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Not so sorry as all that, Alan Turing
February 8, 2012 3:09 PM   Subscribe

Alan Turing, British code-breaker during WWII, imminent computer scientist, and much else has been denied a posthumous pardon from the British government for his 1952 conviction on charges of "Gross Indecency" because of his homosexuality.

The pardon had been called for by MP John Leech, and a online petition was started in December 2011. A public apology to Turing for his treatment post-conviction (chemical castration through estrogen injections) was rendered in 2009 by Prime Minister Gordon Brown. (previously: 1, 2)
posted by clavier (92 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
Disgraceful what happened to him, but once you start with pardons, where do you stop?
posted by GallonOfAlan at 3:10 PM on February 8, 2012


GallonOfAlan: "Disgraceful what happened to him, but once you start with pardons, where do you stop?"

Yeah, then you'd have to pardon everyone who was wronged by a heinous law. We certainly can't go around admitting we were wrong now and making amends now, can we?
posted by mullingitover at 3:14 PM on February 8, 2012 [86 favorites]


Disgraceful what happened to him, but once you start with pardons, where do you stop?

I don't know, but I guess somewhere after you've pardoned all the people who were convicted of crimes because they don't have the most popular sexual orientation.
posted by IAmUnaware at 3:14 PM on February 8, 2012 [41 favorites]


I'm pretty sure Oscar Wilde returned to life as Stephen Fry in order to avenge his own persecution under unjust laws.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:18 PM on February 8, 2012 [31 favorites]


Disgraceful what happened to him, but once you start with pardons, where do you stop?

Seems like that's a problem you worry about once you run out of people who need to be pardoned.
posted by The World Famous at 3:18 PM on February 8, 2012 [22 favorites]


He's going to be a computer scientist any minute now.
posted by crunchland at 3:18 PM on February 8, 2012 [8 favorites]


Well, at least they didn't try and drug him out of it.

Oh, wait.
posted by Sphinx at 3:18 PM on February 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


I pardon Alan Turing. He is now free to go.
posted by michaelh at 3:18 PM on February 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


HMG grants pardons for process issues but not moral issues. It has already said the law was wrong during the earlier Brown apology, and reiterated that here. The direct statement that the law, conviction and resultant castration were morally wrong seems better to me then to rewrite history, but I appreciate that people of good faith may disagree on this matter.
posted by jaduncan at 3:19 PM on February 8, 2012 [12 favorites]


His conviction was a travesty, and I guess I'd be inclined toward a pardon because of the debt the country (and not just the country) owes him.

Aside: the horrific chemical castration bit, so to speak, was an option selected in order to avoid prison. I am not saying he should have been threatened with prison time in the first place (see above), or that it should have been on the table as an alternative, but I feel vaguely differently about this versus a court-ordered sanction. The original post was accurate about this, but just in case others don't pursue the links . . .
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 3:19 PM on February 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


where do you stop?

You could, perhaps, draw a line at national heroes without too much slippery sloping going on.
posted by pompomtom at 3:20 PM on February 8, 2012 [9 favorites]


He's going to be a computer scientist any minute now.

I noticed that mistake as soon as I posted and am now quietly having spasms in the corner. argharghargharghargh
posted by clavier at 3:22 PM on February 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


TBH I'm not entirely certain why this was needed on top of the public apology, and the double-dip did bring with it the possibility of failure, so my outrage level is set at "meh" on this one.
posted by Artw at 3:24 PM on February 8, 2012


If you didn't study Computer Science, it's hard to grasp just how brilliant Turing was. He more or less single-handedly founded the mathematical study of morphogenesis and engaged Wittgenstein on philosophy of language/math.

Imagine if the state had tortured and killed Einstein for his personality. Turing will be widely known long after these government ministers are forgotten.
posted by phrontist at 3:24 PM on February 8, 2012 [34 favorites]


pompomtom: "where do you stop?

You could, perhaps, draw a line at national heroes without too much slippery sloping going on.
"


Or, to be safe, you could move that line further up to national heroes that were castrated by the state, if you want to be extra careful not to slip.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 3:24 PM on February 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


Or they leave it be and just spend the rest of recorded history having to answer for it. Pardoing a dead man is pretty irrelevant; he's not going to appreciate it; I am sure it would make a bunch of living people feel better but then it's not about Alan then is it?
posted by Dark Messiah at 3:25 PM on February 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


"It is tragic that Alan Turing was convicted of an offence which now seems both cruel and absurd, particularly... given his outstanding contribution to the war effort," [Justice Minister Lord McNally] said.

"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."
posted by wreckingball at 3:26 PM on February 8, 2012 [11 favorites]


It's always possible there's something more hidden behind veils of secrecy, but given what we know now, it's quite possible that Alan Turing did more to win World War 2 than any other single person. His word on codebreaking had a wildly disproportionate impact. It's one thing to have a huge armed force, it's an entirely separate thing to have it in the right place at the right time, and Alan Turing's work made sure that, over and over, we did.

Then he went on to lay most of the conceptual groundwork for digital computing, including defining the minimum possible machine that can compute any computable problem -- the Turing machine.

He was one of the most intelligent men that ever lived, and utterly devoted to the welfare of his country. Yet, he was castrated for being gay by the very government he'd done so much to protect. And somehow, in a country where you can now marry a same-sex partner, that horrific decision isn't worth overturning.

I think rather less of Britain tonight.
posted by Malor at 3:26 PM on February 8, 2012 [21 favorites]


The apology was the correct move, a pardon is not. The pardon would basically state that he wasn't gay, the removal of such laws and the apology state that the law was unjust and the conviction shameful.
posted by karmiolz at 3:26 PM on February 8, 2012 [15 favorites]


Yeah, then you'd have to pardon everyone who was wronged by a heinous law.

