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back to article Stephen Hawking pushes for posthumous pardon for Alan Turing

Peers and scientists including Professor Stephen Hawking are once again pushing for an official pardon for codebreaker Alan Turing. Turing's death from cyanide poisoning in 1954 was ruled a suicide, coming after his conviction for gross indecency at a time when homosexuality was illegal. Lib Dem peer Lord Sharkey has already …

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Gross

Only three comments? Oh that's gross. Well, not really, if it were gross there'd be 144 comments. meh ... move along, quite obviously no story here.

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Anonymous Coward

"conviction for gross indecency"

Its should be Google/Apple and the ilk who need to be prosecuted for gross indecency!

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Childcatcher

Why do they need to be innocent?

In the US, the president and governors can grant pardons or commute sentences for people who are guilty, which is probably why it's a sometimes controversial practice. I can't decide if the US or the UK has a better grasp of when pardons should be granted, but if it happened in the US, Turing would probably have been pardoned by now.

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Joke

Re: Why do they need to be innocent?

I'm sure the next Hollywood revisionist outing of WWII "history" will soon correct things for you and Turing will become a poor Californian schoolboy named Steven who stumbled across an Enigma device in the West Side (part of Fremont Township).

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Re: Why do they need to be innocent?

Thats entirely the point. They did nothing wrong. They were convicted under a sexist (being a lesbian was fine?) and homophobic law that has no place in our society and was later repealed.

A pardon is entirey innappropriate (it suggests you still did something wrong but we forgive you this time), an automatic quashing of all convictions under that law is the bare minimum required. How can we lecture Saudi Arabia, China et al about human rights when we have people with convictions for same sex relations.

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Stop

No pardon ...

as others have pointed out, let his conviction stand, to remind us of the nasty, bigoted, spiteful nature of those that rule us. Don't let them airbrush that out of history.

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Re: No pardon ...

A very good point and one I hadn't thought of.

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Pint

Re: No pardon ...

Hear Hear - possibly the best constructed message from an El Reg commentard.

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Re: No pardon ... But an apology

No pardon, but an apology, to all homosexuals convicted, saying that it was wrong for there to be that law!

now if only we could get all stupid laws repealed we'd be on the way to having a sane country!

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Stop

Pardon != assertion of innocence

Since when does a person need to be thought innocent to be granted a pardon?

Perhaps things are different here in the States; here, the ability to grant pardons is a privilege of our elected executives. Pardons declare the offender forgiven, not innocent. Courts decide guilt and innocence, not legislators/MPs or executives/PMs.

I'd put good money on history proving McNally to be full of shit regarding the policies on pardons.

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JDX
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Surely if he was guilty under the laws then, he cannot be pardoned? If you start changing laws retrospectively, anyone convicted could start demanding damages.

An apology is appropriate, in my eyes. But none of this should be because of his importance or what he did for his country. Forgiving "important gays" only is crazy.

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WTF?

Uh... but that's what a pardon is, if he wasn't guilty under that law then there would be no need for a pardon, would there?

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Genuine Question

A genuine question which I cannot find the answer to.

Are those who lead, and fought in, the American revolutionary war guilty of treason under UK law, and were they ever pardoned?

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Re: Genuine Question

There's a bit about it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prisoners_in_the_American_Revolutionary_War#American_prisoners

"George III of Great Britain had declared American forces traitors in 1775, which denied them prisoner of war status. However, British strategy in the early conflict included pursuit of a negotiated settlement and therefore officials declined to try and/or hang them, the usual procedure for treason, to avoid unnecessarily risking any public sympathy the British might have enjoyed in the Americas."

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Re: Genuine Question

I expect that yes they were guilty of treason under UK law, I am only guessing, but I would imagine the point is moot as when they won they were no longer subject to UK law, no need to pardon them.

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Re: Genuine Question

Inventing laws so enemy combatants are not considered POWs. Crazy stuff. I guess it's lucky that no one pulls that sort of nonsense today.

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To what point?

What, exactly, is the point of pardoning a dead man? They should take a clue from Pope John Paul II and just issue an official blanket apology for the atrocities of their predecessors. Rather than apologize for having burned Giordano Bruno specifically, he apologized for the many people burned at the stake by his predecessors for not agreeing with idiotic notions such as the Earth being the center of the universe. Is the forced chemical castration of Turing as barbaric as the burning at the stake of Bruno? I suppose it is a matter of opinion, but it must at least be a close second. Certainly it is worse than the imprisonment of Galileo. In any case, a blanket apology made just 60 years after the atrocities would seem much more timely than the nearly 400 years it took to wrest an apology out of the Catholic Church.

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Poor Catholics

always pilloried as ignorant and dumb. Don't forget it was a pope who asked Copernicus to sort out the problems with a calendar, and who was happy with the end result.

