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 Past crimes, pardons and apologies.

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Meles meles
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PostSubject: Past crimes, pardons and apologies.   Fri 27 Dec 2013, 12:21

I see that on 24 December Alan Turing was given a pardon for his 1952 crime of gross indecency which led to him being publically vilified, judicially castrated, losing his job, and probably taking his own life. Turing died in 1954 so in no way benefits from this pardon but many of those also convicted under the same law must still be alive today …. unpardoned!

Turing has been pardoned but his conviction hasn’t been quashed. There is no suggestion that there was any miscarriage of justice and indeed his conviction still stands as he broke the laws of the time. The pardon was granted under the Royal Prerogative of Mercy after a request by Justice Minister Chris Grayling who justified his request by saying: "Dr Alan Turing was an exceptional man with a brilliant mind …. he 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."

…… so it seems someone only deserves a pardon if they are talented or of special use to the state? Hmm, to me that alone sends a rather worrying message!

I’m full of admiration for Turing’s work and have great sympathy and respect for his personal endurance against adversity .... but I feel uneasy about this pardon. I do not think we should be trying to sanitise the past. Turing was convicted under the laws of the land of 1952. That society has advanced and now deems such laws to have been erroneous, even barbaric, is largely beside the point. One cannot change history. And if we are to start pardoning those convicted under obsolete laws then where are we to stop? Should we, the nation, pardon those soldiers executed for cowardice in WW1, which on the face of it sounds reasonable enough. But then what about all those executed for murder (the death penalty no longer exists in the UK), all the way down, through 10 year olds transported to the colonies for stealing bread, to those unfortunates burned alive because they bore "witches marks". Or, if every convicted felon is deemed "pardoned" when their crime is abolished, or their sentence reduced by a change in the law, that surely rather diminishes the pardon itself to absurdity. Or does it only matter if the felon is still alive, or has living descendants, or if it was "within living memory"?

And then there’s the current drive for national apologies. Should we, the nation, apologise for, say bombing Dresden? Should the Queen have apologised for the massacres in British India? Should the mayor of Bristol apologise for his city’s role in the slave trade? But frankly what is the point of a modern society, whose current members were not even alive then, apologising on behalf of their ancestors (who probably thought they were doing the ‘right’ thing under the circumstances) to the descendants of the long-dead people whom it is thought have been wronged?  This current obsession with seeking to atone for the sins of the fathers seems to me to have more to do with the self-publicity of politicians and the bandwagon-jumping of modern celebrities, and less about righting wrongs, mutual respect, or historical education and understanding.

Surely we should try to comprehend the past, rather than attempt to sanitise it and mould it to our own modern perceptions. Turing was a brilliant man who served his country well, but was treated brutally and publicly humiliated for just his sexual preference. To my mind the conviction, alongside his genius, is a badge of honour, and an enduring testament to the injustice and cruelty equally suffered by many other, less-famous, people at that time. It is also a warning to us all of how easily society could slide back to intolerance.


Last edited by Meles meles on Fri 27 Dec 2013, 13:41; edited 4 times in total (Reason for editing : Typo's)
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PostSubject: Re: Past crimes, pardons and apologies.   Fri 27 Dec 2013, 13:19

MM wrote:

Surely we should try to comprehend the past, rather than attempt to sanitise it and mould it to our own modern perceptions. Turing was a brilliant man who served his country well, but was treated brutally and publicly humiliated for just his sexual preference.


Was it really just about his sexual preferences? Seems it wasn't Turing's homosexuality in itself that was the problem: it was his penchant for working-class men. He laid himself open to blackmail and was therefore a serious security risk. Reminds me of a scene from the BBC production The Cambridge Spies. The young Guy Burgess is hauled up in front of University officials (all of whom are gay themselves) because he's been caught in bed with a waiter. He's warned to be careful about who he goes to bed with in future - gender doesn't matter, but class and political proclivities certainly do. As is explained: "It's not the sex; it's never the sex."

Some people believe Turing was assassinated (the Snow White cyanide apple?) as well as castrated by the Security Services - but that could be just another conspiracy theory. It's an odd business though.

No time now, but this is a very interesting topic, MM - all the questions you raise, not just those concerning Turing.


