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A Pardon For Alan Turing

December 24, 2013
tags: ,

I beg your pardon


Elizabeth Mary, Queen Elizabeth II, is the Queen of the United Kingdom and of the other Commonwealth realms. She has just today granted Alan Turing a posthumous royal pardon under the rule of “royal prerogative of mercy.”

Today Ken and I want to add our thoughts to this event.

Finally. Simply put—its about time. It is hard to believe that Turing was treated so horribly after his brilliant work. It is hard to believe that anyone, brilliant or not, was treated this way in 1952.

Here is a quote on the story by Jamie Grierson, Press Association Home Affairs Correspondent:

Second World War code-breaker Alan Turing has been given a posthumous royal pardon for a 61-year-old conviction for homosexual activity. Dr Turing, who was pivotal in breaking the Enigma code, arguably shortening the Second World War by at least two years, was chemically castrated following his conviction in 1952.

His conviction for “gross indecency” led to the removal of his security clearance and meant he was no longer able to work for Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) where he had continued to work following service at Bletchley Park during the war.

Dr. Turing, who died aged 41 in 1954 and is often described as the father of modern computing, has been granted a pardon under the Royal Prerogative of Mercy by the Queen following a request from Justice Secretary Chris Grayling. “Dr Alan Turing was an exceptional man with a brilliant mind,” Mr Grayling said.

“His brilliance was put into practice at Bletchley Park during the Second World War where he was pivotal to breaking the Enigma code, helping to end the war and save thousands of lives.

“His later life was overshadowed by his conviction for homosexual activity, a sentence we would now consider unjust and discriminatory and which has now been repealed.

“Dr Turing deserves to be remembered and recognised for his fantastic contribution to the war effort and his legacy to science. A pardon from the Queen is a fitting tribute to an exceptional man.”

Dr Turing died of cyanide poisoning and an inquest recorded a verdict of suicide, although his mother and others maintained his death was accidental.

There has been a long campaign to clear the mathematician’s name, including a well-supported e- petition and private member’s bill, along with support from leading scientists such as Sir Stephen Hawking.

The pardon under the Royal Prerogative of Mercy will come into effect today. The Justice Secretary has the power to ask the Queen to grant a pardon under the Royal Prerogative of Mercy, for civilians convicted in England and Wales.

A pardon is only normally granted when the person is innocent of the offence and where a request has been made by someone with a vested interest such as a family member. But on this occasion a pardon has been issued without either requirement being met.

In September 2009, then-prime minister Gordon Brown apologised to Dr Turing for prosecuting him as a homosexual after a petition calling for such a move.

An e-petiton—titled “Grant a pardon to Alan Turing”—received 37,404 signatures when it closed in November last year. The request was declined by Lord McNally on the grounds that Dr Turing was properly convicted of what at the time was a criminal offence.

This is a historic event, coming just before the 60th anniversary of Alan Turing’s passing in Manchester on June 7th, 1954. The historic injustice can never be undone, but it is wonderful that the Government has officially restored Turing’s reputation, and removed the distraction from his amazing scientific and personal achievements.

Note, some spelling is British: “offence” for “offense.”


In court one says “exception” when one disagrees with a statement, to put the disagreement on the record. Ken and I say exception. The personal life of Turing never, in our opinion, distracted from his great achievements. Never.

Also we find curious the statement that these pardons are normally granted only to those who are innocent. This strikes as another referential self-contradiction, for then how is it a “pardon”? Is presumption of innocence, rather than proof of innocence, enough? Finally, we must add that the Queen and Turing have been linked for over sixty years: She ascended to the throne on February 6, 1952; and Turing’s trial started on March 31, 1952.

