Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer called the United Kingdom’s last-minute decision to deny extradition of a man charged with breaking into U.S. military networks disappointing and unexpected.
Last week, U.K. Home Secretary Theresa May, a member of the conservative Tory party, announced she would not approve Gary McKinnon’s extradition, saying it would be a violation of his human rights because he might commit suicide. McKinnon, who has Asperger’s syndrome, was arrested more than a decade ago on charges he hacked into computers at NASA and the Pentagon. McKinnon has said he was looking for evidence of UFOs. McKinnon’s mother waged a high-profile campaign to convince authorities not to send her son to stand trial in the U.S.
“We are very disappointed by the decision,” Breuer told the Financial Times. “We value our alliance with the U.K. but we do not think this decision is how allies act in the matter of such importance.”
The tug-of-war between the U.S. and Britain over McKinnon has gotten a lot of press in London. The conservative Telegraph newspaper ran an opinion piece this week titled, “We keep Gary McKinnon but lose the trust of the Americans.” Another recent headline in the Telegraph read: “Gary McKinnon: Eric Holder formally complains to UK and refuses to take Theresa May’s calls.” (A Justice Department spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment about Holder’s communications with the U.K. Home Secretary.)
Breuer said the department had made several attempts to accommodate Britain in the matter. The Criminal Division chief was in London on Tuesday to speak at a legal conference on anti-corruption compliance. “If someone had disabled something this critical in the U.K., the U.K .would expect us to extradite the person here,” he told the Financial Times.
Breuer added that the Justice Department would help U.K. authorities if they decide to open their own case against McKinnon. However, the Department of Defense would have to give permission for classified or confidential information to be shared.
Despite the setback for the Justice Department, Breuer said it won’t affect U.S. decisions on extraditions to the UK. ”Extraditions are unbelievably important,” he said. “It’s not going to do anybody any favors to refuse extradition.”