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PostSubject: Re: Past crimes, pardons and apologies.   Fri 27 Dec 2013, 13:34

Yes, MM, I feel it is in the remembrance of such injustices that things can change and that is the true memorial and recompense. I wouldn't, though, be averse to those, still living, who were convicted on similar grounds, having that expunged from their records.
If we pardon the dead, does that mean we should go on to officially convicting the dead as well? Should there be a real trial for tricky Dicky 3?
National apologies for the sins of the past are, in my view, an absurdity which really do devalue any genuine regrets that such things were done. The only way to make amends is to acknowledge the events and work towards there being no recurrence.
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PostSubject: Re: Past crimes, pardons and apologies.   Fri 27 Dec 2013, 13:43

A pardon cannot be extended automatically to everyone convicted of a particular crime automatically. The process requires a legal reassessment of the particulars in each case and, as a barrister explained on Radio 4 the other day, even if such a course of action should apply only to people convicted of Turing's now obsolete crime it would take several decades and several billion pounds to complete the job.

But the problem goes deeper than that. Changing the nature of royal pardons to exonerate all people convicted of a particular crime, even obsolete ones, opens the door to a nightmarish scenario where an injudiciously applied pardon removes precedent established in cases upon which more "sensible" laws have been formed. That's the problem with not having a constitution in the otherwise accepted sense of the term - tracing all legal rights and power back to the royal person and therefore constructing law on precedent has effectively meant that the entire legal structure is so precarious that one slight miscalculation in a change to those processes deemed the preserve of the monarch can bring the whole house of cards tumbling down.
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PostSubject: Re: Past crimes, pardons and apologies.   Fri 27 Dec 2013, 13:59

Quite so, Nordmann, it is all so horrendously complicated that I'm still surprised Turing got one. Surely this pardon sets a legal precedent that could be invoked for others similarly convicted and indeed still alive.

Chris Grayling, the Justice Minister said: "Dr Alan Turing was an exceptional man with a brilliant mind …. he deserves to be remembered and recognised for his fantastic contribution to the war effort and his legacy to science." Indeed, but none of the being "remembered and recognised" : all the statues, blue plaques, museums, articles, TV documentaries, Hollywood films, etc , none of that actually required him to be officially pardoned, now did it? And I sincerely hope this pardon doesn't actually denote the start of any forgetting and whitewashing over the past, just because: "mummy's said sorry, so it's all better now and lets just forget all about it, OK!".

Mr Grayling might well hope that this pardon is: "... a fitting tribute to an exceptional man.", but I, terrible cynic that I am, fear that Mr Grayling actually hopes it will be much more of a tribute to his own gay-friendly and possibly vote-winning credentials!

But my point wasn't just about Turing but rather the wider question of pardons and apologies for wrongs done in the past.
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PostSubject: Re: Past crimes, pardons and apologies.   Fri 27 Dec 2013, 15:23

I understand that, and I am equally suspicious of retrospective guilt being expressed publicly "on our behalf" by politicians for past wrongs, be they miscarriages of justice, obscenely unjust laws or state-sponsored enslavery. To say it changes nothing is more true than that phrase that I have already heard in connection with Turing's "pardon" - 'too little too late'. Both are however doubly meaningless compared to what the action says about modern political values - or indeed their absence. This is what really should be shouted from the rooftops, or at least reflected upon in news programmes. I have noticed however that anything in the UK that might cause people to reflect on the disadvantages of that country's "uncodified constitution" and how it impacts on their rights is ignored to the point of wilful denial in the mass media and I assume for reasons to do with the preservation of the structure, not because of any interest whatsoever in citizen's rights or the lack of them. The UK constitutionally has no citizens, only subjects, and this is something that is also rigorously avoided in the huge bulk of public debate as expressed by the media.

The legal process alone which brought about Turing's pardon apparently was initiated over five years ago - and that after almost two decades of campaigning just for that case to be reconsidered. Even then no legal statement of innocence has been or even can be issued in his case. The Guildford Four and the Birmingham Six, ten individuals who managed to get one stage further and have their convictions quashed, still had to settle for "pardons" to be legally released from prison. Such is it in a country inhabited by non-citizens.
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PostSubject: Re: Past crimes, pardons and apologies.   Fri 27 Dec 2013, 17:04

@nordmann wrote:
Such is it in a country inhabited by non-citizens.


