Citing the defendant’s own mental and physical illnesses and the “oppressive” and “unconscionable” prison conditions in the United States, the UK High Court of Justice issued a ruling on Monday blocking the extradition of a Briton who allegedly stole data from US government and business websites.
Computer scientist and political activist Lauri Love, from Stradishall, stands accused of committing “a series of cyber-attacks on the computer networks of private companies and United States government agencies,” including the Federal Reserve, Defense Department, NASA, FBI and others. The 33-year-old allegedly stole large amounts of data during the hacking spree, which took place in 2012-2013. Love’s lawyers believe he could face up to a century behind bars if convicted in the US.
Last November, UK Home Secretary Amber Rudd signed an order for Love’s extradition to the US after the defendant lost a legal challenge against the transfer. However, the new high court ruling cited Love’s Asperger Syndrome, stress-exacerbated eczema and severe depression — he has been deemed a high suicide risk — in finding that the defendant would face “oppressive” detention conditions in the US. The ruling states that:
Mr. Love’s mental condition is such that it removes his capacity to resist the impulse to commit suicide. There will be a high risk he will commit suicide if extradited. This will be prior to removal, in transit and on arrival in the United States.
The high court guardedly accepted assurances from the United States Marshals Service, which would be responsible for extraditing Love, that sufficient safeguards were in place to ensure the defendant would not kill himself during transfer. However, the court cited severe shortcomings in treatment of inmates suffering from Asperger Syndrome and other mental health conditions, finding that:
There was a real risk that the BOP’s [Federal Bureau of Prison’s] suicide prevention program would not be adequate to prevent suicide by someone with Mr. Love’s intellect and who had declared his suicidal intent as clearly as had Mr. Love, and if suicide were prevented, the means of doing so would exacerbate his mental illnesses.
The ruling states that Love’s Asperger Syndrome “would make him extremely vulnerable in prison because he could not read cues in social behavior, or understand other people’s behavior or expectations, or conform to social norms.” This could result in the defendant being jailed in protective solitary confinement, which mental health professionals as well as former prisoners who have experienced it have called a form of torture.
The court expressed great concern over conditions at two of the federal prisons in which Love would likely be jailed, Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) and Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC), both in New York City. Citing an alarming shortage of mental health professionals and services — especially those qualified to treat Asperger Syndrome, the ruling noted that “delivery of care frequently fails to meet BOP’s aspirations.”
The ruling cited a federal magistrate who detailed “unconscionable” prison conditions for women jailed at MDC, including “absence of sunlight, fresh air, air conditioning in the heat [and] outdoor exercise,” as well as “very poor food and medical treatment.”
“Some of these conditions wouldn’t surprise me if we were dealing with a prison in Turkey or a Third World country,” Brooklyn Magistrate Judge Cheryl Pollak said in explaining her October 2016 decision to not send female prisoners to MDC. “It’s hard for me to believe it’s going on in a federal prison.”
“There is no reason, in our view, to suppose that the conditions attributable to the state of the building are better on the men’s floors or that men would be better treated,” the UK ruling states. It added that:
Oppression as a bar to extradition requires a high threshold, not readily surmounted. But we are satisfied, in the particular combination of circumstances here, that it would be oppressive to extradite Mr. Love.
“We come to the conclusion that Mr Love’s extradition would be oppressive by reason of his physical and mental condition,” the court concluded, adding that it would not be oppressive to try the defendant in a British court. Imprisonment in the UK “would be significantly different for Mr. Love from what he would face in the United States,” the court noted, citing family support and more humane conditions as significant factors that could help prevent his suicide.
This isn’t the first time Britain has blocked the extradition of a defendant to the United States on human rights grounds. In 2012, then-home secretary and current prime minister Theresa May refused to extradite another accused British hacker, Gary McKinnon — who also suffers from Asperger Syndrome — to the US.