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Autistic hacker tests penal pests

Humanity goes on the scales of justice before the punishment
Mon Jan 19 2009, 21:33

GARY MCKINNON should not suffer a prison sentence for hacking US military computer systems, a medical expert has told the UK's public prosecutor.

The UK high court will tomorrow (Tuesday) hear an oral application for a judicial review of Gary's case, which may be his last opportunity to fight off a US order to have him extradited and tried as a terrorist.

His written application for a judicial review was rejected in October. But Gary's legal team has been pulling last-ditch legal moves like rabbits from a hat. The medical evidence caused the Crown Prosecution Service to agree last Thursday to spend four weeks reconsidering the extradition order it agreed with the US in 2002, and instead try Gary in the UK.

The medical evidence, describing Gary's Aspergers' Syndrome, has also made a mockery of US prosecutors' assertions that Gary is a terrorist. It demonstrates that he is rather, rather harmless. And more, that he is a vulnerable person who needs help.

Gary's Aspergic condition made honesty and an acute sense of justice one of his predominant personality traits, said medical assessments submitted to the CPS by his legal team. Obsession was another Aspergic trait. It was a combination of all these that led him to hack into poorly secured US military computer systems in search of evidence (based on the published testimony of US military personnel) that it had captured and suppressed for its own selfish gain UFO technology that could be used to benefit the whole of humanity.

"He believes that what he was doing was right because he believes he was trying to uncover truth and he believes that the pursuit of truth was the right thing to do," said the testimony of Simon Baron-Cohen, renowned Cambridge University autism expert.

"In my view his motivation was unrelated to any terrorist agenda, nor did he have any wish to cause harm, damage, or loss to the US as a nation or any individual," his testimony read.

The medical experts did not attempt to argue that Gary should not be brought to justice for his hacking crime. They said rather that his condition made it imperative that he was tried in the UK and that the justice system treat him as the vulnerable adult that he is.

"There are questions about whether he should be in prison at all because someone with Asperger's will find it very difficult to tolerate a prison environment," said Baron-Cohen. "We should be thinking about this as the activity of someone with a disability."

People with Asperger's Syndrome can find everyday social situations stressful because they have trouble with the "reciprocal social relationships and social communication" that other people find natural, said Dr Thomas Berney in the August 2008 report that diagnosed Gary with Autism.

This trait, along with what Berney called unusually focal, circumscribed and repetitive behaviour, can make someone like Gary a target for bullies. Hence, Berney's diagnosis explained, if Gary was denied the opportunity to "withdraw from complex environments" and reside somewhere "more autism friendly" he would be likely to suffer a drastic deterioration of his mental health.

"He is likely to develop a pathological anxiety state and, given the presence of the developmental disorder, he will be prone to develop an acute psychotic disorder," he said.

Baron-Cohen concurred that US incarceration, either pre- or post-trial, would cause a "serious deterioration" of Gary's mental health: "If separated from parents and partner and put into the traumatic environment of prison, there is a risk that he would attempt to take his own life," he said.

There was a third and possibly wider implication of the medical evidence the CPS is considering, one that might have liberating consequences for people with Asperger's who have found themselves unwittingly on the wrong side of the law. That is, while Aspergics can be of above normal intelligence, their social age makes them vulnerable. This, said Baron-Cohen, should effect the way they are handled by the justice system.

"In terms of criminal responsibility, it might be more appropriate that he be judged as having the mind of a child who inadvertently breaks a rule doing what he thinks is for the greater good but which is in fact the result of poor social judgement, unaware of how his behaviour will be viewed by others," said Baron-Cohen's testimony.

Unfortunately, society in general has yet to recognise Aspergics, let alone the legal system judge them appropriately. In a statement by the National Autistic Society last week, its chairman Mark Lever said its research had found 63 per cent of people with Asperger's were not getting enough support. 59 per cent didn't even get a diagnosis until they reached adulthood. Such diagnoses are often made only after an Aspergic has already suffered a deterioration of their mental health because of their inability to cope with the complex social environments that most people are expected to operate in.

The result in Gary's case is a painfully ironic form of justice: someone clinically obsessed with truth and justice is hounded by a US administration and forsaken by a British government which together peddled lies and distorted justice in order to wage war. The protest slogan that Gary left on the US military's computer systems ("US foreign policy is akin to government-sponsored terrorism") stands as one of the first great acts of electronic graffiti. And McKinnon, despite being mostly harmless and fairly vulnerable, stands also as a very modern sort of hero. µ


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