Mmm. Are things better elsewhere? Who has the power to pardon - or declare innocence rather - and to offer mercy and remorse in the USA, for instance? Is it the President? I'm trying to think of posthumous pardons there - for citizens wrongly executed for example.
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PostSubject: Re: Past crimes, pardons and apologies.   Fri 27 Dec 2013, 17:52

Well it depends on how the decision has been arrived at. For example if it is because of a constitutional amendment in the USA, such as when prohibition was revoked, then as with everything else covered by a federal constitution the power is deemed to reside with the people themselves. Also, when as in that case all laws drafted on the basis of the revoked amendment were ipso facto deemed unconstitutional then it automatically set a legal basis for the payment of compensation to those who had been convicted. It is important to note that this did not mean people were "pardoned" - they were not only exonerated but in many cases deemed wrongly convicted. Those who defied the laws as they then stood but who broke other laws in the operation of their crime were offered retrial on that basis. Both of these measures are denied British subjects.

When it comes to pardons the USA is still ahead of Britain in the sense that a person deserving of pardon can apply to three distinct authorities for the privilege, depending of course on the circumstances supporting their plea. A failure to secure a gubernatorial pardon allows the individual recourse to apply to secure a presidential pardon. Both of these are pardons extended by executives of the state employed by the people. Failure in both attempts therefore qualifies a person to apply for a pardon from the Supreme Court, the custodians of the laws which at least titularly are those decided by the people.

When it comes to such pardons, posthumous or otherwise, the USA is way ahead of Britain. Gerald Ford alone pardoned 50,000 draft dodgers - be they dead or alive - in one fell swoop. John F Kennedy did much the same when he pardoned all first-time felons convicted under the 1956 Narcotics Act. Ford also pardoned Nixon, which was probably extending his executive prerogative in enacting the people's will a little too far beyond the bounds of reason. However it is important to remember that even Nixon's pardon could itself be revoked (as can all presidential pardons) by Congress's failure to ratify it. The point is that at least nominally the people are involved in the decision making process and fundamentally carry the ultimate responsibility for what is done in their name. They are citizens in other words, not subjects.

Posthumous pardons for insecure or wrongful convictions involving the death penalty are quite numerous. The most famous one recently is probably the "Scottsboro Boys" case in Alabama. Just to show just how democratic the process is in the USA compared to the UK this was enacted by the Alabama Pardons Board, appointed by the governor and which includes public petition and legal representation for affected parties (paid for by the state) in its deliberation process.

So yes is the answer. Compared to societies where the people are of subject status without actual constitutional rights then it is indeed better elsewhere, and not just in the USA. Nowhere's perfect but it is still more than fair to attribute relative degrees of success to the systems under which people live when it comes to defining their actual role in society, and I am afraid that Britain does not score very highly at all in that respect (as the Irish, amongst others, have often discovered in recent decades to their cost).
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PostSubject: Re: Past crimes, pardons and apologies.   Sun 29 Dec 2013, 11:38

@Meles meles wrote:
Surely this pardon sets a legal precedent that could be invoked for others similarly convicted and indeed still alive.

No actually. No new interpretation of any existing law has been required here, at least that I am aware anyone has pointed out, so if that is the case then there is nothing with the legal status of precedent. The biggest challenge was to justify the opening of the procedure in Turing's case. Once that was agreed (very much a political rather than legal decision) the actual procedure itself was straightforward, if time consuming.

On the broader question of apologies issued by politicians on behalf of whole states for wrongs done in times long past there is an ethical question which rarely gets asked (though when it is asked is invariably first asked by those to whom the apology is directed). If, for example, you as prime minister apologise to me as a black man for your country's previous involvement in the slave trade, am I to assume that you see slavery as a component of my identity? If you do then I need much more than an apology, I need an explanation of the extent to which you do so that I know how you think when we are in further negotiation over other matters of more contemporary immediacy and importance. If you apologise to me as an Irishman for the Great Famine of the 1840s am I to assume that my identity as an Irishman in your eyes has not progressed so far beyond that which pertained at the time that it is yet a component in your view? In that case I need to know the nature of this identity that you perceive and understand to be relevant far more than I need an apology. And so on, depending on the context. While the motive might be said by the apologiser to be "well meaning" it could equally be said to be indicative of a much more sinister aspect to the apologiser's mind-set, one that could well prejudice any further productive communication in a more meaningful political sense.
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PostSubject: Re: Past crimes, pardons and apologies.   Mon 30 Dec 2013, 09:42

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PostSubject: Re: Past crimes, pardons and apologies.   Mon 30 Dec 2013, 12:21

I've just tried to edit/re-write the above muddled message and give this link. Have lost attempted revision twice with a peculiar "timed out" response.

