NASA hacker to fight extradition

After being forced on Wednesday to listen to detailed reasons why his extradition should go ahead, Gary McKinnon is still hoping to avoid judgement in the US

Gary McKinnon, the "NASA hacker", remains hopeful that he can avoid extradition to the US despite the ruling on Wednesday by District Judge Nicholas Evans that his extradition should go ahead.

Speaking on the steps of the court after yesterday's verdict, McKinnon's solicitor, Karen Todner, said the defence will contend the deportation order with the Home Office, and the appeal courts if necessary. McKinnon has previously said he is prepared to take the fight to the European Court of Human Rights.

McKinnon had accepted ahead of Wednesday's judgement that his chances were "50-50". After the court's decision, he said: "It went as expected and now the appeals process can start."

That process begins on the desk of the Home Secretary, John Reid. McKinnon was told by Judge Evans to be prepared to travel to the US as early as next Wednesday, but Reid is likely to take a few weeks over his decision while he listens to further submissions from the US authorities and McKinnon's lawyers.

Wednesday's ruling from Judge Evans appears to leave little scope for the Home Secretary to block the extradition. The judge spent more than half an hour detailing his reasons for agreeing to the request, and cited almost all of the 24 articles in the 2003 Extradition Treaty.

The judge made it clear at the outset that the terms of the 2003 treaty meant he was bound to accept the evidence of McKinnon's crimes -- that he had illegally accessed 53 computers in the US and done $700,000 worth of damage along the way -- at face value.

The judge stressed the special relationship between the US and the UK saying that "over 150 years we have had an extradition relationship with the US" and that both nations were "conscious of the need to provide a fair trial".

Judge Evans said he had no doubt McKinnon would receive a fair trial. The US has given three separate undertakings to that effect if and when he faces the District Court of Eastern Virginia.

These guarantees "remove any real, as opposed to fanciful risk", said Judge Evans.

McKinnon has always contended that since most of his hacking activities were centred on Virginia, a massive centre for the US defence industry, he is unlikely to receive a fair trial there. As he said after the case on Wednesday, "I am practically hung and quartered there already."

Despite the difficulties McKinnon faces in persuading the Home Secretary to revoke the extradition, Todner believes her client still has grounds to mount a defence. "The Home Secretary's function under the new Extradition Act is very limited but we will be asking for his consideration, particularly of the disregard shown in the USA for the 'specialty' rule," she said.

Under Article 19, paragraph one, Rules of Specialty, in the 2003 Extradition Treaty, persons may not be extradited except when an offence for which they are being extradited is likely to be treated similarly in the two states involved.

The defence argument is that McKinnon is facing up to 30 years in prison under US law, but for the same crime in the UK the penalty is much less severe.

Judge Evans said the argument did not count for much since if "you smuggle drugs in Thailand you can reasonably expect to be treated more harshly than you would here".

Todner said in a statement: "We shall continue to contend on the expert evidence [the] real risks of  being extradited for offences that could readily have been tried in this country."

"He could be subject to Military Order Number 1 and detained indefinitely without trial or effective remedy in the US. His human rights would be substantially infringed, quite apart from his vulnerability, if charged in the US domestic courts, to a prison sentence wholly disproportionate to his crimes.

"As a British national, Gary wishes to be tried by a British court and a British jury."