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September 12, 2009

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Brown apologizes for code-breaker treatment

BRITISH Prime Minister Gordon Brown offered a posthumous apology yesterday for the "inhumane" treatment of Alan Turing, the World War II code-breaker who committed suicide in 1954 after being prosecuted for homosexuality and forcibly treated with female hormones.

The mathematician helped crack Nazi Germany's Enigma encryption machine -- a turning point in the war -- and is considered a father of modern computing.

In 1952, however, Turing was convicted of gross indecency for having sex with a man and offered a choice between prison and "chemical castration" -- the injection of female hormones to suppress his libido. His security clearance was revoked and he was no longer allowed to work for the government.

Two years later, he killed himself at age 41 by eating an apple laced with cyanide.

As Britain marks the 70th anniversary of the September 1939 start of the war -- remembered as its "finest hour" -- Brown said Turing "deserved so much better" than the treatment he received from postwar society.

"It is no exaggeration to say that, without his outstanding contribution, the history of World War II could well have been very different," Brown said. "He truly was one of those individuals we can point to whose unique contribution helped to turn the tide of war."

Brown said Turing was "in effect, tried for being gay." Homosexuality was illegal in Britain until 1967.

"The debt of gratitude he is owed makes it all the more horrifying, therefore, that he was treated so inhumanely," Brown said. "We're sorry, you deserved so much better."

Brown's apology follows an online petition campaign that drew more than 30,000 supporters.

Brown's apology, published on his office Website, was seen as rare. The British government has resisted previous calls to apologize for historical events.


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