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UK pardons gay WWII code-breaker Alan Turing

Britain has posthumously pardoned Alan Turing for a gay sex conviction. Turing was the computing pioneer and code-breaker credited with helping to win the war against Nazi Germany.

Turing committed suicide more than 50 years ago, after his persecution and prosecution for homosexuality, which included forced chemical castration.

Iain Stewart, the British lawmaker who pressed for the pardon, told The Associated Press, “He helped preserve our liberty. We owed it to him in recognition of what he did for the country – and indeed the free world – that his name should be cleared.”

The AP said Turing’s contributions to science spanned from computer science to biology, but he’s perhaps best remembered as the architect of the effort to crack the Enigma code, the cipher used by Nazi Germany to secure its military communications. Turing’s work gave the Allies the edge across half the globe, helping them defeat the Italians in the Mediterranean, beat back the Germans in Africa and escape enemy submarines in the Atlantic.

“It could be argued and it has been argued that he shortened the war, and that possibly without him the Allies might not have won the war,” said David Leavitt, the author of a book on Turing’s life and work. “That’s highly speculative, but I don’t think his contribution can be underestimated. It was immense.”

Turing also pioneered the field of computer science, theorizing the existence of a “universal machine” that could be programmed to carry out different task years before the creation of the world’s fully functional electronic computer.

Those accomplishments didn’t save him from arrest and prosecution for the offense of “gross indecency” stemming from his relationship with another man in 1952. Turing was stripped of his security clearance, subjected to monitoring by British authorities, and forced to take estrogen to neutralize his sex drive – a process described by some as chemical castration.

Turing committed suicide in 1954. S. Barry Cooper, a University of Leeds mathematician who has written about Turing’s work, said future generations would struggle to understand the code breaker’s treatment.

“You take one of your greatest scientists, and you invade his body with hormones,” he said in a telephone interview. “It was a national failure.”

The pardon on Dec. 24 was officially granted by Queen Elizabeth II, although in practice such pardons are an executive decision taken by the government.

Leavitt said, “Everyone should be equal under the law,” he said. “It’s wrong to give famous privileged pardons.”