In any event, Turing has some colorful company in the remarkably short list of those who have received royal pardons:

  • Blackbeard the pirate, Edward Teach.
  • Viscount Bolingbroke, who supported the Scottish rebellion in 1715, and whose writings influenced John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and the American public in general.
  • Uziel Gal, who designed the Uzi machine gun—we note also that Mikhail Kalashnikov, designer of the AK-47, just passed away yesterday.
  • Peter Heywood, of the “Mutiny on the Bounty.”
  • Henry Moore Smith, a 19th century escape artist.

There is an economist on the list, John Law, and now it has been augmented by a mathematician and computer scientist both. This is progress.

Open Problems

What does this say about progress by society on the whole? In this respect, is the action enough?

18 Comments leave one →
  1. Craig permalink
    December 24, 2013 4:23 pm

    The man is dead, so the pardon is meaningless and just a political stunt. If you want to pardon someone, do it when they are alive.

  2. December 24, 2013 8:36 pm

    Reblogged this on A Student of Logic and commented:
    Today, I was informed that Alan Turing has received a royal pardon. I do not really know what to say about this. On one hand, I am glad that we have made progress in the time since Alan Turing was driven to suicide, but I feel as though this progress has taken far too long to occur. We still have a long way to go, and I do not think a royal pardon can even come close to holding the value of the life that was taken, let alone the rest of the lives that have similarly been lost as a product of intolerance.

  3. Voices in the Rain permalink
    December 24, 2013 10:43 pm

    It is a way of making a deserved apology. Stephen Hawkins stated that Turing is one of the greatest mathematical geniuses in history. And if you state that it has no bearing for Mr. Turing than accept perhaps it is an apology to Mankind.

  4. December 25, 2013 2:03 am

    I celebrate the fact that this pardon was given.
    Many find so unacceptable that Turing was treated like this, after brilliant work and saving so many by cracking the Enigma code. However, the law should not treat people differently. So, why is more unjust to treat Turing in this way, than treating any other gay in that time?
    In this line of thought, why a pardon just for Turing? Why not for any gay who was victim of that horrible law?
    For Turing, nothing can be done now, since he is dead for long time. Others of the victims may still be alive, and even if they are not, a pardon would mean something for their offspring.
    Moreover, there are right now many gay people in countries (like Uganda and 82 other countries) where the law is still medieval, as it was in UK in ’52, or even worse. A good way to honor Turing would be to create a foundation named after him, which would raise the awareness of such cases, and militate against such cruel laws.
    This being said, I think that this pardon is a very good step forward, and I hope will be an example for other countries. They have to understand that the law is for people, not the other way around, and no one should consider the law more sacred than human lives.

  5. December 25, 2013 8:50 am

    Shouldn’t they be asking for a pardon, rather than giving one?

  6. LGBT supporter permalink
    December 25, 2013 9:19 am

    hear! hear!!
    I second the proposal in this comment and also agree with the rest of the arguments made.

  7. December 25, 2013 11:54 am

    After reading a few of the things about what Turing did during the war, I have always been stunned by the fact that the British government(s) never realized that he, quite simply, averted a land war on British soil.

  8. December 25, 2013 12:06 pm

    There are so many injustices in the world. Can we correct and issue a pardon for each of them? On the other hand can we not correct and let it be as it is? BTW by letting gay’s marry what are we accomplishing? Biologically they cannot create kids in a natural way. So is the marriage official only for tax purposes?

    • kalish permalink
      December 25, 2013 5:27 pm

      Official mariage protects both your belove and your children when you die. But of course you’d already knew it if your question was anything but sophistic. Sad to see that in reply to such a topic.

    • December 25, 2013 8:05 pm

      In the US at least, the legal importance of marriage is the rights it affords. These include the reduced rates for taxes, tuition, auto, life, and health insurance, etc, on the basis of belonging to a married couple— but also they also include the right to social security, medicare, and disability benefits, the right to workplace insurance through your spouse, the right to file for joint adoption and foster care, the right to visit your children upon divorce, the right to live in areas zoned for “families only”, the right to inherit your spouse’s estate, the right to equitable division of property upon divorce, the right to renew leases on your spouse’s behalf, the right to take family leave from work to care for your spouse when they are ill, the right to visit your spouse in the hospital, the right to make medical decisions for your incapacitated spouse, the right to visit your spouse in prison, the right of confidentiality (akin to doctor–patient confidentiality), the right to receive crime victim recovery benefits if your spouse is the victim of a crime, the right to take bereavement leave upon your spouse’s death, the right to consent to after-death examinations and procedures, the right to make funeral arrangements, the right to sue third parties for wrongful death, etc.

