the point that having Asperger’s Syndrome should not confer blanket immunity from prosecution. It is as if he wishes to imply that Gary’s family or lawyers have argued for such a thing. They have not. They merely argue for Gary to be tried in the UK, in view of the fact that because of his Asperger’s, extradition would have an atypically damaging effect on him, and would thus be a disproportionately cruel punishment for a non-violent crime.

At present, a decision is awaited as to whether to permit the Judicial Review of the Home Secretary’s decision not to halt the extradition. In the meantime, supporters of Gary McKinnon have launched an SMS petition. By texting the word GARY to 65000, people can join the petition to keep and try Gary McKinnon in the UK (standard network charges apply, and no profit is made).

For more details see www.freegary.org.uk

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