The truth is so elegant sometimes.
posted by New England Cultist at 3:28 PM on February 8, 2012 [9 favorites]


The 2008 official apology was necessary and long overdue. What the British government did to him was evil. Apparently there were plans in the works to arrest him as early as 1944, but "not before he had done his finest work." They wanted to milk him for all they could get before snubing, shaming and castrating him.

However, there's no question that Alan Turing broke the law, to the eternal shame of British law.

"...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."

Let Pilate wash his hands all he likes -- Turing no more needs a pardon than Jesus Christ.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 3:28 PM on February 8, 2012 [10 favorites]


The apology was the correct move, a pardon is not. The pardon would basically state that he wasn't gay, the removal of such laws and the apology state that the law was unjust and the conviction shameful.

Back when the apology was issued (I think), the Guardian Daily podcast interviewed a man who had a conviction for homosexuality that had been following him around since the 1960s. He'd get to the background check stage of job applications and suddenly the offer would evaporate. Repeatedly. You're not erasing Turing's homosexuality by pardoning him, you're opening the door to acknowledging that the law is still fucking people over more than 40 years after its repeal.

It's not disastrous to acknowledge that your law was so fucked up that you need to erase the convictions. (I can think of precedent for this, actually, but it'd be perilously close to Godwin-ing the thread.)

Full disclosure: I signed the petition this morning.
posted by hoyland at 3:33 PM on February 8, 2012 [18 favorites]


Sounds like something worth campaigning about, especially with the not-being-dead bit.
posted by Artw at 3:37 PM on February 8, 2012


Meh.

A posthumous pardon won't bring him back for the dead.
I'd rather my elected officials worked hard to address issues affecting the living than spend time flattering themselves by issuing oh-so-enlightened declarations regarding the deceased.
posted by ocschwar at 3:39 PM on February 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


Back when the apology was issued (I think), the Guardian Daily podcast interviewed a man who had a conviction for homosexuality that had been following him around since the 1960s. He'd get to the background check stage of job applications and suddenly the offer would evaporate. Repeatedly. You're not erasing Turing's homosexuality by pardoning him, you're opening the door to acknowledging that the law is still fucking people over more than 40 years after its repeal.

Holy shit. I was actually thinking I might be sympathetic to the non-pardon side, since I think pardons for the dead are generally used to assuage modern guilt more than actually delivering justice, but this bullshit still affecting the living is fucking appalling.
posted by kmz at 3:41 PM on February 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


You can't unburn witches.
posted by timsteil at 3:42 PM on February 8, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'd rather my elected officials worked hard to address issues affecting the living than spend time flattering themselves by issuing oh-so-enlightened declarations regarding the deceased.

Granting the pardon would not have been any more work than denying it. They already did the work.

A posthumous pardon won't bring him back for the dead.

Have you actually conducted double-blind, peer-reviewed research to reach that conclusion? I think your assertion is faith-based. I think we need to pardon Turing if only to test your hypothesis. Then we need to pardon lots of others, since just trying it once isn't scientific. You do support SCIENCE!, don't you?
posted by The World Famous at 3:45 PM on February 8, 2012 [6 favorites]


Back when the apology was issued (I think), the Guardian Daily podcast interviewed a man who had a conviction for homosexuality that had been following him around since the 1960s. He'd get to the background check stage of job applications and suddenly the offer would evaporate. Repeatedly. ... the law is still fucking people over more than 40 years after its repeal.

I withdraw what I said. An immediate pardoning spree is necessary to protect people who are still being harmed by this law.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 3:47 PM on February 8, 2012 [4 favorites]


Something the original petition wouldn't have achieved.
posted by Artw at 3:47 PM on February 8, 2012


The apology was the correct move, a pardon is not. The pardon would basically state that he wasn't gay, the removal of such laws and the apology state that the law was unjust and the conviction shameful.

A pardon would not "state that he wasn't gay". It would state that he was not guilty of gross indecency, a "crime" which was never actually defined by law save that it involves two men.

As far as I'm concerned, when someone claims that "the law at the time required a prosecution" their claim can and should be questioned. Selective enforcement has been a tool of the oppressor for millennia (see the Pilate reference above), and there's every suggestion that Turing fell victim to it. He seems to have been targeted as much or more for the sensitivity of his position as for his "illegal" actions, even though no breach of his privilege was ever proved or even plausibly suggested... and that means that the trial itself was an unjust farce, in addition to the law.
posted by vorfeed at 3:49 PM on February 8, 2012 [17 favorites]


The part of this that bugs me is the statement "the law at the time required a prosecution". It's a curious attribution of agency. Not "we prosecuted him under the law" but "the law required".. Maybe it's different in England, but in the US there's an understanding that it's not the state's job to prosecute every person for every single infraction of the law. That judgement is applied. By saying "the law made us do this terrible thing" it avoids responsibility for choosing to do that terrible thing.
posted by Nelson at 3:50 PM on February 8, 2012 [13 favorites]


HMG just failed their Turing Test.
posted by benito.strauss at 3:56 PM on February 8, 2012 [6 favorites]


Back when the apology was issued (I think), the Guardian Daily podcast interviewed a man who had a conviction for homosexuality that had been following him around since the 1960s. He'd get to the background check stage of job applications and suddenly the offer would evaporate. Repeatedly. ... the law is still fucking people over more than 40 years after its repeal.

