I've been following the extraordinary case of Gary McKinnon for years now in a long range kind of way, but we are now in the final throes of his prolonged fight against extradition to the USA, and he needs all the support we can give him. The Daily Mail recently started a campaign against his extradition: it's not often I agree with the Wail, but I'm wholeheartedly in favour of this initiative.
For those of you who have been living in a bunker for the last 7 years, Gary McKinnon is the self-confessed geek who went looking for evidence of UFOs and ETs on some of America's most secret computer systems at the Pentagon and NASA.
And, when I say secret, obviously I don't mean in the sense of encrypted or protected. The Yanks obviously didn't feel that their national defence warrants even cursory protection, as Gary didn't have to hack his way in past multiple layers of protection. Apparently the systems didn't even have passwords.
Gary, who suffers from Asperger's Syndrome, is no super hacker. Using a basic PC and a dial-up connection in his bedroom, he managed to sneak a peek at the Pentagon computers, before kindly leaving a message that the US military might like to have a think about a little bit of basic internet security. Hardly the work of a malignant, international cyber-terrorist.
UK police investigated Gary soon after this episode, way back in 2002. All he faced, under the UK's 1990 Computer Misuse Act, would have been a bit of community service if he'd been convicted. Even that was moot, as the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to prosecute.
And that, as they say, should have been that.
However, in 2003 the UK government passed yet another draconian piece of law in response to the "war on terror" – the Extradition Act. Under this invidious, one-sided law, the US authorities can demand the extradition to America of any British citizen, without presenting any evidence of the crime for which they are wanted. Needless to say, this arrangement only works one way: if the Brits want to extradite a suspect from the US they still have to present prima facie evidence of a crime to an American court. The Act also enshrines the questionable European arrest warrant system in British law.
So how on earth did the half-wits in Parliament come to pass such an awful law? Were they too busy totting up their expense fiddles to notice that they were signing away British sovereignty? This law means that it is easier for a US court to get a Brit in the dock than it is for them to get a US citizen from another state. In the latter case, evidence is still also required.
Let's get this straight. The UK authorities decided not to prosecute in this country. Even if they had, Gary would probably have been sentenced to community service. However, if he is extradited, he will get up to 70 years in a maximum security prison in the US.
So a year after Gary's bedroom hack, and after the CPS had decided there was no case to answer, the US authorities demanded Gary's extradition retroactively. The UK government, rather than protecting a British citizen, basically said "Yes, have him!". Gary has been fighting the case ever since.
He has not been alone. Many people from across the political spectrum see this unilateral law as invidious. And the government reckoned without his mum. Janis Sharp has fought valiantly and indefatigably to protect her son from this unjust extradition. She has lobbied MPs, talked to newspapers, gained the support of many public and celebrity figures. She even recently met the PM's wife, Sarah Brown, who was reportedly in tears for Gary. Yet still the majority of the parliamentary half-wits refuse to do anything.
In fact, it gets worse. Over the last few years many MPs have signed Early Day Motions supporting Gary's fight against extradition. But in a recent debate in the House of Commons about the need to revise the provisions of the Extradition Act, 74 of these MPs betrayed him and voted for the government to keep the Act in place. Only 10 Labour MPs stuck to their guns and defied the party Whip. One Labour MP, Andrew MacKinley, will stand down at the next election in protest at this hypocrisy.
This week is crunch time: on Friday a final judicial ruling will be made about the case. It was the last throw of the legal dice for Gary. If this fails, he will have to rely on political intervention, which is possible, to prevent his harmful, unjust and unnecessary extradition to the USA. Please visit the Free Gary website and do all you can in support.