And until Galileo did his impersonation of a 16th Century Assange, the church was quite involved in science, in a good way. Unfortunately (and ironically) they had this nasty niggling need for PROOF. Something which Galileo was unable to provide, because he hadn't done the maths (which had yet to be invented). The real ding-dong started when Galileo went public, called the church liars and couldn't back up his claims.

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Headmaster

Re: Poor Catholics

>Something which Galileo was unable to provide, because he hadn't done the maths (which had yet to be

> invented).

Well that's not quite the case - the math's had been done by then. The nice thing for the science camp there was that their models won by starting to advance falsifiable hypotheses - and to impossible such hypthesis on the then classical models. Better yet one of these - the phases of Mercury and Venus was clearly verifiable or fallsifiable to anyone with a simple telescope and some time. The pattern of light cast on the planets by a sun that orbitted the earth was very different from a heliocentric pattern. Happily the telescope was invented right about then and Galileo was exactly the sort of smart guy to improve it into a thoroughly useful instrument.

Galileo didn't formalise the scientific method, but he's at the start of a tidal wave of leaning that last to this day. Pope Urban VIII can be accused of doing back on his word to his mate (he went to the same University as Galielo) that Galileo could publish the result of his work. In disclosure though the report in question took 2+ decades to come out and the 30 years war was a significant factor by then.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Poor Catholics

only after Galileo went back on *his* word to state that the heliocentric model was a hypothesis - which it was at the time.

I think the OP was correct to liken Galileo to Assange. The problem was he was up against a pope who could be likened to Stalin ... it was never going to end well.

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Anonymous Coward

Pardon me!?

He shouldn't be pardoned, because he comitted no crime.

Instead, his conviction was a crime against humanity and this conviction (and any similar) should be overturned retroactively.

If you say "but back then it _was_ against the law" then you're also allowing the argument that "back then, killing people in Concentration Camps was within the law and those who did that should not have been prosecuted after the war".*

Overturning the conviction would not at all erase the memory of Turing's mistreatment, the cause for his suicide will still be mentioned in every history book.

(* I think Godwin's Law has already been invoked ...)

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Re: Pardon me!?

Ah, you beat me to it.

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Re: Pardon me!?

That's not true.

Killing people wherever has always been against national & international laws.

There was/is also the Geneva Convention on the treatment of prisoners etc...

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Pardon me!?

Yes, killing people on purpose has always been a crime against humanity, but I think you'd be hard pressed to find a German law from 1933-1945 that lists sanctions for inhumane treatment of Concentration Camp inmates.

Let's look at it from the other side: trying to kill Hitler was certainly verboten under contemporary law, yet after the war Stauffenberg has been hyped into a hero by German government.

As to the Geneva convention: during WW2 it only covered prisoners of war, i.e. captured members of the enemies' armed forces. Only in 1949 the convention was modified to extend protection to all prisoners, even those from within your own population.

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WTF?

Pardon?

I think the idea of "pardoning" someone for a conviction for being homosexual is a disgrace.

I realise that it is has a narrow legal meaning, but it sounds tantamount to saying 'We'll let you off this time'.

I would much prefer, 'We're sorry for an ignorant, stupid, cruel law and we would like to make amends.'

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Anonymous Coward

Once we open retro-legal pandora box, we'll end up with the Turing test that will be about the computer successfully pretending he's gay

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FAIL

Noooo let homosexual men (not women) be burned in hell.....

So when that cosmically irradiated zombie, who has been flying around the world in low earth orbit for the last 2000 years, decides to fire his retrorockets, and come in on a hot reentry to punish the sinners...

Ooooooo the ultra dry dessicated corpse caught fire and well there goes several thousand years of magical myths and legends.

Dammit.

Oh I forgot - they didn't have rockets back then did they.

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Broadcast Time: 7.30 pm

Classifications: Drama, PG (CC) WS

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It is in Iran that the religious teacher Zarathustra simplified things, ending up with only two - a God of the Good and a God of Evil. This belief then spread throughout the Middle East.

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Gehenna was the inspiration for the Christian hell. (From Ireland, in English) (Documentary)

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Unhappy

What is extraordinary is the way the British state failed to acknowledge or recognise the war work of Turing and others, prefering to trash their equipment and turn the whole thing into a state secret in case foreign spies were alerted, as though scientific advance can become frozen by ordinance. Meanwhile, over in the USA, Werner von Braun was assisting the American rocketry programme.

The sins of those considered valuable to the state are normally hidden. The Turing episode demonstrated that techies were not valued, even if their gifts were extraordinary, above those mediocrities that continually infest the corridors of power and whose sins are hidden from public view. For example, Edward Heath was a known shirt lifter with a penchant for cottaging, yet he was able to become a totally useless PM.

