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No Pardon For Turing 728

Posted by samzenpus
from the do-the-crime-do-the-time dept.
mikejuk writes "A petition signed by over 21,000 people asked the UK Government to grant a pardon to Alan Turing. That request has now been declined. A statement in the House of Lords explained the reasoning: 'A posthumous pardon was not considered appropriate as Alan Turing was properly convicted of what at the time was a criminal offence. He would have known that his offence was against the law and that he would be prosecuted. It is tragic that Alan Turing was convicted of an offence which now seems both cruel and absurd-particularly poignant given his outstanding contribution to the war effort. However, the law at the time required a prosecution and, as such, long-standing policy has been to accept that such convictions took place and, rather than trying to alter the historical context and to put right what cannot be put right, ensure instead that we never again return to those times.'"
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No Pardon For Turing

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  • I have to agree (Score:5, Interesting)

    by nahdude812 (88157) * on Monday February 06, 2012 @09:52AM (#38941031) Homepage

    Alan Turing was outright persecuted for failing to conform to society's norm. The government owes Turing's family and the rest of the country, even the rest of the world an enormous apology.

    But granting a posthumous pardon does not change the past. We were still robbed of one of history's brightest and greatest minds because of homophobia. I agree with their reasoning, granting the pardon ignores and whitewashes the past. We should remember and tremble at what intolerance and hatred produces, not pat ourselves on the back for being more forward-thinking than our predecessors since as a society I don't think we've actually changed. Sure, it's no longer as popular to hate on homosexual people as it was in the past, but we have all new forms of hatred and intolerance which our modern society deems acceptable, and which will be just as subject to the next generation's ridicule and derision.

  • Re:It's not a choice (Score:5, Interesting)

    by snarkh (118018) on Monday February 06, 2012 @09:54AM (#38941053)

    Why only him? Many people were prosecuted along the same lines. I actually think it would be unfair to single him out in that respect.

  • Re:I have to agree (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Scutter (18425) on Monday February 06, 2012 @09:57AM (#38941101) Journal

    Sure, it's no longer as popular to hate on homosexual people as it was in the past, but we have all new forms of hatred and intolerance which our modern society deems acceptable, and which will be just as subject to the next generation's ridicule and derision.

    Atheism is the new red-headed step-child [ft.com].

  • Re:I have to agree (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 06, 2012 @10:06AM (#38941185)

    Somewhat revisionist. Turing was a closest homosexual. That made him a prime target for blackmail at a time when most countries were extremely paranoid, and fixated with espionage. Turing was in an extremely sensitive position regarding his knowledge, something a foreign government would be desperate to get hold of.

    Sticking his penis up a man's anus was not the issue. Try learning history instead of simply doing a dweeb sabre-rattling exercise.

  • Attainting? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by JSBiff (87824) on Monday February 06, 2012 @10:10AM (#38941217) Journal

    I have no idea if this ever came to bear or not, but I remember recently, I was reading up about "Bills of Attainder", and one of the things about British Law, apparently, was that if someone was "attainted" because of a criminal prosecution, they could in some cases be forced to forfeit all property/wealth, and so their family would be effectively "dis-inherited".

    I don't know if anyone ever had forfeiture because of those particular laws, but I should think that *if* anyone was subject to that, that it would be appropriate *today* to posthumously pardon those people and give reparations to the families (it might not be possible to give lands back, as they presumably long since been given/sold to someone else, but they could at least compensate those people for the seized assets).

  • Re:In short (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Swampash (1131503) on Monday February 06, 2012 @10:12AM (#38941245)

    In retrospect the semantic hairsplitting and tying of legal precedent in knots that enabled the Nuremberg Military Tribunals to sentence high-ranking Nazis to death and imprisonment for doing things that weren't illegal when and where they were done seems indefensible. To retroactively pardon Turing because the case seems crazy in hindsight is to open the door for pardoning those Nazi fuckers because we can now look back and see that the deck was stacked against them in court.

  • Not exactly. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Kupfernigk (1190345) on Monday February 06, 2012 @10:15AM (#38941273)
    If Turing had belonged to the right regiment or club, it would all have been hushed up. The reason he was arrested and convicted was that, as a mathematician and electronic engineer, he was excluded from the inner circle of the British Establishment, whose view was that scientists and their like were not out of the top drawer.

