LONDON — In a case that has dogged Anglo-American relations for a decade, Britain said Tuesday that it would not send a confessed computer hacker to the United States to face charges relating to a spectacular break-in of Pentagon databases and other sensitive networks around the time of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Home Secretary Theresa May also said that the British government, Washington's closest ally, would re-examine its controversial fast-track extradition treaty with the United States to see how some suspects might be kept in Britain for trial rather than shipped across the Atlantic.
Speaking in Parliament, May told lawmakers that 46-year-old Gary McKinnon would not be extradited to the United States because of his mental health problems, which include suicidal thoughts and Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism. Handing McKinnon over for prosecution would breach his human rights, even though he stands accused of "serious crimes," May said.
The politically fraught decision is likely to rouse the ire of U.S. officials, who have sought for years to get McKinnon onto American soil. They say that his hacking of nearly 100 U.S. military computers, which he admits to, caused hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage and sparked a disruptive network crash soon after the Sept. 11 attacks.
McKinnon maintains that he broke into the computers to look for secret government evidence about UFOs and extraterrestrial life.
His case has become something of a cause celebre in Britain, where many see him as a misguided, eccentric but ultimately harmless computer nerd up against a prosecution-happy American judicial system. Members of Parliament, civil liberties campaigners, lawyers and other activists have championed his cause.
"It was an incredibly brave decision" not to hand McKinnon over to the United States, said his mother, Janis Sharp, who has led the fight against his extradition. "To stand up to another nation as strong and powerful as America is rare."