For what it's worth, old convictions for consensual gay sex will soon be able to be erased if current measures before Parliament are passed (and there is no indication that they will not). This doesn't mean the conviction doesn't stand: but it does mean they will no longer show up on criminal record checks. So that legacy, at least, of the UK's old laws on gross indecency should become a thing of the past.
posted by greycap at 4:06 PM on February 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


The text of the 'gross indecency' provision in question (Section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885):

Any male person who, in public or private, commits, or is a party to the commission of, or procures, or attempts to procure the commission by any male person of, any act of gross indecency shall be guilty of a misdemeanour, and being convicted shall be liable at the discretion of the Court to be imprisoned for any term not exceeding two years, with or without hard labour.


There is an obvious argument that anything that Turing did (i.e. consenting sex with another adult) was not 'indecent', and therefore that he did not breach that provision. This is essentially the argument that that homosexual sex is not indecent. Accordingly, there is no good reason why they should no pardon him.

The refusal to grant the pardon is basically saying that homsexual sex is indecent, because that is the only way that Turing could be guilty, and the only way that the law could 'require' a prosecution (a stupid and inaccurate phrase).

tl;dr: this is pretty pathetic and, in fact, homophobic, IMO.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:06 PM on February 8, 2012 [4 favorites]


It's hard for me to separate my feelings about Turing from the broader issue. Apologising to or pardoning someone who's dead is an empty gesture at best. (I don't think Turing has surviving relatives who knew him, but I'm not positive.) Pushing the government to pardon Turing may be the most efficient method to get them to pardon everyone, so it may be worthwhile from that perspective.

But maybe my feelings about Turing are relevant here. Reading Andrew Hodges's biography of Turing in high school had a huge influence on me. It was one of the things that convinced me that people actually were mathematicians and that maybe one of those people could be me. At the time, I didn't understand I was queer. I don't think I really thought about it as more than an outside possibility. But the memory of reading the end of that biography (which is largely about gay rights--Turing dies in the penultimate chapter) stands out so clearly in my mind that it probably should have been a great big hint to me.

It matters that we can teach kids that a) people do mathematics beyond school, b) that they do things that are important and c) some of those people doing important, useful mathematics are gay.* But, really, we should be able to point to Turing to do that without saying 'And then we drove him to kill himself.' Of course, we can't. What's done is done. But it'd be better if we could throw on a point d) and say 'And we're really, really very sorry and erased the convictions.' (Preferably not only Turing's.)

*My deep pacifist streak makes me reluctant to have the example of mathematics being 'important' and 'useful' be military, but you can't quibble with fighting Nazis.
posted by hoyland at 4:06 PM on February 8, 2012 [5 favorites]


the law at the time required a prosecution

That's just horseshit. What percentage of gay Britons were ever prosecuted? 0.001% And Turing was doing his work, minding his own business. He wasn't exactly Oscar Wilde, launching a public prosecution against someone who accused him of sodomy.
posted by msalt at 4:08 PM on February 8, 2012


The part of this that bugs me is the statement "the law at the time required a prosecution". It's a curious attribution of agency. Not "we prosecuted him under the law" but "the law required".. Maybe it's different in England, but in the US there's an understanding that it's not the state's job to prosecute every person for every single infraction of the law. That judgement is applied. By saying "the law made us do this terrible thing" it avoids responsibility for choosing to do that terrible thing.

Well, the passive voice is often used to try and pass the buck. Why take ownership for something you or your government did when you can pass it off to the bureaucracy? Be it this or Penn State or anything else, the weak apologies happen as "mistakes were made" rather than "we made a mistake and we're sorry."
posted by birdherder at 4:08 PM on February 8, 2012


"A posthumous pardon was not considered appropriate as Alan Turing was properly convicted of what at the time was a criminal offence," Justice Minister Lord McNally said.

Basically, if it's on the books, it's "proper" to enforce it - government officials have no moral obligations or need to use discretion in conducting criminal prosecutions. As long as they stick to the letter of the law everything that follows is automatically "proper". To admit wrongdoing might offend those dead government employees that participated in Turing's oppression. It's much easier to just robotically adhere to literal interpretations of laws than expect officials to exercise human agency.

Congratulations. Minister, on rendering your own office obsolete. Under your interpretation of your own obligations, you can now be replaced by a Turing machine.
posted by mek at 4:10 PM on February 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


GallonOfAlan: Disgraceful what happened to him, but once you start with pardons, where do you stop?

I hate to ask, but have you heard of Alan Turing before this post? Or at least of "Turing tests" for artificial intelligence? Or that his treatment was solely because he was a gay man, and opted to be chemically castrated instead of going to prison, and grew breasts because of the estrogen injection that made him impotent? That is not the start of any sort of slippery slope.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:11 PM on February 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


The text of the 'gross indecency' provision in question (Section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885):

Any male person who, in public or private, commits, or is a party to the commission of, or procures, or attempts to procure the commission by any male person of, any act of gross indecency shall be guilty of a misdemeanour, and being convicted shall be liable at the discretion of the Court to be imprisoned for any term not exceeding two years, with or without hard labour.


Wait, so is that it in terms of a definition? Is there a more detailed definition somewhere, or a list of 'indecent acts'? I don't see how you can define it by using the same term.
posted by mannequito at 4:11 PM on February 8, 2012


I agree with many of the comments above that it seems like the Cameron government is trying to pass blame on to the "laws" when in fact it was very obviously the people in government who were carrying out these sham charges.

That said, the rule of law is about process, not justice; it is meant to apply to all people, equally. I'm not saying it will happen, but under the logic of pardoning Turing, someone today could argue that they cannot be convicted of hate speech against x, y, z minorities because their views will undoubtedly be vindicated sometime in the future.