MM - this article looks interesting. I'm just about to try to access it online for free.


http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/844083?uid=2129&uid=2134&uid=2&uid=70&uid=4&sid=21103179484231
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PostSubject: Re: Past crimes, pardons and apologies.   Tue 31 Dec 2013, 10:11

For anyone interested, the Grupp article is well worth reading. How complicated it all is: as ever with English history, things can't be summed up and dismissed in a post or two.

Pardons are like forgiveness - as much for the benefit of the pardoner as for the pardoned.

The role of Chancery, the Church and Parliament - need to find out a bit more about this.
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PostSubject: Re: Past crimes, pardons and apologies.   Tue 31 Dec 2013, 10:22

Grupp demonstrates that in England "pardon" has - and has always had - quite a distinct and separate meaning in legal terms depending on the status of the issuer. In legal systems bound by constitutional restraint on definition however it tends to have one.

This is important therefore as it is yet another evidence of how failure to adopt a written constitution allows law to be shaped by less egalitarian influences, to a large extent related to class and to the presence of a recognised social order which segmentalises the community in terms of power and role. When this segmentalisation is governed largely by the class or social stratum into which one is incidentally born then it simply highlights the potential disadvantages to a society's members in which all but one person in a large population have, as a starting point in defining their rights, the status of being subject to that one. All too often this potential has been realised in the past.
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PostSubject: Re: Past crimes, pardons and apologies.   Sat 04 Jan 2014, 11:32

This thread made me think of the posthumous pardon granted to Derek Bentley (in the late 1990s) for the murder of a policeman in the 1950s.  It's a well-known case in the UK at least.  Basically, Mr Bentley then aged 19 and his friend Christopher Craig who was 16 made a hopelessly botched burglary attempt and an unfortunate policeman was fatally shot by Mr Craig.  The perpetrators were swiftly caught but at 16 Craig was too young to be hanged for murder but Bentley being a few years older was deemed to be guilty by association (that is grossly oversimplifying the point of law I know) and was hanged.  It was a controversial execution at the time; Bentley while not being a goody-goody, was not an overly intelligent young man.  The words "Let him have it" were uttered by Bentley, seemingly, and the Prosecution interpreted the phrase as meaning that Bentley was telling Craig to shoot the policeman, the Defence maintained he was telling Craig to hand the gun over to the policeman.  Bentley's sister campaigned for many years for a posthumous pardon and was eventually successful.  There does seem to be some perception that Bentley was the "fall guy" in that there was a feeling that someone should be punished when a policeman was murdered  but Craig was too young to be hanged for murder.  Unfortunately I cannot remember the source here but I can remember something from around the time [early 1990s] the film "Let Him Have It" was released that a reporter was said to have tracked down Christopher Craig who said that the sentence "Let him have it" was never spoken during the burglary.  It is possible that after many years Craig's memory played him false.  My own feeling is that Bentley was not guilty of murder - of attempted burglary, conspiracy to burgle, yes.  The pardon does not help him but perhaps it helps his surviving relations.  I don't know if Alan Turing has any surviving family (cousins, cousins' children etc) but his pardon may help them.
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PostSubject: Re: Past crimes, pardons and apologies.   Sat 04 Jan 2014, 21:02

That execution did seem a travesty of justice, LIR, and I think it is one of the stories brought up when capital punishment is mentioned. 

In NZ the best-known pardon was for a man called Arthur Allen Thomas, for a very mysterious crime which is probably the most famous in NZ history.  A couple missing from a bloodied house were found dead (I am writing this from memory and some details might be wrong - not sure if they found both bodies or not); a day or two earlier a woman's outline had been seen feeding a baby in the house (who was still there unharmed).  The Crewe Murders have become the stuff of legend, and Arthur Allen Thomas (always known in the media as that, though I presume he was just called Arthur) was found guilty at two separate trials and spend about 20 years in prison.  He was charged because of evidence planted by the police, and on a slender motivation (jealousy of a woman he had gone out with once or twice years earlier).  He was eventually pardoned and given quite a sum of money.

Rochelle Crewe has been in the media recently wanting answers to her parents' death (she has kept a low profile till now and not been hounded by anyone).  The chief police running the case died recently and was called a man of great integrity, which didn't go down all that well.  But police have never admitted they got the wrong man.  No one else is in much doubt.  Various theories have been put forward in the last forty years, and perhaps the most likely culprit was the wife's father, who has since died.  Some family feuding over money and inheritance.  Though would you kill your own daughter?

I think there was not long ago here a pardon for a WWI soldier executed for desertion.  Took a lot of advocacy.
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PostSubject: Re: Past crimes, pardons and apologies.   Fri 10 Jan 2014, 13:52

@Caro wrote:


I think there was not long ago here a pardon for a WWI soldier executed for desertion.  Took a lot of advocacy.

