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Friday, November 27, 2009 

Gary McKinnon and the special relationship.

Remember the Natwest Three? Back when bankers weren't public enemy one and were instead public enemy number two, three men who subsequently pleaded guilty to wire fraud put up a quite extraordinary if ultimately unsuccessful fight against extradition to the United States to face the charges. Initially portrayed as bankers mostly are now, they quickly, with the help of a couple of PR firms, became innocent family men, concerned not just for themselves but others at the unfairness of an extradition treaty which the US itself had not then ratified, at the potential treatment they faced at the hands of a foreign and brutal judicial and prison system, and at the impact it could have on the "business community" as a whole.

Once they were extradited, it predictably turned out that they were both guilty as hell and treated with fairness and relatively leniency, thanks to a plea bargain they agreed to. In fact, they're already back here, in good ol' cushy UK prisons and likely to be released at the end of the year. In all likelihood, if Gary McKinnon is eventually extradited to the US, he will probably be treated in much the same way, especially if he then "cooperates" on arrival in a similar fashion.

He shouldn't though have to take the chance. The key differences between the Natwest Three case are that firstly, McKinnon's crime directly involves the American state, which in time-honoured tradition seems determined to make him suffer for humiliating them by exposing their laughable computer security, secondly that the crime is nowhere near as serious, or shouldn't be as serious as the wire fraud committed by the Three, and thirdly that McKinnon, supposedly "hacking" to find information of a conspiracy to conceal evidence of extraterrestrials, has Asperger's syndrome. Also of note is that the American prosecutors deliberately waited until the extradition treaty had been ratified to make the request for him to be sent to the country for trial.

Quite clearly, McKinnon could easily have been tried in this country and put this all behind him long ago. That the government hasn't ensured that this has happened is, on one level, bewildering. New Labour has always loved populism, and to deny the extradition of McKinnon would certainly be popular, especially when the Daily Mail has launched one of its few worthwhile campaigns demanding just that. The key factor here though is that it involves America: we scratch their back repeatedly and very, very occasionally, they scratch ours in return, as when Hillary Clinton backed up the government case that revealing information related to the treatment of Binyam Mohamed could affect the intelligence sharing between the two nations. Because of the infatuation that both main parties have with the idea of the "special relationship", a relationship special only in the terms of how abusive and one-sided it is, we continue to act as little more than the 51st state, something that delights politicians on both sides of the Atlantic. They get a helpful little ally, our politicians get to feel big on the world stage. As for small things like justice, they pale into insignificance by comparison.

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