Turing pardoned
December 23, 2013 3:47 PM   Subscribe

Alan Turing, the cryptographer and mathematician whose work was credited with shortening the Second World War, has been pardoned. Turing, a gay man, was convicted of gross indecency following consensual sex with a man in 1952. Ordinarily, a pardon will only be granted if the person is believed to have been innocent of the offence and the request is made by a family member. Turing met neither criteria, but his application was supported by a petition of over 37,000 people. Of course, this comes far too late for Turing, who poisoned himself over 60 years ago at the age of 41. (previously)
posted by tim_in_oz (73 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
 
Excellent!
posted by sammyo at 3:48 PM on December 23, 2013


At long last.
posted by pemberkins at 3:49 PM on December 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm sure he's elated.
posted by angerbot at 3:49 PM on December 23, 2013 [14 favorites]


About time. 60 years too late to do any good, but I'm glad that society has progressed since 1952.
posted by arcticseal at 3:52 PM on December 23, 2013


SHSDFJ 18HFJ 9DHSKK 8239DH8DFH
posted by Lutoslawski at 3:56 PM on December 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


That's a one-pad code for "finally, good christ."
posted by Lutoslawski at 3:56 PM on December 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


The full text of the British government's 2009 apology to Alan Turing is worth reading, if you haven't already.

"You deserved so much better."
posted by lalex at 3:59 PM on December 23, 2013 [8 favorites]


But if you weren't responsible for shortening WWII, tough - your record stands.
posted by northernish at 3:59 PM on December 23, 2013 [23 favorites]


I'm sure he's elated.

explains the great weather we're getting here south-coastal BC.
posted by philip-random at 3:59 PM on December 23, 2013


At long last, indeed.
posted by scody at 4:00 PM on December 23, 2013


lalex: "The full text of the British government's 2009 apology to Alan Turing is worth reading, if you haven't already.

"You deserved so much better.
"

I never understood how they apologized in 2009, but didn't pardon him then. Or why it took them as long as 2009 to do anything at all, for that matter.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 4:02 PM on December 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


.
posted by cosmologinaut at 4:02 PM on December 23, 2013


We need another word for it, and perhaps a different legal mechanism as well. The very word "pardon" still implies a crime; you don't really pardon someone for not doing anything wrong. Vacate his conviction perhaps?
posted by George_Spiggott at 4:05 PM on December 23, 2013 [20 favorites]


I never understood how they apologized in 2009, but didn't pardon him then.

Because symbolic pardons are pretty much an American thing, and people only decided it was important after the apology.
posted by Artw at 4:07 PM on December 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


In a weird way this is more about the government pardoning itself for its unjust laws. Turing was absolutely guilty of the violation he was convicted of ("gross indecency", as opposed to the elegant kind?). In colloquial American English I'd use the word "clemency" to describe what would be best appropriate to offer Turing, but I have no idea whether that's appropriate usage either colloquially or legally.

Really this is about the intent now to say "oops, we fucked up" and apologize. I support that.
posted by Nelson at 4:11 PM on December 23, 2013 [12 favorites]


Good for them. About damned time.

They apologized four years ago. When the idea of a pardon was raised two years ago, government ministers opposed it and eventually killed the bill early last year, saying that the offense for which he was convicted was legal at the time. So they felt his conviction was justified.

This is essentially the British government saying that Section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885 was an unjust law. Which has been a long time coming.
posted by zarq at 4:13 PM on December 23, 2013 [10 favorites]


I remember seeing someone say something to the effect of there has maybe never been a larger imbalance between what one person gave to the world and what the world gave back to that person. That seemed apt referring to Turing.
posted by ndfine at 4:14 PM on December 23, 2013 [7 favorites]


But if you weren't responsible for shortening WWII, tough - your record stands.

Apparently UK law now provides a way to get these kinds of convictions "disregarded", i.e. wiped from one's record (source). This is still a problem in other places, though, like Victoria.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 4:19 PM on December 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


=

(which seems particularly appropriate for this man)
posted by alms at 4:20 PM on December 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


Pardoning Turing lets the British government off the hook for its crimes. Leaving the conviction in place would have been a well-earned permanent black eye for all of Britain and a reminder of its human rights record. I can't help but feel like this is mostly guilty people trying to whitewash their dirty past.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:23 PM on December 23, 2013 [9 favorites]


But if you weren't responsible for shortening WWII, tough - your record stands.

The very word "pardon" still implies a crime


Quite.
posted by Artw at 4:29 PM on December 23, 2013


doubts about Turing's suicide
posted by thelonius at 4:33 PM on December 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


While I'm glad Her Majesty's government has admitted to, apologized for, and attempted to repudiate this mistake, I have one question.