Again, I'm not saying that anyone would actually buy this argument, but by pardoning Turing the government would effectively say that any legal decision is open to review and evaluation based on the morals of today; it would ruin whatever illusion of continuity and stability the government still has.

But hey, if you're interested in that kind of thing, I can understand why you'd be pissed off about this rebuff.
posted by anewnadir at 4:12 PM on February 8, 2012


You can't unburn witches.

Tough to unring this bell. I get what the pardon is supposed to do, but I'm not sure it should be unrung, just yet. People need to know what their governments are capable of.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:17 PM on February 8, 2012


It's always possible there's something more hidden behind veils of secrecy, but given what we know now, it's quite possible that Alan Turing did more to win World War 2 than any other single person. His word on codebreaking had a wildly disproportionate impact. It's one thing to have a huge armed force, it's an entirely separate thing to have it in the right place at the right time, and Alan Turing's work made sure that, over and over, we did.
I don't think Alan Turing was the only guy working on breaking codes at the time.
Again, I'm not saying that anyone would actually buy this argument, but by pardoning Turing the government would effectively say that any legal decision is open to review and evaluation based on the morals of today; it would ruin whatever illusion of continuity and stability the government still has.
Maybe that's something people care more about in the UK then in the U.S? It seems odd to think people care about "the government"'s stability and legitimacy over centuries, certainly we recognize that witch burning was wrong when it was done, why not chemically castrating gay people?
posted by delmoi at 4:18 PM on February 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


When were these witch pardons issued?
posted by Artw at 4:19 PM on February 8, 2012


Hmm, 1988 it would seem.
posted by Artw at 4:21 PM on February 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


Wait, so is that it in terms of a definition?

Yes. Statute didn't define what gross indecency meant, in either the 1885 Act or in section 13 of the Sexual Offences Act 1956 which replaced the offence Turing was convicted of. As a result it was up to the courts, who took a very wide interpretation. For example in one Court of Appeal case involving two men masturbating in separate toilet cubicles next to each other, the court ruled that an act of gross indecency simply had to involve participation of two or more men in an 'indecent exhibition'. The offence was repealed in 1967 as part of the decriminalisation of homesexuality.
posted by greycap at 4:22 PM on February 8, 2012


Again, I'm not saying that anyone would actually buy this argument, but by pardoning Turing the government would effectively say that any legal decision is open to review and evaluation based on the morals of today;

Isn't that obviously the case? This is a democracy, right? Isn't that the entire point of the primacy of the legislature in determining policy, because as elected representatives in a democracy they are expected to review and evaluate policy based on "the morals of today"? Isn't that part of what supreme courts consider (constrained by jurisprudence, unlike legislators), and why a law such as one prosecuting homosexual behaviour can be both legitimately passed at one time and legitimately struck down at a later time?

Social change as a mechanism for legal upheaval is a feature, not a bug. It's defintely one we don't want to quash. The law is constantly changing and this is a good thing.
posted by mek at 4:23 PM on February 8, 2012


Tough to unring this bell. I get what the pardon is supposed to do, but I'm not sure it should be unrung, just yet. People need to know what their governments are capable of.

I don't understand how granting the pardon somehow prevents people from knowing what their government is capable of. In the U.S., the law requiring the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII is acknowledged to have been wrong, and is now held as anathema (by sane people). Yet we still know that our government was capable of that, and still is or can be. Pardon Turing, and we can still know that the government prosecuted him under bad law.
posted by rtha at 4:26 PM on February 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hmm, 1988 it would seem.

Though, as far as i can tell, more of a public pronouncement than a legal ruling. So equivalent to the Brown apology really. And TBH that it downplays the importance of that apology is one of the reasons why I've not been impressed with this effort, because the apology really should be a big deal.

(Also, as far as I know, the only likeable or right thing Brown did while in power.)
posted by Artw at 4:28 PM on February 8, 2012


I'm pretty sure Oscar Wilde returned to life as Stephen Fry in order to avenge his own persecution under unjust laws.

If you haven't seen the movie Wilde, you are missing out. It also showed me how crazy the laws were about all this. When i hear the most fervent cries against gay marriage and gay people, i get a bad feeling we could head that way now.
posted by usagizero at 4:34 PM on February 8, 2012


Alan Turing would by any measure be a finalist for "Greatest Briton of the Twentieth Century", and yet they tortured him, using some of the same methods as the Nazis he helped defeat, until he committed suicide. His very existence is a permanent rebuke to the decency of his government. He should have as many important things named after him as Winston Fucking Churchill. There is no amount of apology that can make up for the harm that was done him.
posted by Fnarf at 4:43 PM on February 8, 2012 [8 favorites]


I don't understand how granting the pardon somehow prevents people from knowing what their government is capable of.

Let me explain:

The fact that someone with a high-placed a social, functional role as Justice McNally would argue that Turing shouldn't be pardoned, because he was charged and tried appropriately within the guidelines of that time, suggests to me a couple things. Namely:

1. McNally does not yet feel enough shame to be part of a government that would treat Turing in that fashion, or otherwise empathize with Turing as the victim, to have administered the pardon he did

2. UK as a society does not yet feel enough shame about Turing's treatment, or empathize with him as a victim, that it has not yet already administered a pardon

Some healing started with Gordon Brown's apology, but the wound, perhaps, still seems too raw, to me.

The people in charge and involved with the decision didn't seem to express much embarrassment, so with a pardon coming at this time, perhaps in some way it would be easier for society to collectively, gradually forget or come to terms with what was done.

Maybe no pardon is better, for now. It underscores the offense caused. It seems complicated. Do you know what I'm driving at, though?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:49 PM on February 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


If some government had something similar to me, and then later they offered to pardon me, I would tell them to go to hell. It is I who should be pardoning them.
posted by jfuller at 4:50 PM on February 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


a country where you can now marry a same-sex partner, that horrific decision isn't worth overturning.

