Monday, February 06, 2012

UK Government declines to pardon Alan Turing

There's been a petition to the government and an Early Day Motion asking for Alan Turing to be pardoned. This is something I oppose despite having been behind the 2009 Alan Turing apology campaign.

Last, Thursday, February 2, the Liberal Democrat Peer Lord Sharkey asked in the House of Lords: "To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will consider granting a posthumous pardon to Alan Turing."

A government minister, Lord McNally, responded for the government declining to pardon Turing:
The question of granting a posthumous pardon to Mr Turing was considered by the previous Government in 2009.

As a result of the previous campaign, the then Prime Minister Gordon Brown issued an unequivocal posthumous apology to Mr Turing on behalf of the Government, describing his treatment as "horrifying" and "utterly unfair". Mr Brown said the country owed him a huge debt. This apology was also shown at the end of the Channel 4 documentary celebrating Mr Turing's life and achievements which was broadcast on 21 November 2011.

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.
It's interesting, to me at least, that the issue of a pardon was considered in 2009 as this was not something I had been asking for. The government's response makes clear that they do not consider a pardon appropriate.

Labels:

If you enjoyed this blog post, you might enjoy my travel book for people interested in science and technology: The Geek Atlas. Signed copies of The Geek Atlas are available.

15 Comments:

Blogger Augustus Longeye said...

Hmm.... much as I don't like it, they're right. It was at the time a crime, a stupid law certainly, but he did break the law of the time... pardoning him now wouldn't change anything, but it wouldn't be "right" just because of his achievements, to pardon him for a crime he did commit.

10:02 AM  
Blogger Augustus Longeye said...

Hmm.... much as I don't like it, they're right. It was at the time a crime, a stupid law certainly, but he did break the law of the time... pardoning him now wouldn't change anything, but it wouldn't be "right" just because of his achievements, to pardon him for a crime he did commit.

10:02 AM  
Blogger Bernard said...

I disagree. He should be pardoned.

As should anybody who was subject to the equivalent of an apartheid law should be pardoned when a societiy civilies itself enough to recognise that discriminatory legislation is unjust.

Take a law concerning a black man having consenual sex with a white woman. A man ends up being hanged under this law. A future society sees that this law is intrinsically discriminatory. Why should the man not be pardoned? A white man could rape a black woman with impunity.

Nelson Mandela was offered a pardon, despite his guilt in leading a terrorist campaign. Mandela refused the pardon because he refused to recognise the legitimacy of the system offering it to him. Turing is in neither the position to accept or reject. But the legal definition of a pardon does not mean the person never did the crime.

In Britain, even in the 1990s , gay men were being arrested and imprisoned on charges related to sex, charges which were never brought against straight people. There was a famous case called Operation Spanner, where the judge imprisoned a group of men for years, because their behaviour was "not manly".

Two straight people who had been found by the police in the same circumstances as Turing would never have been imprisoned.

But then I guess like whites under Apartheid, straight people think that the laws that are applied discriminatively in their favour are just.

10:37 AM  
Blogger Bernard said...

I disagree. He should be pardoned.

As should anybody who was subject to the equivalent of an apartheid law should be pardoned when a societiy civilies itself enough to recognise that discriminatory legislation is unjust.

Take a law concerning a black man having consenual sex with a white woman. A man ends up being hanged under this law. A future society sees that this law is intrinsically discriminatory. Why should the man not be pardoned? A white man could rape a black woman with impunity.

Nelson Mandela was offered a pardon, despite his guilt in leading a terrorist campaign. Mandela refused the pardon because he refused to recognise the legitimacy of the system offering it to him. Turing is in neither the position to accept or reject. But the legal definition of a pardon does not mean the person never did the crime.

In Britain, even in the 1990s , gay men were being arrested and imprisoned on charges related to sex, charges which were never brought against straight people. There was a famous case called Operation Spanner, where the judge imprisoned a group of men for years, because their behaviour was "not manly".

Two straight people who had been found by the police in the same circumstances as Turing would never have been imprisoned.

But then I guess like whites under Apartheid, straight people think that the laws that operate in their favour are just.

10:37 AM  
Blogger Pankaj Doharey said...

