Who is Gary McKinnon?

What a momentous day is has been for Gary McKinnon and Janis Sharp.  This afternoon, President Obama, said that the fate of Gary McKinnon will be decided in the UK and not the USA.  A very brave decision for him to make and one, for which, I am sure everybody concerned with the case, will be eternally grateful.  Now it is down to Theresa May, in her role as Foreign Secretary, to come forward with a proposal and decide what will happen.  Fingers, and everything else, crossed!

I wrote the following blog yesterday before this was announced and I’d like to share it, so here it is –

Most of us are aware of the name, Gary McKinnon, but do we know the man?  I have not met Gary, nor his incredible mother, Janis Sharp.  I have supported the case against extradition though and this is my personal take on it.

What I do know is that the British government has Failed (with a capital F)  in protecting and respecting this citizen of this, supposedly, democratic and just isle. 10 years on now and nothing has been resolved. Gary was convinced that UFOs existed and was looking throughout the internet for proof that they did.  During this time, between February 2001 and March 2002, he was able to gain access to United States military and NASA computers.  Gary says he was able to gain access to machines that were set on a default password, meaning that they had no firewalls or cryptic passwords.  Now that to me, who is not a computer geek, seems absolutely ridiculous when they were high security military and NASA computers.  An enormous oversight on the part of the US personnel.  Must have been very embarrassing to them.

Gary has been painted by the United States as an extremely dangerous hacker who caused incalculable damage and shut down their systems for 24 hours.  True, Gary left messages about how easily he got into the computers and notifying them of the danger, and once he even left a message which was critical of US Foreign Policy.  But please, to have open and unsecured computers at that level, quite simply, beggars belief!

In my humble opinion, the US Government should have thanked Gary for alerting them to the glaring omissions in their security systems,  rather than go on a vengeful witch hunt. However the thanks did not come, the witch hunt did – in November 2002, Gary McKinnon was indicted by a federal grand jury in Virginia, with the scenario of Gary being imprisoned for up to 70 years in a US jail!  Look at that date, that was nearly 9 years ago!

In June of 2005, Britain enacted the 2003 Extradition Act and later that year, the US Authorities began extradition proceedings.   What also began in June 2005, was for Gary to live a nightmare.  He became subject to bail conditions including having to sign in at his local police station every evening and to remain at his home address at night. In addition, he was banned from using a computer with access to the Internet.

To say all this has had a detrimental effect on his health is an understatement. In August 2008, Gary McKinnon was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome. It is an autism spectrum disorder, which has been compounded with Gary’s clinical depression.  Gary still cannot use a computer with internet access and is now under the care of a Psychiatrist.

Why our Government of the time ever signed an Extradition Treaty that allowed the US not to need to provide contestable evidence for the extradition of a British subject, goodness only knows. That is not protecting our citizens and it certainly is not a sign of a special relationship.

Whenever I think of this situation, I am taken back to the scene in ‘Love Actually‘ where our Prime Minister discovers moral fibre and strong leadership qualities:-

Press Conference Reporter: Mr. President, has it been a good visit?

The President of the U.S.: Very satisfactory indeed. We got what we came for and our special relationship is still very special.

Press Conference Reporter: Prime Minister?

Prime Minister: I love that word “relationship”. Covers all manner of sins, doesn’t it? I fear that this has become a bad relationship. A relationship based on the President taking exactly what he wants and casually ignoring all those things that really matter to, erm… Britain. We may be a small country but we’re a great one, too. The country of William Shakespeare, Churchill, the Beatles, Sean Connery, Harry Potter. David Beckham’s right foot. David Beckham’s left foot, come to that. And a friend who bullies us is no longer a friend. And since bullies only respond to strength, from now onward, I will be prepared to be much stronger. And the President should be prepared for that.

Now, I’m not likening Barack Obama and David Cameron to the characters portrayed; however, if would be a wonderful and welcome surprise for everyone in this isle if our politicians kept their word!  Both David Cameron and Nick Clegg were very supportive of Gary McKinnon’s situation, before they came into power, and pledged to review the extradition process to make sure it did not remain all one-sided.

Look at these two quotes and tell me whether or not they have kept their word.

David Cameron – “It should still mean something to be a British citizen – with the full protection of the British Parliament, rather than a British Government trying to send you off to a foreign court”….(July 2009)

Nick Clegg  – If he boards the plane to the U.S., it is almost certain he will never set foot on British soil again, doomed to pass out the rest of his days in shackles on a foreign shore. This is nothing short of a disgrace” ….(August 2009)

And we mustn’t forget Gary’s Mum, Janis Sharp.  Throughout all this she has remained dedicated to fighting for her son not to be extradited, in a dignified and determined manner.

As a Mum, I cannot imagine the pain she has endured and still is enduring.  All the promises, all the raised expectations, and what have they come to?  Janis is scared, and rightly so, that if Gary is extradited he would commit suicide.  How do you try and live a normal life with something like that hanging over you?

She is a courageous woman and I’m proud to be her friend on Twitter.

President Obama is currently here ~ it is the ideal opportunity to sort this matter out, once and for all.  Gary has served a prison term, he has undergone many years of mental torture now ~ he deserves to be a free man :-)

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