    Perhaps equally importantly, the background was one of gay-bashing in the US Establishment, who regarded homosexuals as a security risk (because, in typical backwards thinking, the Russians might blackmail them...which could not happen if their behaviour was regarded as unexceptional.) The US was already very worried about UK agents with Russian links spying on them, and was demanding a purge of unreliable elements from the British security services. Turing was high enough profile to show that we were "doing something", but low enough status to be thrown to the wolves,

    This is the real background: class solidarity and stinking hypocrisy. Not much has really changed in the upper echelons of British society; it still comes as a shock to them when the British public turns out to be years ahead in their attitudes. And the actual workers in the security services are still treated like shit - Peter Wright wrote his book, Spycatcher, because as a mere surveillance expert he didn't qualify for a pension, unlike the higher-ups with their Eton and Oxford backgrounds.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 06, 2012 @10:18AM (#38941303)

    Was this decision made by humans, or by machines applying a rule-based database?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 06, 2012 @10:23AM (#38941347)

    OTOH, our descendants may be amazed at the amount of ignorance we displayed with regard to certain "harmless" personal choices, which turned out not to be as harmless as all that.

    Nowadays it's obvious that smoking is bad for you. 60 years ago, some doctors and scientists said it was good for you. It took a long time to change the official attitude to tobacco, and even longer to change the public attitude, because smokers and corporations resisted change at every step, insisting that smoking was a right and an essential freedom.

    What's the modern equivalent of that? Any "harmless" personal choice that people are "persecuted" for today? One that you think is harmless but others think is dangerous, perhaps? How do you know you're right, and they're wrong? How do you know what the science will say, a hundred years hence? Maybe it will side with the authorities for doing their best to protect people from making bad choices. Or maybe it will condemn the authorities for not doing enough to stop people making bad choices. You just do not know.

    But one thing is this. Your choice is a choice. Alan Turing's choice wasn't really a choice.

  • by VinylRecords (1292374) on Monday February 06, 2012 @10:23AM (#38941351)

    Think about all of the things that Turing accomplished in his life. Father of computer science. Father of artificial intelligence. Incredible at code breaking. Brilliant mind with exceptional talent. A genius. Patriot during a time of war. Marathon runner. A leading and formidable intellect he had.

    But all of that didn't matter because he was gay.

    A pardon is a joke and whitewashes history and puts a false Disney happy ending on a horrific story. "Oh yeah he was persecuted for being gay but at least after he died he was pardoned so we get to feel good about ourselves". This isn't a fairytale. This is history and it wasn't nice.

    He was one of the smartest people alive and majorly contributed to the war effort and none of it mattered against him being gay. And after being humiliated and stripped of his security clearance he killed himself. End of story.

    And how did he kill himself? Just like Snow White was poisoned in his favorite fairytale. He poisoned an apple with cyanide and then took a big chunk out of it and waited to die. That's his fairytale ending. A pardon is an empty gesture in my opinion.

  • Re:Not exactly. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by micronicos (344307) on Monday February 06, 2012 @10:25AM (#38941363) Homepage

    Thank you Kupfernigk, spot right on!

    Sadly we now have a government composed of these aristo thugs. Americans can understand the class system intellectually but you have to have grown up in it to really appreciate its demonic force & antiquity. The 'old boy network' (and it is boys not girls) is alive & well and still runs post-imperial Britain with the same self-centred blinkers & mealy-mouthed hypocracies.

    The sad thing about the Turing criminal case is that it was he who volunteered the information that he had a gay relationship to the police; this was in the course of reporting a burglary at his home; he was such an innocent, lovely man.

  • Bishops (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 06, 2012 @10:34AM (#38941455)

    Maybe a simpler explanation has more to do with the fact that there are still 26 bishops sitting the the House?

    26 bishops of the Church of England sit in the House of Lords. Known as the Lords Spiritual, they read prayers at the start of each daily meeting and play a full and active role in the life and work of the Upper House.

    Ref: http://www.churchofengland.org/our-views/the-church-in-parliament/bishops-in-the-house-of-lords.aspx/ [churchofengland.org]
    I don't think we'll see much in the way of progressive/human thinking here...

  • Re:I have to agree (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Theophany (2519296) on Monday February 06, 2012 @10:34AM (#38941457)
    I can see the link you're making here, but I don't think we see it the same way.

    Intolerance stemming from the echelons of the religious societies was what defined homosexuality as illegal, in much the same way as Atheism is reviled in the way described in the article you linked. Sure, I can agree with that.

    However, homosexuality was hated on for nothing other than what it was and that was what ultimately led Turing to take his own life. Atheism, by contrast (and imho), is reviled not because a lack of faith is seen as inherently wrong by modern religious types, but because a disproportionate amount of outspoken Atheists are inflammatory jerk-offs with some misguided superiority complex (see Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, et al).

    As an Agnostic (in more senses of the word than the religious context), I have an inherent mistrust of people who declare themselves Atheists not because of any religious sensibilities, but because of the high profile people associated with them and the attitudes that a great many of them have to those who don't share their (lack of) beliefs. The Internet is full of the pious atheist types, for example. I can't think of any reason that the same logic would have applied to homosexuals, other than scripture declared it to be morally bankrupt.

