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"Computer nerd" hacker could face torture by US Government

LIFE STYLE EXTRA (UK) | April 13 2006

A self-taught British "computer nerd" who brought a vital US naval base to its knees could be subjected to torture and detained indefinitely if a "vengeful" US Government extradite him, a court has heard.

Computer expert Gary McKinnon, 40, remotely-controlled 97 US army, naval, airforce, NASA and defence department computers between Autumn 2001 and March 2002.

At his extradition hearing at Bow St Magistrates' Court, his lawyer Edmund Lawson, said the US Government's request to try him there was unjust.

He said: "You have to have regard to humanity. A forty-year-old computer nerd who, with a twopenny-halfpenny computer, embarrassed the United States by hacking into their sensitive computers.

"It's difficult to see any sense for why he is required to go back there other than to extract administrative revenge because he exposed their system as being as weak and helpless as they are.

"It is apparent that the US are seeking the extradition of Mr McKinnon because they wish to impose a substantially greater sentence than what he would be given in the UK."

Mr Lawson said despite an assurance from the US embassy in London he would not be tried as a terror suspect - which could see him detained indefinitely under controversial "military order number one" legislation brought in after 9/11 - the US could not guarantee this would not happen.

He said: "The President himself has the right to say who can be dealt with under the order. The President has made it quite clear that he is not going to promote discussion in the area to be hampered or restricted by British or the US courts.

"The diplomatic note, which was produced later in the hearing, is anonymous and unsigned and is neither effective or enforceable."

Mr McKinnon, who has just one O'Level, faces 20 counts of computer-related crime. The hacker, of Wood Green, North London, was interviewed by police in March 2002 and allegedly admitted his crimes.

Prominent human rights lawyer Clive Stafford-Smith, who was with clients in Guantanamo Bay two days ago, was called to the witness stand by Mr Lawson.

He said he did not believe the US embassy's document bound President Bush to not seek the indefinite imprisonment and torture of the computer geek.

Mr Stafford-Smith said terror suspects faced the risk of "rendition" whereby enemy combatants are flown to foreign countries where torture is allowed.

He added: "Rendition has occurred in several places we know of. They don't acknowledge it - certainly not when it is for the purposes of torture."

When asked by Mr Lawson if rendition has been used for the purpose of torturing his clients, he replied "sadly it was."

Mr McKinnon's mum Janice Sharpe, who has written a letter to the court begging for her son not to be extradited, confirmed her only child came from a poor but close-knit family.

She added: "It would be extremely difficult for us to visit him because of the cost."

Mark Summers, for the US Government, denied he was seeking Mr McKinnon's extradition for the purpose of obtaining a longer sentence.

He said: "There is simply no evidence to suggest that the reason for extradition is dissatisfaction with UK sentencing laws.

"It is perfectly triable there. It's where the damage occurred. The fact he is a UK national doesn't render him exceptional nor do his family circumstances."

He said the US Government had pledged it would not try him as a terror suspect and, despite President Bush having the final decision, to do so would be a massive breach of trust.

He said: "Were it to occur, it would be a gross breach of faith. We can be assured, it is an effective guarantee."

District Judge Nicholas Evans continued Mr McKinnon's conditional bail and adjourned the case for a ruling on May 10 at 10am

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