14 January 2010

Gary McKinnon and Iris Robinson

There's something that's been bothering me this week, and with the questions into Gary McKinnon's health now being raised, I have to air it now.

Gary has a recognised condition - Asperger's Syndrome. Public opinion recognises this (how fortunate we are that we live in a society that recognises mental illness and takes it into account) and the general view is one of revulsion that the Home Office should be happy to ship him to the US to stand trial for a crime that he didn't even commit on US soil, but in US cyberspace, if there is such a thing (though if there is, you can bet that the Pentagon networks are a part of it). You can hear the voice of the public:

This isn't right! Protect this man! What hell must he be going through? What torture must this be for his parents? How can you send him to the US, how can the Home Office make him suffer so?

And that's fair enough, particularly as one of the Home Secretary's predecessors, Jack Straw, was happy to let the mass murderer General Pinochet walk free without being called to account for his actions because he was looking a bit peaky. But it's not the UK Government's hypocrisy that I'm concerned with right now.

By contrast, Iris Robinson suffers from depression - a recognised mental illness. Now, I'm not seeking to defend the adultery, the yawning age chasm in her affair, the corruption or the hypocrisy - far from it. Though I do wish people would stop enjoying it - particularly the LGBT community. What she said about homosexuality was nothing short of despicable, but we do ourselves no favours by enjoying - and being seen to enjoy - the sight of her world crashing down around her. We have an opportunity to be the better people and to show the forgiveness, tolerance and compassion that her faith is supposed to teach (but she has hitherto disregarded), but instead, those voices of understanding and reason are replaced with mockery and Schadenfreude. Though in fairness, it goes beyond the LGBT community. For once, Northern Ireland politics has got people talking - the UK is titillated. And there's a nasty edge to this: there's a genuine contempt for her condition and the understanding and respect we have for Gary McKinnon's condition has not transferred into any consideration of what Iris Robinson (and indeed, Peter Robinson - I have a huge amount of sympathy for him, for reasons I will go on to explain). There's that voice of the public again:

What did she do? Make the bitch suffer! Depression? Who gives a shit?! Stick the boot in, twist the knife, pile it all on, give her Hell! Being treated? Well that must be bullshit, depression isn't a real illness, she'll be ski-ing! Attempted suicide? Aye right! Who'd miss her?

You ever have a time when you want to opt out of society altogether? Well, I'm having one now. Yes, Iris Robinson is a hypocrite, a cradle-snatcher, an adulterer, another snout in the trough. But Gary McKinnon is a computer hacker, and he did break US law on a US network (and as I said, surely the fact that he was on UK soil when he did it must muddy the legal waters somewhat?). Yes, Gary McKinnon's condition is such that he cannot endure the suffering that the state is presently putting him through. But Iris Robinson's condition is such that she surely cannot endure the situation that she is now in. We slag off Iris Robinson for hypocrisy, and then go on to be guilty of it ourselves. That's why I'm posing this point: those who support the release of Gary McKinnon should ask themselves how they feel about Iris Robinson, and why they feel that way.

So why am I, of all people, speaking in what could almost be termed a defence of the bigot Iris Robinson? As I mentioned before, it's because I have an understanding of what Peter must be going through. Not the Northern Ireland peace process or the row over concealed information, obviously, but I know what it's like to live with someone with depression - my father suffers from it as well. And believe me, when I say suffers, I mean it.

The sufferer is in their own personal hell. And despite not intending to, despite not wanting to, you're stuck with them. You have to ride with their moods, you don't know what mood their going to be in when you're going home and you're constantly walking on eggshells, almost paranoid that you may be doing or saying the wrong thing. You want to help them, to make them feel better, but you don't know how. And they say things that hurt you, but they don't realise they're doing it: on the one hand, you want to hit back; on the other, you know that it's not fair to do so, so you bite your lip. And you don't feel like you can get out - well, you could, but your conscience kicks in, and tells you that you can't leave someone in that position on their own. You don't know why you're tolerating the situation you're in, but you know that you can't forgive yourself if you do the only thing you can do to change it - walk away.

