The US government turned down a personal appeal by former UK prime minister Gordon Brown to allow British hacker Gary McKinnon to serve any sentence he received in the UK, according to US diplomatic cables made public by WikiLeaks.
Brown made the plea in a personal meeting with US ambassador to London, Louis Susman, prompting what UK newspaper The Guardian calls a “humiliating diplomatic rebuff”.
McKinnon, who is accused of hacking into US government computers in 2001-2, was diagnosed in 2008 with Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism.
McKinnon has always maintained that he accessed the computer systems looking for evidence of UFOs.
Concerns have been raised over McKinnon’s welfare if he is extradited to the US to face charges – a move that the current deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg has claimed (opens in new tab) the government is “powerless” to resist.
If convicted, McKinnon faces the prospect of a 60-year jail term.
In a secret cable (opens in new tab) dating from August 2009 and published in The Guardian today, US ambassador Susman told Secretary of State Hillary Clinton:
"PM Brown, in a one-to-one meeting with the ambassador, proposed a deal: that McKinnon plead guilty, make a statement of contrition, but serve any sentence of incarceration in the UK. Brown cited deep public concern that McKinnon, with his medical condition, would commit suicide or suffer injury if imprisoned in a US facility."
An attempt by the ambassador to raise the issue with Obama's newly appointed attorney general, Eric Holder, met with flat refusal.
Other cables made public by WikiLeaks reveal US outrage at the time over the UK’s release of convicted Lockerbie bomber, Ali Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, to return to Libya.
Susman was prompted to raise McKinnon’s case again in October last year, when he warned Clinton before a UK visit that the hacker’s appeal had gained “enormous popular sympathy”. Susman said that case had “caused public criticism of the US-UK extradition treaty".
The US government has proved equally intransigent over the case with Brown’s successor, Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron.
Cameron has launched a review of the UK's controversial extradition treaty with the US (opens in new tab) under Lord Justice Scott Baker, and promises that the UK home secretary, Theresa May, will take a final decision whether or not to comply with US extradition demands.
McKinnon's mother, Janis Sharp, is due to testify at a hearing into the American demands at the parliamentary home affairs committee this morning.