I think rather less of Britain tonight.


Would that it were so.

In this country of mine and Turing's, we cannot now marry a same sex partner, but I'm sure that your thinking less of 'Britain' [eh? what - you think less of a concept? Well, OK then...] remains the same.

Personally, why not pardon us all? If we were all wronged, do it: show us all how magnanimous government can be.

Open the floodgates!
posted by dash_slot- at 4:51 PM on February 8, 2012


I think pardons matter -- for the public record, for any family, and for those of us who are LGBT today. it may be a symbolic gesture, but it is an important symbol when a society formally moves on.

In my city, Saanich, BC, there was a news item recently about how there used to be racist covenants on many properties. A family bought a home and found it had a covenant saying the property could never be owned by anyone Asian. Even though this covenant is not (any longer) enforceable under Canadian law, they had the covenant formally removed, with the City's staff's help.

The family in question didn't happen to be Asian, but said they wanted it removed because (a) it is right to do so and (b) they couldn't stand the thought of someday selling it to someone Asian who found this language in their new home's title, how devastating to see someone had left it without correction.

The news story about it was fascinating and informative, and I bet it was an important lesson these parents gave to their kids as well.

Similar to what happened with these covenants, the UK could issue a blanket pardon for such cases. and then each case could be handled as it arises (through family request, historical research finding the documents, whatever) without much inconvenience.
posted by chapps at 4:57 PM on February 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Turing was a genius and one of the architects of our current world. This is disgraceful.
posted by jonmc at 5:13 PM on February 8, 2012


You are talking about the removal of a condition or overturning of a law chapps, not a pardon. That's the key issue here. A pardon is basically saying, yes you committed the crime, but are not, or posthumously should not have been, subject to the penalties. It almost re-affirms the initial statute. Considering what he was convicted of was repealed in 1967 a pardon makes no sense to me.
posted by karmiolz at 5:14 PM on February 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Arguing that Turing deserves a pardon based on his fame and accomplishment doesn't stack up terribly well on the logic and morals test, you know.

Either no one (convicted of gross indecency for an act of consensual homosexuality) gets a pardon, or everyone does.

Otherwise you're in effect stating that the law is and should be different for the famous.
posted by wilful at 5:17 PM on February 8, 2012 [4 favorites]


"Act of homosexuality"? WTF??

You know what I meant.

posted by wilful at 5:18 PM on February 8, 2012


I disagree with pardoning Turing. A pardon is an acknowledgement that the person did commit a crime, and it was validly a crime, but because of who they are and what they have done or the circumstances under which they committed it, they will not be punished for it. This is different from expunging a criminal record, where a person is later found to be innocent of the crime in question, however the crime is still a crime and people could and should be prosecuted for it.

Neither really applies here. What's happening here is that the acts in question are no longer considered to be a crime, and in that case the government must consider whether to expunge the criminal records of people prosecuted under it, and that will vary from case to case. There may be circumstances under which a crime was validly committed at the time, but it is no longer possible to commit that particular crime, or circumstances in society have changed such that it is no longer warranted to call it a crime. For example, running a motorcar at a speed of over thirty miles an hour on a country road; horrendously dangerous in 1920, but by 1940, common practice, and someone's conviction from 1920 ought to stand even when the roads were paved.

On the other hand society may have moved on such that it is not just a matter of us no longer considering the act to be a crime, but that we believe it should never have been considered a crime, and this is the circumstances here.

Pardoning him alone, just Alan Turing, or expunging his record, does nothing to address the general wrongs of the government. Turing should not have been prosecuted, but neither should anyone else. Everyone prosecuted under this law should receive the same treatment, whatever that is decided to be.

In this case, I think expunging the records of all living persons prosecuted under that law would be entirely appropriate and needs to be done, and any living person who has suffered because of it ought to be compensated as well. If there are living people who have a genuine interest in having a dead person's criminal record expunged, that ought to be available too; "family honour" and "national treasure" status would both be good reasons for doing that.

However a line needs to be drawn. I don't think it's appropriate to expunge convictions for escaping slavery, for example, or for heresy, or being out of bounds after curfew at Eton. For people to run around looking for things that are no longer crimes, even if they should never have been crimes, to have them expunged from historical figures' records, strikes me as make-work for government departments, an abuse of the legal system, and silly besides. Some genuine gain to some living people should be required.

Even worse is the prospect of retrospective, especially posthumous, prosecution.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 5:39 PM on February 8, 2012 [7 favorites]


Back when the apology was issued (I think), the Guardian Daily podcast interviewed a man who had a conviction for homosexuality that had been following him around since the 1960s.

This. An apology that is not accompanied by the simple act -- or the complicated one, I don't care -- of scrubbing the records of people now living convicted of the same 'crime', is nothing but empty words. At the time I was impressed by the apology and that he troubled to make it. Not so much, now.
posted by George_Spiggott at 5:42 PM on February 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


On didn't-preview, aeschenkarnos said it better.
posted by George_Spiggott at 5:43 PM on February 8, 2012


You know what's grossly indecent (decent in the sense of being a mensch)? Lord McShithead's response. Go chemically castrate yourself, you rotten bastard.
posted by notsnot at 5:48 PM on February 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think you meant to say "eminent", not "imminent".

Carry on.
posted by monospace at 6:13 PM on February 8, 2012


It's always possible there's something more hidden behind veils of secrecy, but given what we know now, it's quite possible that Alan Turing did more to win World War 2 than any other single person.

Very nicely put, Malor, and interesting in several respects.