When are they going to pardon the countless thousands of others convicted of the same non-crime?

Or is being gay only okay for world class cryptographers in the UK?

H/T to cstross for pointing that little fact out.
posted by eriko at 4:34 PM on December 23, 2013 [14 favorites]


Or they could just consider taking symbolic measures for dead people done with for the now and start looking for ways to help alive people.

Here's one, they could NOT possibly block gay teens from getting useful information by pushing a pointless and ineffective porn blocker on to everyone. That would be a good one.
posted by Artw at 4:43 PM on December 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


Pardoning Turing lets the British government off the hook for its crimes.

In whose view do you think the British government has been "let of the hook"? Do you imagine that there is a single person on the entire planet who used to think, prior to the pardon, that the law under which Turing was convicted was unjust and immoral who now no longer thinks that? Do you think there is a single person on the entire planet who, prior to the pardon, held the British government of the 1950s "responsible" for some crime who now considers that government exonerated?

The current British government has acknowledged that one of its since-repealed laws was unjust and that the enforcement of that law in one particular case had tragic consequences. In what possible sense is that letting anyone "off the hook"?
posted by yoink at 4:44 PM on December 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


I never understood how they apologized in 2009, but didn't pardon him then.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 12:02 AM on December 24


The government apologised. This is a royal pardon.

"...officially pardoned by the Queen under the little-known Royal Prerogative of Mercy."
posted by Decani at 4:46 PM on December 23, 2013


doubts about Turing's suicide

Huh, that's fascinating. I'd never realized that this was in serious doubt.
posted by yoink at 4:47 PM on December 23, 2013


The government apologised. This is a royal pardon.

Which the Queen issues at the request of the government. Everything done by "Her Majesty's Government" is done in the name of the Queen, come to that.
posted by yoink at 4:51 PM on December 23, 2013


God damn right. Turing was a hero and a genius and his mistreatment by the state is utterly shameful.
posted by Aizkolari at 4:54 PM on December 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


George_Spiggott: "We need another word for it, and perhaps a different legal mechanism as well. The very word "pardon" still implies a crime; you don't really pardon someone for not doing anything wrong. Vacate his conviction perhaps?"

Like someone in Parliament should get down on his or her fucking knees and beg Turing's ghost for forgiveness. And I want to see real tears.
posted by Splunge at 4:57 PM on December 23, 2013 [7 favorites]


Apparently UK law now provides a way to get these kinds of convictions "disregarded", i.e. wiped from one's record (source).

There was a small kerfuffle a few years back where it became apparent 'disregarded' convictions weren't actually as vanished as the government claimed. (The police were seemingly able to see them, which theoretically ought not to be the case.) I'm not sure what the outcome was. Peter Tatchell was outraged for a bit, there was a non-denial denial issued and that's all I remember.

doubts about Turing's suicide

This article gets linked to just about every time Turing comes up and it feels kind of like a weird one because it's not news--IIRC the theory that Turing's death was accidental has been around since he died. The problem is that the circumstances that lead accidental death to be plausible are also what would have made poisoning yourself with cyanide convenient. I vaguely recall reading somewhere where someone better positioned than Copeland to comment (e.g. a doctor) argued that a modern inquest wouldn't have returned a suicide verdict, but rather an open verdict.
posted by hoyland at 5:04 PM on December 23, 2013


They finally succumbed to my HTTP header onslaught.

(Yeah, it was just a bit of silliness, but it was fun when I would be investigating some HTTP question and would be reminded of old Alan.)
posted by benito.strauss at 5:28 PM on December 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yah. Good news.
posted by parki at 5:37 PM on December 23, 2013


What's the usual practice on bulk pardons on convictions for abolished crimes? Was anyone pardoned for, say, witchcraft?

One problem with a bulk pardon for everyone convicted of homosexuality when it was a crime, I heard, was that back then the law didn't make a distinction between homosexuality and various predatory acts, and those convictions included some for acts of sexual abuse/predation which are still crimes; as such, once the Daily Mail found a nasty paedophile among the thousands of pardoned gays, the proverbial would hit the fan.
posted by acb at 5:40 PM on December 23, 2013


That's great.

Now what about the thousands of other British subjects who were convicted, imprisoned, and/or tortured for being LGBT?
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 5:45 PM on December 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


One problem with a bulk pardon for everyone convicted of homosexuality when it was a crime, I heard, was that back then the law didn't make a distinction between homosexuality and various predatory acts, and those convictions included some for acts of sexual abuse/predation which are still crimes; as such, once the Daily Mail found a nasty paedophile among the thousands of pardoned gays, the proverbial would hit the fan.

Maybe they don't need to pardon everyone convicted. Maybe the Queen just owes the UK's LGBT community a great big apology.