This is absolutely disgusting, Alan Turing should be pardoned. Women in pre renaissance europe were burnt alive in the name of witchcraft, but now we think that it was plain wrong because witchcraft is superstition.

So why not this, in those days gay men were basically violating old testament, the people who do homosexual acts there end will be the same as sodom and gomorrah,
but now we know god doesn't exist and Bible is just a fairy tale.

This means that when old laws are wrong or doesn't reflect the current need of the society then we replace them. and thats what happened in the western world.

So a law which seemed right in the light of old societal constructs are plain wrong, and alan turing was prosecuted for all the wrong reasons. So he should be pardoned now because in the light of current day laws and societal norms, the laws under which he was prosecuted were wrong.

Alan turing is widely considered as the father of computer science. I think it is about time and only fair to give the man his rightful place in history, and for us we have a chance to tell the future generations of the wrong doings that we and our predecessors did and we overcame it.

It is worthwhile exercise of learning for our society and the whole wide western world. Even historically it has always been a sign of western world view to be progressive, then why not here, right?

1:58 PM  
Blogger nwhitfield said...

It's perhaps tricky to pardon a single person, but even so, I really don't think the government argument stacks up in the face of precedent.

In 2006, all 306 soldiers who were shot at dawn for cowardice in the Great War were pardoned, in the light of a better understanding of the issues involved.

So, to say something was a crime at the time and nothing can be done now flies in the face of that precedent.

But, if there is to be a pardon, it should surely be for all those convicted of such consensual offences, and not just for one person.

3:44 PM  
Blogger sholvar said...

It would be quite smart to start an article with explaining the situation. It is not clear to everybody what's the problem between Alan Turing and the U.K. government. If they need to pardon, I would like to know why. Without using Google.

8:49 PM  
Blogger iconomaster said...

Wouldn't pardoning him now be like the Mormons baptizing dead people?

12:46 AM  
Blogger iconomaster said...

Wouldn't pardoning him now be like the Mormons baptizing dead people?

12:46 AM  
Blogger William Jones Wythenshawe and Sale said...

Hello John,

This is William Jones who started the petition on 23/11/2011.

Rather than being absolutely opposed to this petition, John. You should campaign with me for a pardon. This petition in no way undermines the petition you started in 2009 that gained an apology. This takes the matter further by granting a pardon.

You can find me on twitter at @justwill11 should you want to get in contact.

8:17 PM  
Blogger William Jones Wythenshawe and Sale said...

Hello John,

This is William Jones who started the petition on 23/11/2011.

Rather than being absolutely opposed to this petition, John. You should campaign with me for a pardon. This petition in no way undermines the petition you started in 2009 that gained an apology. This takes the matter further by granting a pardon.

You can find me on twitter at @justwill11 should you want to get in contact.

8:17 PM  
Blogger William Jones Wythenshawe and Sale said...

Hello John,

This is William Jones who started the petition on 23/11/2011.

Rather than being absolutely opposed to this petition, John. You should campaign with me for a pardon. This petition in no way undermines the petition you started in 2009 that gained an apology. This takes the matter further by granting a pardon.

You can find me on twitter at @justwill11 should you want to get in contact.

8:17 PM  
Blogger John Graham-Cumming said...

@William. I don't feel the petition undermines what I did in 2009. If a pardon is granted then it will be welcomed by many, many people.

But I don't think the state should be forgiving a crime that should never have been a crime in the first place. Alan Turing should never have been faced with criminal prosecution in the first place (and all the other men). It feels wrong to me that the state should now forgive his sentence.

My email is on my web site should you wish to contact me privately.

10:24 PM  
Blogger seanrobsville said...

How about an apology from the Church of England? Turing was chemically castrated and driven to suicide by the religious bigots of his day: http://seanrobsville.blogspot.com/2012/02/alan-turing-gay-buddhist.html

11:39 PM  
Blogger Steve Jay said...

@Pankaj Doharey "...but now we know god doesn't exist and Bible is just a fairy tale." *We* do?? I didn't realise you could speak for everyone. Interesting. Perhaps you can also tell us how exactly we know this?

5:41 PM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home