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Veteran NASA hacker catcher says lay off Gary

Don't go ballistic on the autistic
Thu Jan 22 2009, 07:59

BRITISH AUTHORITIES should not allow Pentagon Hacker Gary McKinnon to be extradited to the US unless they want him to suffer inhumane treatment, a retired agent who investigated hackers for the mysterious NASA Office of Inspector General writes in THE INQUIRER today.

Joseph Richard Gutheinz, Jr., now a practising defence lawyer and tutor, retired from NASA with commendations for his OIG work exposing $200 million of frauds, leading a Federal task force of nine agencies, catching astronaut impersonator Jerry Whittredge, and rooting out smugglers of multi-million dollar rocks collected from the moon.

He's spent years bagging criminals, is a member of the Republican National Lawyers Association, and told the INQ that if malicious hackers got access to US NASA and military secrets, it could "undermine the free world".

Yet he thinks Gary McKinnon should not be extradited to face hacking charges in the US.

Here's why:

I am retired NASA Office of Inspector General Senior Special Agent. I have seen the harm that illegal hacking has caused. I was even trained by the United States Government to hack into computers to understand the psyche and techniques used by hackers.

After retiring from NASA, I started practising criminal law and found that the American judicial system turns a blind eye towards the needs of the mentally ill. America is a great country and I am a proud American, but it is a country tied to many archaic legal principles.

Until just recently America executed mentally retarded offenders and still jails schizophrenics and other seriously mentally impaired defendants with little compassion. It is a country which fights drug addiction with long prison terms for the addicted. Individuals become judges on a record of zero tolerance where compassion has little value or is viewed as a negative.

If I were the prosecutor on Gary McKinnon's case, I would say keep him in England: you can have him fly him over here, he'll plea out, and we'll put him probation in England for a number of years with conditions. That is the compassionate thing to do, and that is what I haven't seen the American government offer. And that is where I think they are wrong.

I tell my students that laws exist to be followed and when the law is ignored, anarchy follows. I am known as a conservative on law and order issues, but I also believe in justice. I worry that Gary McKinnon might not find any justice in America.

For two years I fought to keep a young boy out of juvenile prison or a psychiatric ward, a boy who like Gary McKinnon has Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism. He went through hell in the legal system. There was no compassion, no understanding. They just wanted to lock the kid away. It was a heart-breaking case.

Predicated on that experience I was grateful when Texas Governor Rick Perry appointed me to the Texas Criminal Justice Advisory Committee on Medical and Mental Impairments, but once there I saw the same lack of concern by law enforcement and the judiciary towards the mentally ill that I saw as a defense attorney.

Gary McKinnon's is a case that demands that we use a little bit of compassion. What are you going to accomplish by extraditing him back to the United States and punishing him and putting him in prison? Are you sending a message out that if you've got a mental illness you better watch it? I do believe in what his mother says - separating him from her and his environment is going to be detrimental to his well being.

I hope a deal can be reached with American prosecutors that will offer Gary treatment rather than jail or prison, and permit him to remain in England around surroundings and people that will nurture him, and to this end I ask America to halt its efforts to extradite Gary and in the alternative work out a compromise that will protect its national security and enhance Gary’s well being.

If the guy didn't have autism, I'd say he's made his bed and he's got so sleep in it. My opinion would be different if Gary was a physical threat to others or a continuing threat to American national security, but neither appears to be the case.

If America is unwilling to strike a compassionate plea bargain with Gary’s defense attorneys I believe England must take steps to protect its citizen. In the case of Gary McKinnon, I have come to the conclusion that England should not extradite this man to America to face the prospect of injustice masked as justice.

Joseph Richard Gutheinz, Jr., J.D.

Attorney at Law

Retired NASA OIG Senior Special Agent

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