Related note: Gay marriage is getting voted on in the UK next year. How long after that will we see a gay royal wedding?
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 5:47 PM on December 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


A gay heir to the throne presumes that the popularity of the monarchy will survive the reign of Charles III, a walking example of the Dunning-Kruger effect. I wouldn't be surprised if the monarchy got incrementally downsized some time after his accession, leaving little for any hypothetical gay/lesbian descendant to inherit.
posted by acb at 5:56 PM on December 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Related note: Gay marriage is getting voted on in the UK next year. How long after that will we see a gay royal wedding?

Er, no it isn't. Same-sex marriage law was passed last summer for England and Wales, and is due to come into effect in March 2014.
posted by Thing at 5:57 PM on December 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm suspicious about the timing though. Are they trying to glamorize GCHQ now that Snowden's leaks exposed all their activities?
posted by jeffburdges at 5:59 PM on December 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, the Church of England is prohibited by law from allowing same-sex church marriages (as a sop to traditionalists). Given that the King/Queen is the head of the church, their wedding would presumably be a church wedding by definition. This would pose an interesting conundrum.
posted by acb at 6:00 PM on December 23, 2013 [2 favorites]



I'm suspicious about the timing though. Are they trying to glamorize GCHQ now that Snowden's leaks exposed all their activities?


I'm guessing it's partly that and partly flak over the Great Firewall of Cameron.
posted by acb at 6:01 PM on December 23, 2013


The article questioning Turing's suicide is revisionist history and not well supported. Here's a rebuttal.
posted by Nelson at 6:04 PM on December 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is essentially the British government saying that Section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885 was an unjust law. Which has been a long time coming.

Then they need to pardon everyone convicted under that bullshit law, not just the genius heroes.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:12 PM on December 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


Hooray!

Also, some cynicism: this is going to make a great title card just before the closing credits of the Alan Turing biopic currently in production. I mean, yeah, this is the movie I've been most excited to see for the past two years, so whatever. But still. You KNOW they're going to do the obligatory "Alan Turing was posthumously pardoned in 2013" title card at the end.
posted by Sara C. at 6:20 PM on December 23, 2013


"gross indecency", as opposed to the elegant kind?

One supposes the elegant kind was reserved for Oscar Wilde.
posted by Sara C. at 6:22 PM on December 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


Depends on whether or not one's talking about the mathematical idea of elegance.
posted by acb at 6:24 PM on December 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


I wonder when other countries will begin pardoning people they persecuted for homosexual acts?
posted by Thing at 6:27 PM on December 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


How long after that will we see a gay royal wedding?

Are there any openly gay royals?

The main thing that makes a "gay royal wedding" unlikely anytime soon is that, barring Harry coming out, I don't think there is anyone else. Baby Prince George won't be old enough to marry anyone for ~20 years, then you've got the theoretical as-yet-unconceived "spare", and then we're looking at people who are as yet unimagined.
posted by Sara C. at 6:31 PM on December 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't know if something got in my eyes from the computer screen but I swear Alan Turing suddenly looks like he is smiling a little bit more.
posted by Mike Mongo at 6:51 PM on December 23, 2013


Are there any openly gay royals?

Had there been any gay royals before now, they would have kept firmly in the (ornately gilded) closet, with the power and prestige of the Crown being deployed to suppress their inclinations. I imagine the pressure to stay in the closet must have been immense, what with being head of state and all.

Hypothetically speaking, if Baby Prince George did turn out to be gay, how easy a time would he have of things? (Come to think of it, in an otherwise unchanged parallel universe in which, say, Prince Harry was gay, how free would he have been to be true to his orientation?)
posted by acb at 6:55 PM on December 23, 2013


But if you weren't responsible for shortening WWII, tough - your record stands.

No. This means everyone is exonerated. Everyone. Equality Before the Law is a cornerstone of British law... since he was not "innocent" of the charge, if Turing is no longer guilty, it is because the law itself was unjust. It can never be used against someone like that again. The headlines should read, "Turing Strikes Another Blow Against Tyranny!"
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:04 PM on December 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


The decision: about time, but still (and forever) shameful.
posted by barnacles at 8:22 PM on December 23, 2013


In further news, Germany has pardoned millions of people for being Jewish.
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:15 PM on December 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


Joe in Australia: "In further news, Germany has pardoned millions of people for being Jewish."
If you're Jewish you can get permanent residence in Germany today with very few questions asked. It's one of the reasons there are so many immigrants from the former Soviet Union here.