      The exact rights marriage affords in the UK will differ, but the general theme will be the same no doubt.

    • December 25, 2013 8:10 pm

      The ability to “create kids in a natural way” is irrelevant to the definition of marriage. Many heterosexual couples are infertile of sterile, yet noone denies their right to marry. Marriage has never been solely about the children, in any culture. Marriage is about making political and economic alliances— of which, children merely play an important role in the solidification thereof.

      • December 26, 2013 2:34 am

        “Marriage has never been solely about the children, in any culture. ” what the hell are you talking about?

        BTW I mentioned both the lines “Can we correct and issue a pardon for each of them? On the other hand can we not correct and let it be as it is? ”

        I am just curious what benefit does it bring to the world by letting gays marry other than economic benefits due to the law of the land.

        Officially why should a church or any religious entity recognize gay marriage which has been traditionally between man and woman. To me it sounds like only for economic benefits. Why cant they call it another name and give them same benefits?

        Regarding adoption, what would the kid who is being adopted feel when the kid finds out the parents are gay? May be nothing, may be excited and may be disappointed. However what would the kid feel if the parents were straight. Most likely not the last choice.

        Why does one have to call it marriage? Why not something else? It surely does not feel like marriage to me. BTW I lean democratic on issues.

    • December 27, 2013 12:24 pm

      @J – The stability that marriage gives the necessary security and comfort for the couple in question to be fully engaged and productive members of society. People spend all sorts of time talking about how the family is the basis for society and gay couples should share in that too.

      On your comments regarding adoption, you should ask my friend’s kids whether they preferred a) living with their real parents, one of whom is in prision and the other hopelessly addicted to drugs, b) bouncing around between foster homes a new place every few months, or c) living with them in a stable nurturing household with loving parents that take care of them..

      My bf and I will probally not be having children, this is a choice we share with many of our heterosexual friends, but that doesn’t make our relationship – or our friends relationship – any less worthy of the full protection under the law.

      • December 29, 2013 4:09 am

        “My bf and I will probally not be having children” Is the gay/lesbian makeup genetic? Well it does not seem to violate the entropic arrow (which seems to be necessarily for life to sustain from a big picture view) from a local scheme of things and does not seem have favorable picture from evolutionary view. If you and your bf believe in the sanctity of marriage how does that “probably” not “definitely”?

        If you ask me whether there has been injustice and rights curtailed, I would say yes. However if you are asking if you are changing status quo of what a stable society is by demanding entirely equal rights while biologically the relationship is not equal with heterosexual marriage, then also I would say yes.

      • January 4, 2014 3:07 am

        I am truly sorry for my comments here. Just felt like taking a position. I do not think what I said was morally correct. I take back all my comments.

  9. Skanik permalink
    December 25, 2013 3:43 pm

    It is not clear that Alan Turing committed suicide.

    Evidently there was cyanide in his lab next to his bedroom and that may

    have led to his death.

  10. asdf permalink
    December 26, 2013 9:45 pm

    He was trying hard to decode, but Enigma was cracked by Polish mathematicians who transfered the technology to Bletchley. Including the famous ‘bomb machine’. Another myth of History that gets debunked eventually.

    • December 27, 2013 3:36 am

      I always thought the enigma cracked by polish mathematicians had been strengthrned at the outset of the war and thatTuring had been key to cracking that new code through an algorithm that was then implemented on the Colossus computer (that was later destroyed)

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