All in all you feel frustrated: frustrated at the situation, frustrated at yourself for not being able to make it right and for just putting up with things, frustrated at the world for neither realising nor caring what exactly is going on and frustrated at your loved one for putting you and keeping you in what seems like an impossible position. Then you realise that you're angry with someone for something that isn't their fault, and they didn't ask for. And that makes you feel even worse. But despite that, you can't show it to anyone - you have to keep a brave face on and try to convince the world that no matter what excruciating pain you might be going through (especially because you know it's just a fraction of what your loved one has to deal with), Everything is Absolutely Fine. Even when - no, especially when - it most definitely isn't. Trust me: trying to look after someone else's mental health doesn't do your own any favours.

This means Peter Robinson has to deal with the scandal enveloping his family, the many unanswered questions regarding his own conduct, the devolution of policing and justice powers to Northern Ireland, a DUP that despite the formal statements appears to be wondering if it's time to drop the pilot, a six-week time limit to tie up all the loose ends, and then at the beginning and end, the small matter of his wife, who he loves and has done so for so long, destroying herself and, unwittingly, everyone who cares about her while he can do nothing to make that situation better.

So I hope you'll excuse me, then, if I don't join in with the Please, Mrs Robinson singalong.

Gary McKinnon made a mistake, but the treatment that someone in full mental health might, with some support and inner strength just be able to withstand, is blatantly too much for him. We know this (even if the Home Office doesn't), and we're willing to defend him where he can't defend himself. We want to make things better for him.

Why do we want to make things worse for Iris Robinson?


Indygal said...

One of the best blogs I've ever read Will and I couldn't agree more. I've heard the Mrs Robinson song being sung with glee and I'm stunned that anyone could be so cruel. But then I've experienced similar to you so maybe you have to be there to understand it. Just because someone's depression is brought on by their own actions does not give us the right to stick the boot in. I thought your piece was written with real humanity and compassion Will.

Will said...

Thanks, Anne... I guess you're right, you have to actually have depression or have a friend/relative with depression to understand just what it does to you. I think what saddens me the most about the whole thing is that this is a chance for everyone to learn more about what it is and how it affects people, but any attempts to raise awareness have been brushed aside by people's wagging tongues...

Anonymous said...

Hi Will,

Really super post. In the light of it I hope I don't make myself sound like an utter c**t, but I suspect that the lady might just be a horrible person who happens to suffer from depression.

If so, I can certainly feel compassion for the depression sufferer in there, but feel nothing but contempt for the rest of it.

I also suspect that there might be a correlation between extreme religious views and a higher incidence of mental illness. If so, which comes first, the chicken or the egg?

Perhaps it is the latent Christian in me that pities such people rather than hate them, as from what little experience I have of contact with them, I think they are fundamentally unhappy people within themselves, their religion bringing them no joy, only hatred. Still that's not to excuse the damage they do.


Will said...

Actually, Rab, I don't think you sound like a c**t as you make a fair point - we tend to forget that people with any disability or illness, be it physical or mental, represent as broad a spectrum of personalities and characters as the rest of us. Accordingly, you can suffer from depression and be a bad person, and as I said, Iris Robinson's condition takes nothing away from the hypocrisy, the corruption and the adultery.

The point that I was most worried about was the double standards in wider society, between the people campaigning for Gary McKinnon's release on the grounds of his condition and the sort of dismissive sneer when people hear about the state Iris Robinson is in.

I suppose from where I'm looking at it, either the both of their conditions should be respected and the pair of them need and deserve to be given an easier time of it or the mental condition needs to be disregarded in both cases and they should both get the full force of the consequences of their actions. Needless to say, I'd prefer the first of those but the bottom line is we need to start being more consistent and less subjective in how we deal with mental illness.

There are times when it seems like people don't seem to get that depression is a very real illness and needs treating in that way, and as I said in response to Anne, we're missing an opportunity to understand that...

Allan said...

Um... because we now live in a society where we are "encouraged" to laugh and point when our "betters" or other "high profile" people fall off their perch - the red top tabloid's would rather fill their pages with this guff rather than any real news.

As for Gary McKinnon & Iris Robinson, they have both did bad things. But in the grand scheme of things, neither of their actions has deserved the reaction's. The US authorities have given their ususal heavy handed response to what Gary McKinnon did to their all singing all dancing defence systems.

The vitriol aimed at Iris Robinson is something else entirely, and has more in common with the hysterical, screeching coverage of certain "reality" shows in the media than in any sober reflection on why this happened.

Anonymous said...

Well written by a bigger man than me. I have to admit if I was one of the many people out there in a loving, caring, rewarding, fulfilling, faithful, monogamous, enduring same-sex relationship I'd bust my ass laughing at her and I'd pass no aplology for it. Fair play.