I think Turing's role in the Allies' victory does loom larger, like Wordsworth's mountain, the farther away from it we're carried, and yet I wonder whether you may not also be right about "something hidden behind veils of secrecy" here, though if there is, I'd guess it to be a thing that would not redound to Turing's discredit, but which, if known, might cause the English government of its day to live in infamy as deep as that of the English forces who burned Joan of Arc.

I think there is a significant possibility Turing did not commit suicide by eating a cyanide-laced apple as our histories have it, but instead was assassinated by British Intelligence because they judged him too much of a security risk to be allowed to live.
Turing's conviction led to the removal of his security clearance, and barred him from continuing with his cryptographic consultancy for GCHQ. At the time, there was acute public anxiety about spies and homosexual entrapment by Soviet agents,[72] because of the recent exposure of the first two members of the Cambridge Five, Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean, as KGB double agents. Turing was never accused of espionage but, as with all who had worked at Bletchley Park, was prevented from discussing his war work.[73]

Death

On 8 June 1954, Turing's cleaner found him dead; he had died the previous day. A post-mortem examination established that the cause of death was cyanide poisoning. When his body was discovered an apple lay half-eaten beside his bed, and although the apple was not tested for cyanide,[74] it is speculated that this was the means by which a fatal dose was delivered. An inquest determined that he had committed suicide, and he was cremated at Woking Crematorium on 12 June 1954.[75] Turing's mother argued strenuously that the ingestion was accidental, caused by her son's careless storage of laboratory chemicals.
...
Turing took a holiday in Norway in the summer of '52, apparently because "He had been attracted to Scandinavia on hearing rumours of its dances 'for men only'", and met a young man named Kjell, and in 1953 Kjell visited England. Turing mentioned this visit in a letter to a graduate student:
"Your last letter arrived in the middle of a crisis about 'Den Norske Gutt' so I have not been able to give my attention yet to the...."

Turing never fully explained this crisis about Kjell, the young Norwegian, but told Robin later that 'for sheer incident' it rivalled the arrest and trial in 1952.

Kjell had arrived at Newcastle from Norway, and police ('the poor sweeties' as Turing called them) were watching his house, and were deployed all over the North of England to intercept him.

There was something serious going on that his friends never realised: they did not think of Alan Turing as the repository of the greatest state secrets.
In the summer of '53, Turing traveled again:
We do not know Alan Turing's dreams, but he certainly needed escape from the Britain of the Fifties. Unable to travel to the future to where he belonged, only travel abroad offered the chance of freedom.

He remained very interested in learning Danish and Norwegian. He mentioned in 1953 the possibility of getting a job in France, but nothing came of it.

In summer 1953 he took a holiday in Corfu, Athens and Paris. He came back with a list of men he had met (which I saw in 1978 before it was destroyed by a censorious employee of the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment.)

These were the days of panic in the Cold War. The first British atomic bomb (thanks to the Manchester computer) was successfully tested in October 1952. The first Soviet H-bomb was tested in August 1953; the 14-megaton American H-bomb was detonated in March 1954... and that parallel figure Robert Oppenheimer was effectively on trial...

Alan Turing had no holiday in summer 1954.

I suspect this would have been too much for the unseen world of British intelligence to allow.
Interesting, that mention of a "censorious employee of the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment", because it wasn't until 1955 that an "Agreement for Cooperation Regarding Atomic Information for Mutual Defense Purposes" was signed by the US and the UK, essentially allowing the transfer of nuclear technology and information to the UK after delays and great reluctance on the part of the US because of concerns about the the leakiness of the UK defense establishment.
posted by jamjam at 6:14 PM on February 8, 2012 [7 favorites]


If some government had something similar to me, and then later they offered to pardon me, I would tell them to go to hell. It is I who should be pardoning them.

I wrote a short but strong email to Tom McNally yesterday over his failure to pardon Alan Turing. It essentially stated what you have said, namely that Parliament alone has committed an indecent act, and that I'm not ready to pardon them for it yet.

On a different note, the issue of marriage equality is being raised within government at the moment. A very public pardon for Turing would be a nice piece of propaganda against those who seek to prevent new marriage laws. I am happy with a purely symbolic pardon if it helps paint gay haters as criminal and indecent people who use the law to persecute others. Turing may be dead, but his prestige is a weapon it would be foolish not to use.
posted by Jehan at 6:28 PM on February 8, 2012


the only value of this action, or inaction, is that it highlights yet another in the long-running story of how shabbily treated many are who fall outside the "norm."
posted by TMezz at 6:56 PM on February 8, 2012


Whenever someone mentions Alan Turing, I always think of the decorative gargoyle of him on the side of the computer science building at the University of Oregon.
posted by mirv at 6:59 PM on February 8, 2012


>Otherwise you're in effect stating that the law is and should be different for the famous.

Are you saying it isn't?
posted by pompomtom at 7:13 PM on February 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think hoyland is on to something about what story we tell to the future. Right now the story of Alan Turing ends with "hounded to suicide by the British government". It is well within the power of the government to change that last line to "In 2012 the government officially pardoned him, and expressed great regret ... etc., etc.". I guess to some there's a perceived cost of having to consider law & government as merely institutions created by men and women.

But since we're talking love and law, maybe it's best to let another british homosexual have his say. I hope you'll forgive the amount of scroll bar it takes up, and it certainly says nothing conclusive, but it just seems appropriate.
Law, say the gardeners, is the sun,
Law is the one
All gardeners obey
To-morrow, yesterday, to-day.

Law is the wisdom of the old,
The impotent grandfathers feebly scold;
The grandchildren put out a treble tongue,
Law is the senses of the young.

