By Peter Hobson
LONDON (Reuters) – A London court on Friday approved the extradition of an autistic British man to the United States to face trial for hacking high-security state computers, despite warnings he might kill himself if sent to a U.S. jail.
Lauri Love, 31, who has Asperger’s syndrome, is accused of involvement in a series of hacks in 2012 and 2013 into computers at agencies including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the U.S. army, the Missile Defense Agency and the Federal Reserve.
He faces a lifetime in prison in the United States if found guilty, a fate which he has said could lead him to taking his own life.
“If you’re here for justice, you missed it,” he said quietly as he emerged from the defendants’ box in court after the verdict was announced.
U.S. authorities say Love was connected to Anonymous, an international group of hackers, and argued his actions had caused millions of dollars’ worth of damage.
“I accept Mr Love suffers from both physical and mental health issues but I have found the medical facilities in the United States prison estate … are such that I can be satisfied his needs will be comprehensively met by the U.S. authorities,” judge Nina Tempia said in her ruling.
Love’s U.S. lawyer Tor Ekeland said the U.S. penal system would “crush” his client who suffers episodes of depression and psychosis.
“They want to destroy him because they want to use him as an example,” Ekeland told Reuters.
The judge’s decision must be agreed by Britain’s Home Secretary (interior minister) and Love’s lawyers said they would launch an appeal if it was ratified.
Love, wearing a tartan flat cap and with a purple sash for a belt for the hearing at Westminster Magistrates’ Court, twisted his hands with nerves before the ruling. His face and neck were red with sores from eczema as he embraced supporters.
He said he would defer processing the ruling until he was in a “safe environment”. He left the court on bail. His father Alexander, a prison chaplain, said the law applied to his son was flawed.
“It is not fair or just that a boy who’s got mental health issues can be taken away from his family who are his support network merely to satisfy the desire of the Americans to exact what I feel is vengeance,” he said.
Love’s legal team had argued he should face any charges in Britain, pointing to new rules that make it easier for British courts to try people for crimes committed there but involving other countries.
Those rules were introduced in 2012 after the extradition to the United States of Scottish hacker Gary McKinnon was blocked by then-Home Secretary Theresa May, who is now Prime Minister.
McKinnon, who also had Asperger’s, said he broke into U.S. state computers while on a “moral crusade” to find classified documents about UFOs. May said he was seriously ill and extradition would violate his human rights.
(Editing by Andrew Heavens)