Peter Howson's portrait of injustice for Scots hacker

ONE of Scotland's most celebrated artists has joined the campaign to stop a Scottish man who hacked into Nasa's computer system from being extradited to the United States.

Gary McKinnon, who suffers from Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism, faces up to 60 years in an American jail for accessing 97 US government computers in 2001 and 2002.

Now Peter Howson, who also suffers from Asperger's, has revealed a new painting and drawing of Mr McKinnon which he has created to highlight his plight.

The drawing, a portrait in profile of Mr McKinnon, shows flying saucers in the background. Howson also finished an oil painting of him on Christmas Eve.

Howson said: "Gary has the more anxiety-prone form of Asperger's, which I fear means he will not be able to survive life in an American prison.

"I have to be blunt: he will not be able to cope and will turn suicidal.

"He is not a terrorist, nor a threat to national security, but just a vulnerable Asperger's man whose complex mind caused him to make a mistake.

"Individuals like Gary should be protected by us and nurtured, not made a scapegoat for the sins of our police state society."

Howson, whose work sells for up to 100,000 and who counts Madonna and David Bowie among fans of his work, wants the painting and drawing to raise awareness of Mr McKinnon's plight.

"Asperger's is totally misunderstood," he added. "I have done work with a lot of prisoners and many of them have the condition. The worst thing for him would be to be caged. His mental state will deteriorate.

"The British government have been terrible in the way that they have dealt with this case."

Campaigners have launched an 11th-hour push to save Glasgow-born Mr Mc- Kinnon from extradition to America.

After a four-year fight to stop his extradition, his final chance to be tried in the UK hinges on the outcome of a judicial review, which is expected on 20 January.

Lawyers hope the discovery that another British hacker, who breached US systems at the same time as Mr McKinnon in 2001 but was tried in the UK, will help Mr McKinnon's appeal against extradition. The 42-year-old faces six charges in the US for hacking into government systems including computers belonging to the Pentagon and Nasa.

The US military has described Mr McKinnon as "the biggest military computer hacker of all time", but supporters claim he was merely looking for evidence of UFOs, an obsession of his.

High-level talks are continuing to save him from extradition as politicians and artists rally to his cause.

Michael Martin, a Glasgow MP and Speaker of the House of Commons, has told Mr McKinnon's father, Charlie, that he will seek a meeting with David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, on the matter.

Clare Short, the former international development secretary, has also pledged to ask Cabinet ministers to rethink their decision.

So far, dozens of Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat and SNP MPs have signed a motion calling for his extradition to be halted. Veteran politician Tony Benn is also backing the campaign.

Mr McKinnon has denied causing any damage to US systems. He accessed the systems via a dial-up modem in his north London flat.

It has also been argued that he exposed the vulnerabilities of the IT systems in the US in the months following the 11 September, 2001 attacks.

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