Law, says the priest with a priestly look,
Expounding to an unpriestly people,
Law is the words in my priestly book,
Law is my pulpit and my steeple.

Law, says the judge as he looks down his nose,
Speaking clearly and most severely,
Law is as I've told you before,
Law is as you know I suppose,
Law is but let me explain it once more,
Law is The Law.

Yet law-abiding scholars write:
Law is neither wrong nor right,
Law is only crimes
Punished by places and by times,
Law is the clothes men wear
Anytime, anywhere,
Law is Good morning and Good night.

Others say, Law is our Fate;
Others say, Law is our State;
Others say, others say
Law is no more,
Law has gone away.

And always the loud angry crowd,
Very angry and very loud,
Law is We,
And always the soft idiot softly Me.

If we, dear, know we know no more
Than they about the Law,
If I no more than you
Know what we should and should not do
Except that all agree
Gladly or miserably
That the Law is
And that all know this
If therefore thinking it absurd
To identify Law with some other word,
Unlike so many men
I cannot say Law is again,

No more than they can we suppress
The universal wish to guess
Or slip out of our own position
Into an unconcerned condition.
Although I can at least confine
Your vanity and mine
To stating timidly
A timid similarity,
We shall boast anyvay:
Like love I say.

Like love we don't know where or why,
Like love we can't compel or fly,
Like love we often weep,
Like love we seldom keep.

-W. H. Auden
posted by benito.strauss at 7:19 PM on February 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


The local MP who called for Turing to get a pardon was a Liberal Democrat, while the justice who refused to overturn the decision was a Liberal Democrat... one who was once a Labour politician, before deciding that Labour was too left-wing for his tastes.

Basically, this shows how the topmost ranks of the Liberal Democrats are neither liberal, nor democratic, and are fundamentally at odds with the very large progressive elements in their own party.

It's no surprise that people like Brian Eno, Colin Firth, and Daniel Radcliffe no longer support the LibDem.
posted by markkraft at 8:41 PM on February 8, 2012


Isn't that obviously the case? This is a democracy, right? Isn't that the entire point of the primacy of the legislature in determining policy, because as elected representatives in a democracy they are expected to review and evaluate policy based on "the morals of today"?
The UK is 1000+ year old constitutional monarchy. Except it doesn't even have a written constitution. That's why I'm saying maybe it's a UK thing, where people are worried about the government being "legitimate" even when it's clearly wrong.

Also, in the U.S the president can pardon anyone for any reason, including because they were friends with the convicted (i.e. Fords pardon of Nixon) while it sounds like pardons are only issued in the event of judicial problems there?
A pardon is an acknowledgement that the person did commit a crime, and it was validly a crime, but because of who they are and what they have done or the circumstances under which they committed it, they will not be punished for it. This is different from expunging a criminal record, where a person is later found to be innocent of the crime in question, however the crime is still a crime and people could and should be prosecuted for it.
First of all, no, you can pardon someone without acknowledging anything. Nixon was never convicted, but he was pardoned for "for all offenses against the United States which he, Richard Nixon, has committed or may have committed or taken part in during the period from July 20, 1969 through August 9, 1974." Second of all, it seems like the pardon in this case works differently then in the U.S, at least a parliamentary pardon? Perhaps the queen could pardon him, I have no idea.
posted by delmoi at 8:47 PM on February 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


The UK is NOT the US, and does not have regular pardoning of people by the hundreds like the US does. I have a faint suspision that people are forgetting that, even some folks in the UK.
posted by Artw at 8:56 PM on February 8, 2012


The UK is 1000+ year old constitutional monarchy.

Erm. I am going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you are not attempting to portray the UK as a millenium-long uninterrupted regime, given the absurdity of such a statement. Anyway, the British Empire has had its share of political disruption and upheaval in the last 500 years or so. If anything the USA is remarkable for having 250 years of basically uninterrupted regimes (minus that whole Civil War thing). While Britain is not as discontinuous in its history as France or much of continental Europe, the continuity of its monarchy has very little to do with its complex political history. Unless you guys are still taking all your orders from the King, in which case, I apologize, I clearly don't know what I'm talking about.
posted by mek at 9:43 PM on February 8, 2012


Whoops, pre-emptive apology delmoi: I'm not arguing AT you, I'm arguing WITH you.
posted by mek at 9:45 PM on February 8, 2012


I can understand the disagreement on this point, and if it actually were the case that the British government hadn't prominently condemn its former policy, I would also join the outrage, but now instead it looks either ignorant or dishonest.
posted by Anything at 10:32 PM on February 8, 2012


I'd volunteer to be a gay Englishman for a day (I'm really neither) if only to stand together with Mr. Turing. Maybe we all should.
posted by newdaddy at 10:34 PM on February 8, 2012


(The outrage, not the disagreement.)
posted by Anything at 10:34 PM on February 8, 2012


I'm glad they are making these changes. When I was in high school, English and history classes often required students to write up bios of various people. And you'd either end up with encyclopedias that just said people had been convicted of a crime or that they'd done something indecent. If you asked around, you'd hear they did some sort of indecent thing. Even though the teacher or your parents might clarify that it was just that the person was gay and that was illegal at the time, many of us still walked away a bit suspicious of the person's character, since we couldn't really fathom that being gay = indecent. So, while times have changed since the 80s, I think it's good that we prevent future generations from thinking people were criminals or "indecent" simply for loving people.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 11:30 PM on February 8, 2012


I'd volunteer to be a gay Englishman for a day (I'm really neither) if only to stand together with Mr. Turing. Maybe we all should.

