Echoes of Gary McKinnon

Reading the story of the proposed extradition of Asperger’s sufferer, Lauri Love, in yesterday’s Independent newspaper, I am reminded of an article that I wrote some five years ago, about Gary McKinnon. Like Lauri Love, Gary McKinnon was an Asperger’s sufferer, who was set to be extradited to the US to face charges of computer hacking, after he allegedly broke into the computer systems of NASA and the Pentagon. Eventually, the Home Secretary intervened on Gary McKinnon’s behalf and the extradition was halted. There are now calls for that same Home Secretary, Theresa May, to intervene on Love’s behalf, after he was accused of breaking into the computer systems of NASA and the US military. And so, without further ado, here is my original article on Gary McKinnon.

Gary McKinnon – Originally published in 2011. Copyright Eleanor Parks 2011.

It was with utter dismay that I watched the mother of Gary McKinnon this morning as she was interviewed on the BBC Breakfast programme. I have followed this story since it first hit the headlines in 2002, and every time I hear or think about it, it is with the vague hope that common sense will prevail. Unfortunately, but not unexpectedly given the calibre of the British government, this seems ever less likely to happen.

Gary’s mother, as ever, spoke eloquently and passionately about her son’s mental state at this moment in time, and as she spoke, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the torturous ordeal suffered by Winston Smith in George Orwell’s seminal classic, “Nineteen Eighty-Four”. For here is a man being taken to the point of destruction, being forced so far beyond his own limits and understanding that he is detaching from himself. Here too is the threat of Room 101, with its horror that cannot be conceived or endured – in Gary’s case it is being cut off from his lifeline of routine and the love and support of his mother, to be transplanted into a world that is as alien to him as the moons of Jupiter would be to any one of us. Of course, “Nineteen Eighty-Four” would not be the same without the maniacal O’Brien, played in this instance by every Home Secretary from David Blunkett to the current incumbent, Theresa May. Each one of them, like O’Brien, seems to relish shooting down in flames any argument which goes against their own illogical, Benthamist view. Likewise, the American government is “The Party”; for why else would it seem as if our own Home Secretaries does not wish to block the extradition because “The Party” does not wish it.
I am reminded too of the case of Derek Bentley, a case which draws parallels with that of Gary McKinnon. Like Gary McKinnon, Derek Bentley had committed a crime and had a case to answer. In Derek Bentley’s case, his crime was the attempted breaking and entering of a warehouse. Gary McKinnon broke into the computers of NASA and the Pentagon. Derek Bentley was vulnerable and impressionable, suffering from epilepsy after sustaining head injuries during The Blitz and had the mental age of 11. Gary McKinnon is vulnerable, suffering from Asperger’s Syndrome, a severe form of autism, and despite being 43-years-old, does not function at the same level of you or me. Derek Bentley paid for his crime with his life, despite the fact that he had neither killed nor hurt anyone. Gary McKinnon has not killed, nor has he hurt anyone, and yet he is so vulnerable that he too is in danger of paying with his life.
There are many who will argue that Gary McKinnon has committed a crime and should be brought before the law. I fully agree. However, the fact remains that the crime in question was committed on British soil. Let us say, for one hypothetical moment, that he had broken into a shop in Newcastle. The court hearing would be heard in Newcastle, as that was the place of the crime. So why, therefore, should a crime committed on British soil be tried in America?
If the current coalition government, supposedly led in part by ministers who call themselves Liberals, does not do what its own ministers appear to be calling for and amend the UK – US Extradition Treaty, it will have proved that it advocates justice without compassion. If that is the case, then we may as well do away with the adversarial system of our courts and revert back to that of the early 1700s, when defendants were placed at the mercy of an arbitrary judge or jury. We can sweep away all the hard fought and hard won reforms of Sir William Garrow, for there will be no need for defence counsel, nor any need to plead for the life of a defendant who, through factors beyond their own reasoning or control is in jeopardy. Nor will it even be required to bring forth mitigating circumstances.

At its core, therefore, the case of Gary McKinnon is bringing to light a decision, one which anyone who has the remotest interest in ensuring that all who come before the law are treated fairly should not see as difficult. We have a choice: Justice with compassion, or judicial totalitarianism. I can only hope that the incumbent Theresa May has the courage to stand and be counted on the side of true justice.

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