Alleged NASA hacker to hear fate next month

British man's legal fight continues to avoid extradition to the U.S. to face hacking charges and possible imprisonment at Guantanamo Bay.

LONDON--A British former systems administrator who faces extradition to the U.S. if convicted of hacking American military computers will learn his fate next month.

Gary McKinnon appeared in court in London on Wednesday, in the latest stage in a protracted legal process. His defense has argued that he should not be extradited, as he could be tried under the tough antiterrorism laws in the U.S., sent to Guantanamo Bay and imprisoned for up to 60 years.

On Wednesday, the prosecution produced an unsigned note from the U.S. Embassy, which they claimed was a guarantee that McKinnon would not be tried under Military Order No. 1, which allows suspected terrorists to be tried under military law.

However, the defense argued that the note was not signed and therefore not binding. The defense called Clive Stafford-Smith, a U.S. lawyer who has defended Guantanamo Bay inmates, as a witness. Stafford-Smith argued that the note would not prevent McKinnon from being treated as a terrorist.

"(U.S. President Bush) has a very strong view that he has legislative authority that is not trammeled by the legislature," Stafford-Smith said.

McKinnon also indicated that he wasn't convinced that the unsigned note would protect him. "It's not worth the paper it's written on," he said outside the court.

The case was adjourned until May 10, when a final decision will be made on whether McKinnon can be extradited.

McKinnon is charged with illegally accessing 97 U.S. government computers, run by NASA and the U.S. military, and causing $700,000 worth of damage over a 12-month period starting in February 2001.

McKinnon, from North London, has admitted that he accessed some U.S. military computers, but has denied causing serious damage. The UFO enthusiast has claimed that he was searching through government systems for evidence of extraterrestrial life.

Tom Espiner of ZDNet UK reported from London.

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