Ted Harvey said...

I just don't get this comparison between Gary McKinnon and Iris Robinson.

To criticise those of us who prefer to withhold our pity and sympathy for the Robinsons, pending some more facts and honesty, is akin to the Blair Government asserting that those of us who were against the Iraq invasion must have been in favour of leaving dictator Saddam in power.

Gary McKinnon is a sad, hapless, afflicted individual with, it seems, little early support beyond his own heroic mother. Iris Robinson was an wealthy, acquisitive, intolerant individual at the heart of an influential and powerful regional establishment.
No matter what alleged treatment Mrs Robinson is going through, and no matter what she is or is not found 'guilty' of - she does not face a long-term, possibly life, sentence.

You stated Will, "Iris Robinson is a hypocrite, a cradle-snatcher, an adulterer, another snout in the trough". She seems to have been caught with her snout in the trough (among other tawdry things).As one of the Northern Ireland Womens' Group leaders wondered 'do you get really ill when you are caught?'.

Peter Robinson has still far too many questions left unattended, for us to start expending pity (on a possibly entirely ill-informed basis). Leaving aside his own history, ff he is to avoid the present allegation of being an equally gross hypocrite, will he publicly distance himself from his wife's public promotion of homophobia. Maybe a little less demanding will he publicly make a clear and plain acknowledgment that his experience is a lesson in the need for humility and tolerance on the part of us all?
My understanding of his public life is that there are fair answers with regard to what he did or did not know about his wife's dealings - and anyway what kind of political couple are they whereby his wife (if I'm advised right) was at one and the same time an MP, Assembly Member and Councilor)? Might some people allege that there was more than one snout in the trough?
Please, a huge helping from the Robinsons of more facts, honesty and humility before we are impelled to forgive all and luxuriate in the wells of sympathy and pity.

Meantime I'll stick with how hubris and cant can often catch up with you, and hope that I never put myself in such a position.

Anonymous said...

having lived with someone for over 20 years who has been afflicted with severe depression I agree with every word you said, but if Iris Robinson is pressing the "depression" button as a convenient way to temporarily escape the public spotlight and avoid any punishment then she should be vilified not only for what she has done, but for shamefully using such a tragic illness as a convenient escape route.

Anonymous said...

Let’s turn this around on its head.

Imagine…. A man, has a “close” relationship with a widow.

When he finds out she is dying, he promises to look after her 9 year old daughter
After the widow passes away the older man does as he promised, so much so, that ten years later, (by which time he is 59 and the girl is 19), he is bedding the youngster who for the last 10 years has looked to him for support and comfort.
I think the word for this is grooming.

The man then solicits money from business friends to set up the young girl in business, and demands that she gives him a 10% kickback for himself.

The young girl then tries to end the liaison, but is harassed so much by the older man that she has to invent an imaginary cancer to get him to leave her alone.

Far from showing compassion that his young lover is ill, he demands all the money back, but, because one of the original lenders is dead, he decides to keep that portion of the money for himself .(Funneling it through a religious charity run by his sister-in-law)..

Now make the man a prominent politician, and that he hid the fact of the loans and that he acted on behalf of the men who loaned the money to push through planning permission for projects they were involved in.

Now tell me that, (as some people are saying), if the Iris Robinson scandal was perpetrated by a man there wouldn’t be so much fuss!!

Socrates said...

Computer vandal plays the Autism card (again) and wins two month reprieve

Put yer pants back on Bubba - I may be sometime

Stoned, Autistic hacker, Gary McKinnon has won yet another round in his battle against the United Kingdom Home Secretary's decision to ship him off to Virginia to face a Federal rap of being Stupid in Charge of a Computer.

Stupid in Charge of a Computer

McKinnon has been granted a Judicial Review that will consider whether extradition is a breach of his Human Rights in light of his recent diagnosis of Asperger's Syndrome.

McKinnon faces considerably less time in the US than his Mummy and most ardent supporter, Janis Sharp has claimed

"Should we really be extraditing our vulnerable adults and letting them serve 70 years abroad? He's absolutely petrified."