    And yes, I am painfully aware of the parallels drawn between religion and atheism here.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 06, 2012 @10:40AM (#38941515)

    There's at least five distinct variants of atheism, although many atheists aren't interested in philosophy of religion so they haven't studied it, and thus can't really discuss it intelligently.

    The kind of atheism that is orthogonal to agnosticism is not a religion.

    However, the type of atheism that is entirely based on a fanatical devotion to unprovable postulates is, indeed, a religion.

    To put it another way: People who say "there's probably no God" (like Dawkins) or "you can't prove the existence of your particular beardy sky-man" are not practicing a religion. But people who froth at the mouth on Internet forums, and have an unshakeable, unprovable belief in the non-existence of any sort of God (like Hitchens) have abandoned science and reason, and are proselytizing their faith. You cannot rigorously disprove the noodly appendage with logic, reason or math; therefore any belief or disbelief in the Flying Spaghetti Monster is faith-based. Agnosticism avoids this trap.

  • Re:I have to agree (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mr_gorkajuice (1347383) on Monday February 06, 2012 @10:44AM (#38941569)
    The logical conclusion based on no available evidence for or against is "I don't know. Maybe. It's possible".
    This is not the perspective of an atheist. If you really want to defend you stance as "a product of common sense", pledge agnostic.
  • Re:It's not a choice (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 06, 2012 @10:45AM (#38941577)

    Well, you could say the trial failed to consider the human rights issues and thus the verdict was based on lack of consideration of the validity of the law.
    You cannot convict someone based on a law that is not valid, whether that is because it did not exist, was not signed into law or it was not within the powers of parliament to enact such a law.
    Declaring the last of these would send a far, far more powerful signal than anything else, since it means that it gives the judiciary a clear mandate to act against laws that are not acceptable.
    Upkeeping it on the other hand means that it is just fine to enact whatever cruel law comes a long just as long as it is formally valid.

  • Re:WAAAT (Score:5, Interesting)

    by DrgnDancer (137700) on Monday February 06, 2012 @10:46AM (#38941585) Homepage

    For more than a few people, most likely. Britain alone has a reasonably complete record of courts, laws and trials going back some thousand years or so, and for huge swathes of that crimes which we would now consider absurd were regularly prosecuted. Witchcraft, homosexuality, minor debts, "treasonous" activities that basically amount to free speech issues: just a small partial list of activities that could have gotten a person imprisoned or even executed at various time in British history... just the cases that are on record probably number in the hundreds of thousands.

  • Re:It's not a choice (Score:2, Interesting)

    by DJRumpy (1345787) on Monday February 06, 2012 @11:09AM (#38941805)

    What a fucking moronic question. Do you seriously think someone would put themselves in a position to face either incarceration, or chemical castration willingly by choice? Someone who would later take his own life by cyanide poisoning, all due to what you think may be a 'lifestyle choice'?

    I certainly hope you are trolling. Otherwise you aren't qualified to be away from adult supervision. The way Alan Turing was treated was despicable, and the fact that the government won't pardon him posthumously is also despicable considering the work he did for the government, his time served, and the advances in computer science. For his service, they made him a criminal, castrated him, and then led him to suicide. They admitted they made a mistake. The proper path would be to at least attempt to make amends rather than throwing out empty words.

    So what if it were a choice?

  • About his family (Score:5, Interesting)

    by abigsmurf (919188) on Monday February 06, 2012 @11:17AM (#38941899)
    His family are/were convinced that he didn't actually commit suicide, just that he was really careless with toxic chemicals.

    Apparently his lab was such a mess and he was so sloppy that it would've been more in character to have been a tragic accident than suicide. These were the people who knew him best too.

    For those who are interested, the BBC did a really good documentary on Bletchly park. Went into great detail about the code breaking process and, unlike most programs, actually showed in detail how the codes worked and how you could break them.
  • Re:Of course it is. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 06, 2012 @11:18AM (#38941925)

    The problem there is that the majority of religions demand that the faithful either convert or destroy the non-believers. (Yes, even Christianity, they just focus more on the convert part, and try hard to pretend the destroy part never happened in modern times, even though it's still happening in third world countries like Somalia and parts of the southern USA.)

    Atheism, as a doctrine, demands absolutely nothing of anyone.

  • by abigsmurf (919188) on Monday February 06, 2012 @11:19AM (#38941931)
    Pardons were granted because people in WW1 were wrongly accused and executed on a large scale without anything approaching a fair legal process, not because the crime itself was wrong. There were stories of people being shot purely because they turned around once they went 'over the top'.
  • Re:It's not a choice (Score:5, Interesting)

    by tomhudson (43916) <barbara.hudson@ ... a - h u dson.com> on Monday February 06, 2012 @11:28AM (#38942027) Journal

    So what if it were a choice?