Hmm, I wonder. Everyone who understands anything about how their computer works feels the debt to Turing. Is there any way we could use them to show solidarity? I think I'm going to track down an HTTP header-munging extension and add something like

X-Pardon: Alan Turing

to every request I put on the net.
posted by benito.strauss at 12:03 AM on February 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


"Yeah, then you'd have to pardon everyone who was wronged by a heinous law. "

Yes, and there are how many millions of those worldwide? How many in the UK even? How long would due process in the courts take ? What if Turing got pardoned and another person didn't - what are the family of the other wronged dead person going to think?

You can't apply law retrospectively like that.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 12:44 AM on February 9, 2012


If you're a big old nerd and want to let the entire internet know that you like Alan Turing, here are the tools: posted by benito.strauss at 12:53 AM on February 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't get the complaints that it can't be done because it would be special treatment. This is Great Britain we are talking about — they turn the occasional ordinary person into a Lord. Or a Princess. They love special treatment.
posted by benito.strauss at 12:56 AM on February 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's no surprise that people like Brian Eno, Colin Firth, and Daniel Radcliffe no longer support the LibDem.

What will the LibDems do without a titan like Daniel Radcliffe?
posted by atrazine at 5:44 AM on February 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


Whenever someone mentions Alan Turing, I always think of the decorative gargoyle of him on the side of the computer science building at the University of Oregon.

-BRILLIANT! Although technically it's a "grotesque". A proper "Gargoyle" includes some manner of rain-spout.

-Britain's Greatest Codebreaker is a docu-drama about Alan Turing, how we owe pretty much both the defeat of the Nazis AND the modern computer age to the ideas he was the first person to have. Ever.

Much of the dramatic scenes are recreated from the notes of Turing's psychiatrist whom he began seeing after his conviction. Turing became quite close to his shrink's family, and the Dr's daughter talks about the pleasant mathematician who came on family vacations and discussed math puzzles with her as a little girl.

The things we do to our fellow humans is heartbreaking.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 8:14 AM on February 9, 2012


John Graham-Cumming, the creator the original petition for an apology, thoughts on why he did not support a pardon via the hacker news discussion of this news.
posted by Z303 at 9:22 AM on February 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Of interest in that second link:

Secondly, even if a pardon is appropriate, a pardon for simply Turing would be unjust to the other gay men who suffered under the law. There were many, many others. And there are men alive today living in Britain with a criminal record because of offenses committed during the time the laws were in force. I could get behind a petition for a pardon for all those people, especially since living people are still hurt by that law, but not just for Turing. Pardoning him doesn't help the living.

But even that's unnecessary. Subsequent to the 2009 apology campaign the UK government introduced legislation that actually does roll back the criminal convictions of gay men. The Protection of Freedoms bill has already passed all stages in the House of Commons, two readings in the House of Lords and enters (this coming Monday) committee stage. That means it's close to being law.

Chapter 4 of that Act specifically allows for the disregarding of convictions under the old law that was used against Turing. Once disregarded the law causes their convictions to be deleted. It's not quite the same thing as a pardon, but its effect is to lift the burden of a criminal record from these living men.

posted by Artw at 9:41 AM on February 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'd rather my elected officials worked hard to address issues affecting the living than spend time flattering themselves by issuing oh-so-enlightened declarations regarding the deceased.
Agreed. Honestly, were I him -- and dead -- I'd rather not have the pardon at all.

The government wasn't fit to pass judgment the first time; they're not fit no tell me it was all OK now. It's a second slap in the face.
posted by coolguymichael at 10:16 AM on February 9, 2012


I'd rather my elected officials worked hard to address issues affecting the living than spend time flattering themselves by issuing oh-so-enlightened declarations regarding the deceased.

There are people living who are still affected by convictions under this law. Everyone - living or dead - who was prosecuted or affected in any way by this law should be pardoned immediately.
posted by The World Famous at 10:26 AM on February 9, 2012


"What will the LibDems do without a titan like Daniel Radcliffe?"

Radcliffe's leaving the LibDem is only systematic of a much larger problem for them. A recent poll puts them at their lowest level of support in 14 years.

The party backed the wrong horse. They should've made a deal with Labour instead of the Conservatives, as it was a closer ideological match. Instead, they get to rubberstamp policies that inflict horrible damage on those institutions they supposedly supported.
posted by markkraft at 6:04 AM on February 15, 2012


That's actually not the worst news for LibDem, as the poll is somewhat old.

The latest "poll of polls" for The Independent suggests that Nick Clegg could see his number of MPs reduced from 57 to 19 unless the party improves its ratings. The figure slumps to just 11 MPs when the proposed new parliamentary map is taken into account.

In practice, election experts believe the Liberal Democrats would do better than that because they would target their resources on the most winnable constituencies and their MPs have often defied the odds by holding on to their seats. But the experts say the reduction in the number of MPs from 650 to 600 will hurt the Liberal Democrats proportionately more than Labour or the Conservatives.

In another headache for Mr Clegg, Liberal Democrats who oppose the Coalition with the Conservatives are to form a rebel group within the party.

Liberal Left will be launched at the party's spring conference in Gateshead next month, at a meeting addressed by Baroness (Jenny) Tonge, a Liberal Democrat peer, and Richard Grayson, the party's former policy director. Accusing Mr Clegg of shifting the Liberal Democrats to the right, the new group's founding statement says: "We are now part of a Government which is Eurosceptic, neo-liberal and socially conservative." It calls for the spending cuts to be slowed.


The coalition is on the verge of ending; the LibDems are in full meltdown.
posted by markkraft at 6:12 AM on February 15, 2012


Alan Turing's 1950s tiger stripe theory proved
posted by Artw at 11:23 AM on February 22, 2012


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