Queen Grants Royal Pardon To WWII Codebreaker Alan Turing
Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
Alan Turing, a computer pioneer of his time and World War II codebreaker who may have single-handedly shortened a long conflict and saved thousands of lives, is getting a Royal Pardon from Queen Elizabeth II.
Turing was chemically castrated in 1952 after being convicted of homosexuality, which at the time was a criminal offense in Britain. Along with the conviction, Turing lost his security clearance and was forced to stop his work in breaking codes. In 1954, two years after the conviction, Turing, who was 41 years old, committed suicide.
Now, nearly 60 years after his death, Turing was granted a Royal Pardon under the Royal Prerogative of Mercy after a request was made to the Queen of England by Justice Minister Chris Grayling.
Grayling said in a statement that Turing, whose remarkable achievements included the development of machines and algorithms to unscramble the supposedly impenetrable Enigma code used by the Germans during WWII, “deserves to be remembered and recognized for his fantastic contribution to the war effort and his legacy to science.”
“Dr Alan Turing was an exceptional man with a brilliant mind,” said Grayling.
Turing not only aided in the war effort, but his work in mathematics has led to developments that are still being used in today’s world, including the famous Turing test, which is used to determine artificial intelligence. In that test, a person asks questions to both a computer and a human – neither of which can be seen – to determine which is the computer and which is the human. Under the Turing test, if the computer can fool the questioner, it is deemed intelligent.
“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conviction for homosexual activity, a sentence we would now consider unjust and discriminatory and which has now been repealed,” said Grayling. “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.”
“His action saved countless lives. He also left a remarkable national legacy through his substantial scientific achievements, often being referred to as the ‘father of modern computing,’” said British Prime Minister David Cameron in a statement.
While Turing’s death was ruled a suicide, many believe that his death was actually an accident. He died as a result of ingesting cyanide.
Including those who followed his legacy, many have campaigned for years to win a pardon for Turing.
Lord Sharkey, a Liberal Democrat peer who called for a royal pardon in July 2012, said the decision to now pardon Turing is “wonderful news.”
“This has demonstrated wisdom and compassion,” he told the BBC. “It has recognised a very great British hero and made some amends for the cruelty and injustice with which Turing was treated.”
“I pay tribute to the government for ensuring Alan Turing has a royal pardon at last but I do think it’s very wrong that other men convicted of exactly the same offence are not even being given an apology, let alone a royal pardon,” noted human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell.
“We’re talking about at least 50,000 other men who were convicted of the same offence, of so-called gross indecency, which is simply a sexual act between men with consent.”
While some believed Turing’s death to be an accident, Thatchell is looking at it as a possible homicide and thinks his death should be fully investigated.
“While I have no evidence that he was murdered, I do think we need to explore the possibility that he may have been killed by the security services. He was regarded as a high security risk,” he said.
Perhaps helping Turing win his pardon was a 2009 apology by Prime Minister Gordon Brown and an online petition that received more than 37,000 signatures in 2011. While both of those incidences never came to fruition for Turing’s cause, they perhaps helped in the new realization that he did in fact deserve a pardon. The campaign to pardon Turing also received worldwide support from fellow scientists, including Stephen Hawking.
The queen has the power to issue a royal pardon to civilians, but rarely does so.
Although Prime Minister Brown issued a formal apology to Turing in 2009, the request to grant a pardon at the time was denied by then Justice Minister Lord McNally on the grounds that Turing was properly convicted of what was considered a criminal offense at the time.
Under typical fashion, a pardon is only granted when the person is found innocent and usually where a request has been made by someone with a vested interest, such as a close friend or family member. In the case of Turing, however, the pardon has been issued without either requirement being met.
While this is seen as a win for many, some do not feel like justice has been served.
Dr. Andrew Hodges, tutorial fellow in mathematics at Wadham College, Oxford, and author of the acclaimed biography Alan Turing: The Enigma, said in a statement to The Guardian: “Alan Turing suffered appalling treatment 60 years ago and there has been a very well intended and deeply felt campaign to remedy it in some way. Unfortunately, I cannot feel that such a ‘pardon’ embodies any good legal principle. If anything, it suggests that a sufficiently valuable individual should be above the law which applies to everyone else.”
“It’s far more important that in the 30 years since I brought the story to public attention, LGBT rights movements have succeeded with a complete change in the law – for all. So, for me, this symbolic action adds nothing,” he added.
“A more substantial action would be the release of files on Turing’s secret work for GCHQ in the cold war. Loss of security clearance, state distrust and surveillance may have been crucial factors in the two years leading up to his death in 1954,” Hodges told The Guardian.
Mr. Turing’s pardon takes effect today, Dec. 24, 2013.