He faces being made to appear before a jury in a civilian court on charges that could see him spending as long as six months in an American low-security prison before being shipped back to Limeyland,

Six months in an American low-security prison

McKinnon and his Mummy have consistently claimed that he was pursuing a life-long obsessive interest in UFOs during his two year hacking spree that left investigators fearing they were under cyber-attack from Al-Qaeda in the weeks following the 9-11 attacks.

Cyber-attack from Al-Qaeda

McKinnon who's supporters claim he is so profoundly affected by his Asperger's Syndrome that not only was he unable to control his actions which lead to him hacking at least 97 times into American computer networks but somehow managed to remain undiagnosed until Cleetus told him he'd look real purdy in Orange.

"Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?
Caught in a landslide. No escape from reality"

In fact just 12 days after the attacks that left more than 3000 Americans dead, McKinnon, pursuing his belief that the Yanks had hidden extra-terrestrial beings in the computers at a Naval Munitions Yard, returned just to double check in the corners

Sunday 23, September, 2001 - a good day to tell the Yanks to go fuck 'emselves?

"the Indictment charges that on Sept. 23, 2001, McKinnon again broke into the NWS (Naval Weapons Station) Earle computer network by accessing the previously-installed RemotelyAnywhere software and using the stolen passwords.

McKinnon again broke into the NWS Earle

During this intrusion into the network, McKinnon allegedly caused approximately $290,431 in damage to NWS Earle by deleting computer files needed to power up some of the computers on the network, deleting computer logs that documented his intrusion into the network, and compromising the security of the network by leaving it vulnerable to him and other intruders via the RemotelyAnywhere software."

It was more than a month before this network was fully functional again. Sometime later he left his now infamous message

"US foreign policy is akin to government-sponsored terrorism these days.
It was not a mistake that there was a huge security stand-down
on September 11 last year.
I am SOLO - I will continue to disrupt at the highest levels"

Socrates said...

I am SOLO - I will continue to disrupt at the highest levels

McKinnon targeted mainly military networks

McKinnon targeted mainly military networks in his search for alien life and the source of Free Energy that was being willfully withheld by the US to keep the oil price high.

McKinnon hacked Bethlehem Public Library

It's interesting to note that there were a few unlikely places that McKinnon hacked during his Quest, which included Bethlehem Public Library, and Frontline Solutions, who claim to be

"a leading provider of integrated point-of-sale, scheduling and ticketing software."

Clearly nothing more than a CIA front for a Captured Alien Holding Facility

For those of us facing a daily deluge of Gary's Mum's Tweets pleading for mercy for her son ahead of the (entirely fictional) 60 year sentence he faces, and widespread support for McKinnon in the normally implacably anti-unemployed-stoned-vandal Right-wing newspapers, it's salutary to read the original indictments which we have included below.

Salutary to read the original indictment

They reveal a very different picture from the "bumbling computer nerd" driven an Autistic obsession over which he had no control.


Gary McKinnon has already admitted committing serious crimes against the US military in the days after the worst terrorist atrocity of modern times.

Admitted committing serious crimes

When faced with the consequences of his actions he has sought to avoid them using his diagnosis of Asperger's Syndrome as a shield.

To avoid them using his diagnosis

In doing so McKinnon and his supporters slander and denigrate the millions of Autistic people worldwide, who somehow despite the difficulties caused by this condition, manage to refrain from dancing on the fresh graves of terrorist victims.

Kinnon and his supporters slander and denigrate

It is little surprise that the normally vocal Autism advocacy community in the USA are silent. Gary and his supporters need to put away their King Sized Rizla, say bye-bye to their pop-star friends and rejoin the real world.

Support for McKinnon is not universal - A twitter avatar

Need to put away their King Sized Rizla

The only moral way to support McKinnon is to lobby for the appropriate accommodations for his Autistic disabilities during his trial and brief imprisonment in the USA.

McKinnon should be extradited

With these in place, McKinnon should be extradited, stand trial and face the penalty for his crimes. McKinnon needs grow up and Take it like a man.

Take it like a man

Howard Schmidt, former vice-chairman of the US' Critical Infrastructure Protection Board commented

"I don't buy 'I was looking for hidden spaceships'. That doesn't wash for me...

A dark day for both Justice and Autistics.

UPDATE: McKinnon is unlikely to extradited at all.

The General Election in the UK which must be held before June, will almost certainly mean the sack for the current Home Secretary.

His replacement is likely to be from the Conservative party. A senior source has told the New Republic that a Tory Home Secretary will refuse to sign the Order for his extradition.

