Gary McKinnon believes in little green men – but it doesn't make him a terrorist
Way to go, Mr President. I think we can all agree that it has been a cracking first week. Apart from the swearing-in glitch – which was entirely the fault of that judge – I have supported just about everything that Barack Obama has done. I liked the speech, and the promise that America is ready to lead again. It is good news that he is getting rid of Guantanamo and water-boarding and extraordinary rendition, all the dread apparatus of the Bush regime. But before we all get too misty-eyed about the new era, and before Barack devotes himself entirely to the meltdown of the banks, there is one more thing in his diplomatic in-tray. There is one last piece of neocon lunacy that needs to be addressed, and Mr Obama could sort it out at the stroke of a pen.
In a legal nightmare that has lasted seven years, and cost untold millions to taxpayers both here and in America, the US Justice Department is persisting in its demented quest to extradite 43-year-old Londoner, Gary McKinnon. To listen to the ravings of the US military, you would think that Mr McKinnon is a threat to national security on a par with Osama bin Laden. According to the Americans, this mild-mannered computer programmer has done more damage to their war-fighting capabilities than all the orange-pyjama-clad suspects of Guantanamo combined. And how? He is a hacker. He hacked into the Pentagon, he hacked into the army, the navy, and the air force, and the Americans say he temporarily paralysed US Naval Weapons station Earle, by deleting some files. In their continuing rage at this electronic lèse-majesté, the Americans want us to send him over there to face trial, and the possibility of a 70-year jail sentence. It is a comment on American bullying and British spinelessness that this farce is continuing, because Gary McKinnon is not and never has been any kind of threat to American security. He had only one reason for fossicking around in the databanks of Pentagon computers, and it had nothing to do with the war on terror or indeed the military capabilities of any country on earth. Mr McKinnon believes in UFOs, and he is one of the large number of people who think that there is a gigantic conspiracy to conceal their existence from the rest of us, and that this conspiracy is organised by the US government. I am not so brave as to claim that UFOs do not exist. The Astronomer Royal, Sir Martin Rees, has said he believes in life forms on other planets, and no decent empiricist could rule out the possibility. It may be that the former footballer and BBC presenter David Icke is right, and that the world is run by giant lizards in disguise. Perhaps Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling are themselves supersized saurians who have been sent on a 10-year mission to wreck the UK economy, in preparation for the great lizard takeover. Maybe the whole plot will climax in Davos this week, when all 2,500 leading economic and political lizards will meet in the Swiss alps – having done untold damage to global finances – and hail the arrival of the lizard mother ship as it perches on the mountain top. All this is certainly theoretically possible, just as it is possible that there really was an accident involving an alien spacecraft at Roswell, and that there really is an extra large teapot in orbit around Mars. It is just that I happen to think it vanishingly unlikely, and we have a word for people who persist in believing in alien abduction. They are cranks, and they do not deserve to be persecuted. They do not deserve to be arrested, and have their lives ruined by the agonising delays of the law, unable to work, a drain on the resources of the state and of their families. Gary McKinnon wasn't even a proper hacker. He did something called "blank password scanning", and because these military computers were so dumb as to lack proper passwords, he was able to roam around their intestines in search of evidence of little green men. He was so innocent and un-furtive in his investigations that he left his own email address, and messages such as "Your security is crap". And yes, since you ask, he does think that he found evidence that the US military is infiltrated by beings from the planet Tharg. He even knows the names and ranks of various non-terrestrial officers, though unfortunately they have been deleted from his hard drive. It is brutal, mad and wrong even to consider sending this man to America for trial. He has been diagnosed as having Asperger's syndrome, for heaven's sake. How can the British government be so protoplasmic, so pathetic, so heedless of the well-being of its own people, as to sign the warrant for his extradition? What kind of priorities do we have these days? We treat a harmless UFO-believer as an international terrorist, and are willing to send him to prison in America, and as for real terrorists – people who bombed and maimed innocent civilians in this country – we seem willing to give their families £12,000 each, on the grounds that they are all "victims" of the troubles in Northern Ireland. The British government is obviously too feeble to help Mr McKinnon, and even though the courts last week granted him another review, it is plain that the matter will simply drag preposterously and expensively on. It is time for Barack Obama to show the new leadership the world has been crying out for. It is time for the Commander-in-Chief to tell the US military to stop being so utterly wet, dry their eyes, and invest in some passwords that are slightly more difficult to crack. In the words of the spiritual with which he began his inauguration ceremony, it is time for the new President to let our people go. To persist with this extradition is so cruel and so irrational that the only plausible explanation is that beneath their suits the US Justice Department and the UK Home Office are occupied by a conspiracy of great green gibbering geckos from outer space.