No change as MPs debate McKinnon case

Gary McKinnon

A barrage of questions in parliament doesn't appear to have changed Home Secretary Alan Johnson's opinion on the extradition of admitted hacker Gary McKinnon.

Johnson refused last week to change his opinion on the case, saying a new medical report failed to show that the Asperger's sufferer's human rights would be breached if he were extradited to the US to face charges of hacking Pentagon and NASA computers.

McKinnon was given seven days for his lawyers to file a judicial review, and Johnson is currently considering a request for an extension. In the meantime, his MP David Burrows was allowed to raise an urgent question in parliament.

MPs argued that the extradition treaty was unbalanced, that McKinnon was a suicide threat, and that Johnson had more leeway to intervene. Others argued the hacker should be given a job or guaranteed support to return to the UK to serve his sentence.

The myriad of arguments failed to convince Johnson, however. He again stressed that the only way he could prevent McKinnon's extradition is if it was shown to breach his human rights - which he said hasn't happened.

Health concerns

One MP accused Johnson of showing "himself and his government to be spineless" by allowing the extradition of a "citizen who is suicidal and sectionable."

MP Damien Greene noted how "horribly ironic that it is illegal to send someone to a country to face an explicit death sentence," when many believe McKinnon will commit suicide if sent to the US to stand trial.

MP Chris Hune said the Home Secretary was a "brave man" to risk having the suicide of McKinnon on his hands.

Noting he'd been called brave and spineless in a matter of minutes, Johnson said: "I accept the vulnerability of Gary McKinnon, as I accept the vulnerability of many cases going through for extradition... It's a very heavy burden on any Home Secretary's shoulders. But nevertheless, my job is to uphold the law."

Extradition treaty

Other MPs argued that the extradition treaty between the US and the UK was unbalanced.

"How many cases have we failed to get extradition from the US? None. Zilch. Nil. Every single case we have made to the US using probable cause has been approved," Johnson said, nothing about 30 such cases have occurred, without complaint from the US, while the UK has held up seven cases going the other way.

Johnson stressed that the treaty itself is not at issue, as McKinnon has already admitted the bulk of the charges, accusing those making the argument of "faint anti-Americanism".

He added that if an American in the same situation broke into UK systems, "members in this house would be outraged if the US refused to extradite the person responsible."

MP Damien Greene questioned whether that was entirely true, given the charges accuse McKinnon of trying to "intimidate or coerce" the US military, when he himself says he was looking for evidence of aliens.

Indeed, following the debate, McKinnon's mother Janis Sharp posted on Twitter that her son admitted the hack, but not the extent of the damage caused.

MP Andrew Miller noted: "Had he not masterfully broken through their systems, their security systems would have been vulnerable today... I wouldn't want someone testing my burglar alarm, but in this case he's done a huge favour to the American state."

Sharp added: "US should drop this extradition now, as it's making them and [the] UK government look like very vindictive people."

No change

Johnson said McKinnon must face the charges. "This is not a matter of me finding Gary McKinnon innocent of guilty. These are very serious charges against Gary McKinnon," he said.

Johnson said he has read every word McKinnon and his representatives have filed, and after "careful contemplation", could come to no other decision. "We've now had three Home Secretaries, incidentally, making the same decision. I think any person would have come to the same decision, no matter how hard that decision would be."

"It's not a Home Secretary's job to be popular, to please whatever media campaign is on the go," he later added.