    Being gay, lesbian, trans, or straight is not a choice, but even if it were, that would still be irrelevant. If it *were* a choice, then it should still be respected. Just like gays and lesbians respect the *choice* of straight people to be straight.

    But try explaining that to someone with their head stuck in the dark ages (or up their equally dark rectum), and when you ask them if they "chose" to be straight, they get all upset. They say it wasn't a choice - it was natural. So it's natural for them, but not for someone who is part of the GLBTt community - they're "teh EBIL ONEZ!" Unnatural. Despite more than 400 different species with same-sex behaviour, despite gender changes occurring spontaneously in species, despite cross-gender behaviour being normal, despite the male dog humping their male leg... no ... same-sex behaviour is a "choice" that cannot be respected.

    The next step

    Fortunately, times are changing, and this being the UK that we're talking about, there is a further appeal from this decision. Ultimately, the sovereign can issue a royal pardon, which would make a real statement. If this queen won't do it, you can be sure the next king will.

  • Re:It's not a choice (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Xest (935314) on Monday February 06, 2012 @11:37AM (#38942093)

    A pardon is symbolic confirmation that current government no longer supports the ideology behind what they are pardoning.

    Thus the guy is wrong, a pardon very much does help the living - it gives them confirmation that government no longer supports that viewpoint. It closes the door on that part of our history and says finally once and for all, yep, we fucked up, never again. It concerns me that government isn't willing to close that door, it gives the impression they're actually not willing to close it.

    For this to happen, it means that government does actually have to quite thoroughly be willing to disown that viewpoint, yet currently that's not the case, we still have far too many bigots in parliament. The fact people are even willing to argue this when it's such a trivial act to just carry out the pardon, and when Lord McNally's logic runs contrary to past pardons is illustration enough of this problem.

  • Re:It's not a choice (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 06, 2012 @11:41AM (#38942153)

    A pardon is symbolic confirmation that current government no longer supports the ideology behind what they are pardoning.

    Thus the guy is wrong, a pardon very much does help the living - it gives them confirmation that government no longer supports that viewpoint.

    Doesn't the official apology do this?

  • Re:I have to agree (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Moryath (553296) on Monday February 06, 2012 @12:08PM (#38942491)

    How is that not saying he is gay?

    That's "saying he is gay" in the same sense as describing a Gojira attack on Tokyo as "a delay in the morning commute."

    But times change, and now all that document says is that he was gay and they didn't think they could get a sodomy conviction. ... you're kidding right? The point of the lack of a pardon is they are refusing to make the change to the document. There is STILL a document on the books, unamended and un-appended with pardon, saying that Alan Turing was a sexual pervert who committed "gross indecency."

    Sure if was still alive a pardon would actually be worthwhile, but since he isn't all it would do is make the current (and future) British feel better about themselves.

    No, it would be a powerful statement about the importance of equal rights for homosexuals. It would be a powerful repudiation of the kind of laws and legal system that allowed the British police to pervert a report of burglary into "evidence of gross indecency" in the first place.

    Having Gordon Brown make a public statement was one thing, but Gordon Brown's statement doesn't make a legal difference. A pardon would be an expression of the entire British government admitting that the laws under which homosexuals were persecuted were bigoted and invalid. That's an important statement that ought to be made, and the fact that they're refusing to make it is proof that the goal of equal human rights for all individuals is still not complete, even in progressive states like the UK.

    But they feel ashamed about it so why would you want to do that?

    Oh please. The laws themselves were repealed, which was good. But many people of that era DESERVE to be pardoned, whether dead or not, since their convictions were based on judicial bigotry and persecution.

  • Re:It's not a choice (Score:5, Interesting)

    by FooAtWFU (699187) on Monday February 06, 2012 @12:16PM (#38942625) Homepage

    In the olden days they called a strong adherence to "procedure" something else, at least in the public sphere - the rule of law. The great thing about that ideal is that the law applies to everyone, popular or unpopular, powerful or not. England's been under some measure of "the rule of law" since the signing of the Magna Carta, and even the King was at least partially subject. It can be a powerful force for justice, peace, and prosperity.

    Which isn't to say that it's entirely perfect, but rather that before you go piss on it, you ought to spare a moment to understand and respect what it is and nuance your opinion instead of making snide remarks about those stupid British.

  • Re:Um.. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Dogtanian (588974) on Monday February 06, 2012 @04:06PM (#38945613) Homepage

    maybe it would actually be a net benefit for the world if you too did not have children.

    Well, I do, and I'll be having more, and if all goes according to plan, I'll offer them a small house to start a family in when they turn 21. If they want to borrow against it to go to university, that's up to them.

    Hilarity ensues when they turn out to be gay. :-)

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