It should however be remembered that what caused Turing to kill himself was that the psychiatric profession, which at that time studied the vapourings of Sigmund Freud as part of their 'medical' degrees, were responsible for drugging him with female sex hormones, causing his breats to enlarge and his intellect to shrink (apologises to any female reading that statement). If any case could justify the outlawing of the psychiatric 'profession', the Turing case was it.

In short, Turing was the victim of the total incomprehension of the ruling elite to the importance of scientific brilliance to the future of this country; that was Turing's and our loss.

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Flame

Shirt lifter?

Ooh, ducky, aren't we the charmer!

Please supply a concise definition and the derivation of 'shirt lifter', as a learner it puzzles me.

I'm surprised at the emphasis on Bletchly, the concepts of the Turing machine, test of Turing completeness, and the Turing test, in that order, are far more important.

The only reason a machine will pass the last of those is human stupidity, after all, stupid, lonely, or deranged people gave Eliza a passing grade a good while back.

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Re: Shirt lifter?

Is that anything like a skirt lifter?

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QA

Starting an e-petition

Apart from the Turing case I think that the government's pardoning "policy" is inconsistent. So to that end:

Currently it is long-standing government policy that pardons under the Royal Prerogative of Mercy (RPM) should be reserved for cases where it can be established that the convicted person was innocent of the relevant offence, and not to undo the effects of legislation which are now recognised as wrong.

This is an arcane policy and is, for example, preventing the pardoning of Alan Turing posthumously.

There must be many other cases where laws have been repealed when they have been seen to be unjust, but where convictions under these laws still stand.

It seems only right to pardon people when a law gets repealed, and to have a government policy not to use the RPM in these situations is absurd.

This petition therefore calls for Gov't to change its policy on this matter, so that the RPM can be applied to pardon people convicted of repealed laws. Furthermore, if the policy is derived from legal precedent, to enact specific legislation allowing the policy to be changed as requested above.

If you agree - vote. If you don't, hard cheese, there doesn't seem to be a no option. Hopefully this should be up in a week or so, so keep your powder dry....

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Re: Starting an e-petition

The petition is now up - so vote if you feel like it...

http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/43287

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Paris Hilton

Righty-oh then!

It seems astute El Reg readers/participants are as astute as ever?

The base principle seems to be: "retrospective pardons" due to the many, the few, the deserved, the undeserved, ...

And some might even ponder that parliament should not do any stuff retrospectively - imagine the workload on some people's desks were it so?

But maybe another base principle helps out: parliament is the boss

?

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Anonymous Coward

Never ending story

He was convicted of a crime which violated the social/moral norm of the time. It's easy to say now, when the social/moral norm has changed to homosexuals benefit that it was wrong but consider crimes that violate the current social/moral norm - what should be done with them? Laws regarding drugs, prostitution and children's sexuality are enforced vigorously but may at some time in future change.

Moral offenders of today would be pardoned in some future and official apologies be made. A never ending story isn't it?

One obvious solution is to avoid moral laws all together...

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Oh, come on! ......

Let's deal with facts.

Turing lost his security clearance effectively because he himself was complaining to the police about criminal activity against him on the part of one of his lovers.

Both he and the lover were also guilty of what was then a criminal offence in the form of homosexual activity.

Whether or not one agrees that the law at the time was appropriate is not quite the issue -- Turing was at the time a security risk because of his engaging in such activity.

Turing was given the choice of imprisonment or what was regarded as a soft option -- temporary chemical castration -- temporary feminisation to reduce his libido. He chose the latter, but he had an affair afterwards in spite of the feminisation.

It was after the end of the temporary feminisation treatment that he committed suicide.

Changing views of the appropriateness of homosexual activity doesn't alter the fact that Turing was associating with known criminals (unless breaking and entering is also a pardonable activity). Being a known associate of criminals who are engaged in breaking and entering would still be a reason for withdrawing security clearance.

Nor does changing views of the appropriateness of homosexual activity alter the fact that it was Turing himself who demanded that police implement the then law of the land with regard to breaking and entering.

Of course he was a brilliant man who did extremely valuable work during the war. Of course he had the potential to do a great deal more. That does not stop him being a known associate of persons engaged in burglary, and an individual at risk from his own known associates in an activity which was, as it happens, then illegal. Nor does it stop him being a man who acted in a way which was somewhat ill-advised -- indeed very foolish from his own point of view in pressing the police to take action.

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Re: Oh, come on! ......

I know we often appeal to logic but logic really does not determine what becomes human law.

Natural law is somehow deemed to be something to do with a deity.

Human law is that crafted and formed by humans often in acceptance of the failings of our humanity?

And if so, pardoning people retrospectively seems uniquely admirable and gives credence to our human frailties including bad laws or poor laws or just simply daft laws because collectively we are all those sort of things.

As an aside: were logic supreme then there would only ever be one operating system on one hardware arrangement and updates would never, ever be required?

Then there are reality...

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