This is a dark day for both Justice and Autistics.

Will said...

Fair point, Allan, I suppose the media's obsession with the self-destruction of prominent people will always have a role to play.

Anon (1) - it's tempting isn't it? But we don't show her and her attitude to be wrong if we display the same sort of hate and vitriol that she showed us. Like I said, the "you said nasty things so I'm going to laugh at your illness" attitude is self-defeating, so it's a case of stepping back, swallowing our pride and showing a lot more Christianity than she's ever shown.

Ted, I don't condone any of the Robinsons' actions in any of this, but a point I would make is that with Iris Robinson's medical records not made public, it's not clear when and how the depression first manifested itself and when it was first diagnosed. Accordingly, we can't make an "Oh, funny, that..." statement. And the whole point of linking McKinnon and Robinson was to flag up that here are two established mental and psychological conditions and a massive gulf in the way we deal with them - to be perfectly blunt I find absolutely horrifying the very idea that despite it being right to shield one person from the consequences of his actions because of his autism, we should drag someone else over the coals despite her depression. That general attitude is one of the most ghastly examples of hypocrisy I've ever seen - as it basically involves constructing a hierarchy of differing conditions and you'll forgive me for wanting nothing whatever to do with it.

Anon (2), if she is using it as an escape route then I absolutely agree. But we don't know that, so despite the fact that I'm not a Christian I'm going to stick by the "judge not, lest ye be judged" rule that, frankly, she would have done well to follow.

Anon (3) - that's an interesting point, but some way off topic, especially as you're the first person on here to bring gender into this...

Socrates - again, we're getting some way away from the basic point, but your points on McKinnon are a decent echo of how Iris Robinson is being treated. What I would say, however, is that if we can prevent General Pinochet from being extradited on health grounds (and Jack Straw did), then Alan Johnson can prevent Gary McKinnon from being extradited on health grounds. And if we're cutting him some slack because of his mental health, we should cut Iris Robinson some slack because of hers (and there's a point, General Pinochet wasn't seemingly all that close to death's door when he was running a bloodthirsty regime in Chile, so even if Iris Robinson's depression is a new development, the Pinochet/al-Megrahi Precedent kicks in).

Socrates said...

Ah, I'd forgotten about the General Pinochet thing...

In an almost unprecedented move, I'm concede the point gracefully...

Will said...

Well, as I say, the aim of my post wasn't to slate (or defend) Gary McKinnon (or, for that matter, General Pinochet), but to voice my exasperation at the differing ways we've dealt with McKinnon and Robinson. A little consistency, and I'll be a happy man...

Ted Harvey said...

Will, maybe a couple of last comments for now on this then. If, as IMO Peter Robinson did, some adroit and unnecessarily publicly dramatic use is made of generalised comments to his wife’s health, but meantime several relevant issues are left unaddressed, and if no other information on the medical circumstances are forthcoming… if we take all that together, it is not just inevitable, but perfectly legitimate for members of the electorate to make (what you describe as) a "Oh, funny, that..." statement. Another way of putting it is that the statement could be a ‘we’re not that ******* stupid you know’ statement.

On the play about hypocrisy; it is only hypocrisy when one and the same person, or a distinct group of persons are demanding different standards of treatment for both the McKinnon and Robinson individuals. I have heard no-one demanding this – indeed I said at the outset that I just don’t get the linking of these two cases, and beyond reading about it here, I have heard of no one else linking them.

There again Will I suppose that just proves how unique and interesting this blog is 

For me this is still a yawning gap between the troubles of these two individuals and the situations they are surrounded by – as for their similar or otherwise illnesses you could as well argue that we do know enough (on the Robinson side) to make any statements about hypocrisy or equitable treatment in the public domain (whether statements of the 'oh funny that...' sort or otherwise).

Anonymous said...

My sympathies go out to both Gary and Iris here. However, I have one objection Asperger's is not a mental health problem, it's a personality difference.

If you were told that you would have a 1 in 8 chance of employment regardless of educational level on the basis of socalled "strong personality skills", that you would be bullied troughout your childhood, that you would lack access to educational rights, and suffer the prejudice of idiots who call you narcissists or the freak chemical biproduct of a MRI jab ... then you would probably see why people with Asperger's develop mental illness problems as a result of the conditions.

Until fairly recently but for the same reasons, homosexuality was seen as a mental illness.