Speaking of atoning for past deeds, there's also this.
posted by brokkr at 12:22 AM on December 24, 2013


That's really my point: it's one thing to say that you persecuted people with unjust laws; it's quite another to say that you're pardoning them. The first is a confession; the second is an obscenity.
posted by Joe in Australia at 12:43 AM on December 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


If they want to single out one person to make a point, they should scour the records to find the most entirely unpleasant individual convicted for the same reasons and then issue an apology to them.
posted by tomcooke at 1:23 AM on December 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


tomcooke: "If they want to single out one person to make a point, they should scour the records to find the most entirely unpleasant individual convicted for the same reasons and then issue an apology to them."
Tell that to the 37,000 people who signed the petition.

This is apparently damned if you do, damned if you don't for the government. And none of them bear any personal blame for the injustice against Turing.
posted by brokkr at 2:42 AM on December 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


A few monarchic points:

Edward II is generally considered to have been pretty gay.

Also there is not going to be a Charles III
he has stated that upon becoming king he would go by one of his middle names, since Charles' have not been historically great Kings.
That means King George VII or King Arthur (Although there is no way he can pull off King Arthur, so...)

Although I think it would be appropriate for him to be King Charles III because he will be a terrible king, so it is quite fitting.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 3:12 AM on December 24, 2013 [5 favorites]


Oh also, about fucking time on the pardon for Turing.
A better man than any king.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 3:12 AM on December 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm glad that's finally complete.
posted by radwolf76 at 4:24 AM on December 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


On the one hand, I'm glad to see any sort of development that rehabilitates the memory of Turing in some fashion. On the other hand, I won't deny that this raises all sorts of issues around Turing's case that are enraging. Let me know when he receives posthumous knighthood.
posted by LMGM at 5:40 AM on December 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


he has stated that upon becoming king he would go by one of his middle names, since Charles' have not been historically great Kings

My opinions about the British monarchy would shift more than a little if he attempted to reign as Kong or Vitaman.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:41 AM on December 24, 2013


...more seriously, I wonder how computing would be different if Turing's career had extended into the 1970s.

Don Knuth as a Turing student?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:43 AM on December 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


That means King George VII or King Arthur (Although there is no way he can pull off King Arthur, so...)

He has about 17 middle names, so he's got more to choose from. However, we are down to George and William being about the only viable previously-used names for a king. (Edward VII didn't exactly cover himself in glory and was probably a Nazi sympathiser. Surely no one wants to be Henry IX. Both Charleses got their heads cut off.)
posted by hoyland at 6:18 AM on December 24, 2013


> I'm glad to see any sort of development that rehabilitates the memory of Turing ...

I don't see it as rehabilitating Turing, but rather trying to repair England as best possible.
posted by benito.strauss at 9:18 AM on December 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Keep in mind that Turing's "treatment" took place at the same time that, in the US, thousands of veterans were being lobotomized, children and "mental defectives" were used as radiation guinea-pigs, dozens of "mental hospitals" and "reform school" were the scene of (then-untold) horrors, doctors across the country were sterilizing indian women (without knowledge or consent, "for their own good"), atom-bomb tests, etc.etc. ...

Those were times of insanely out-of-control authoritarian "measures" in the nations which won the War. One apology given, hundreds of thousands still long overdue.
posted by Twang at 9:49 AM on December 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


Would anyone here actually accept this separate pardon for themselves while the others convicted were left behind?

This pardon actually makes things worse. It's shameful.
posted by Wood at 10:37 AM on December 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Finally. And done by the bloody tories as well! Jesus, what a crazy world.
posted by marienbad at 12:48 PM on December 24, 2013


A small step in the right direction but still far too meager; justice delayed is still justice denied.
posted by Renoroc at 2:05 PM on December 24, 2013


Both Charleses got their heads cut off.

Only the first. The second died relatively peacefully in his bed. His main failures were inability to govern right and secure a non-Catholic king for England.
posted by Thing at 2:23 PM on December 24, 2013


Now let's see Turing on one of the new polymer banknotes Britain will be bringing out over the next decade or so. He was instrumental in saving the world from Hitler, so is no less worthy of it than Churchill, and also laid much of the theoretical foundations of computer science, on which much of the world today is based.

Turing has never been on a British banknote, which is an odd omission given his twofold contribution to history. The only explanation is that enough of the population were squeamish about One Of Those being on the banknotes, and that's a view which needs to be forcefully consigned to the dustbin of discredited beliefs of the benighted ancients, alongside racialist pseudoscience and the inferiority of women.
posted by acb at 2:29 PM on December 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


They should put his picture on a stamp and queue up to kiss his arse.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:21 PM on December 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


As I argued in the apology thread, I think it's entirely possible Turing was killed or allowed to be killed by the British intelligence services as part of the price of access to US atom secrets.

The revelations of the last couple of years haven't exactly made that seem less likely.
posted by jamjam at 10:22 PM on December 27, 2013


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