There was talk of a blanket pardon for all soldiers executed during WW1, on the grounds that they were suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, forgetting that some of them were shot for murder, a capital offence at the time.
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PostSubject: Re: Past crimes, pardons and apologies.   Fri 10 Jan 2014, 14:36

Correction, it has already been done;

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/4796579.stm

elsewhere, I found that only 11% of death sentences handed down were actually carried out.
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PostSubject: Re: Past crimes, pardons and apologies.   Fri 10 Jan 2014, 19:54

Times gets away on you.  Those soldiers I mentioned were pardoned by the NZ government in 2000, and then later in 2006 by the British government.  I read a novel recently (this time it was only eighteen months ago or so) where a NZ soldier was due to be executed in the first world war but the Australian soldiers appointed to carry this out refused.  I don't know how likely this actual scenario is, but Australia did not execute its soldiers on the grounds they were all volunteers.  The article below says, in part: 
[*]
"No Australian soldiers were executed for cowardice or desertion during the war although 121 were found guilty of offences punishable by death.
Convicted Australians had their sentences commuted and were mostly sent home. Their Government would not permit its soldiers under British command to be executed.
The British move follows New Zealand legislation in 2000 which pardoned the three New Zealanders - and two Australian-born men serving with New Zealand forces - who were shot for desertion."


http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10409821
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PostSubject: Re: Past crimes, pardons and apologies.   Sun 12 Jan 2014, 12:53

@Triceratops wrote:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/4796579.stm


Am I alone in finding such blanket pardons, such as that referred to by Trike, somewhat odd?

The article (from 2006) says: "More than 300 soldiers who were shot for military offences during World War I will receive formal pardons, the Ministry of Defence has confirmed ..... It is thought 306 British soldiers were shot for cowardice, desertion or other offences in the 1914-1918 war".

These sentences were carried out nearly 100 years ago and all next of kin will now be dead too. And I should think if one had held a referendum in Britain in 1918 as to whether these men should receive a blanket pardon I suspect there would have been a resounding NO! In 1918 the British populace - the vast majority of whom had, for better or worse, "done their duty",  and had duly sacrificed their fathers, uncles, cousins, friends, brothers and sons - did not look favourably on those they saw as "malingerers and cowards" and all those that had shirked their duty to avoid combat. That we now understand post-traumatic stress disorder is immaterial ... it was not recognised then. Indeed that it is now accepted is a to a great degree due to those who suffered from it in WW1. And do not forget that there are still many countries even in the 21 century, that demand the death penalty for, "military cowardice in the face of the enemy". And, going back to the original article, what were these "other offences" I wonder? As the article says in a lot of cases the documentation no longer exists so it impossible to actually re-examine the cases, whatever the crimes ... or not ...  that were committed. 

So again I question the point of such pardons : who is supposed to be made to feel vindicated/forgiven with this. Do the great grand-children of the executed soldiers suddenly feel justice has been done? Do the great-grand children of the thousands of men who died in action, because they did do their duty, feel justice has been done? Again are we not trying to sanitise history and mould it to how we would like it to be? In 2014 we do not shoot conscripts who are mentally destroyed by the stress of war, but this country did once shot it's own soldiers in wartime because they couldn't mentally cope. Surely that stands as a mark of how much society has advanced, and it needs to be remembered and not whitewashed over.
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PostSubject: Re: Past crimes, pardons and apologies.   Sun 12 Jan 2014, 22:58

I suppose for many of these men (were any women executed for desertion? or did you have to be in the front line?) there is no one who particularly cares but that is certainly not the case for all.  The last soldier executed in WWI was a Southland, NZ man (I grew up in Southland and live very close to it now) whose family fought hard for his NZ pardon, and he is one of those included in the British mass pardon.  They still care. http://tvnz.co.nz/content/1075960/423466.html

His medals and the NZ pardon have recently been gifted to the Bluff Museum in the small town he came from. The pardons don't really take away from the actual events so it's not really sanitising history.  It does seem to me an extraordinary action to deliberately kill your own soldiers. Australian morale or discipline without such a death penalty didn't seem to be any lesser than other countries. Were family at home told that was how they had died, do you know?
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PostSubject: Re: Past crimes, pardons and apologies.   Mon 13 Jan 2014, 09:44

I would think that the next of kin were indeed told officially that they had been executed since in any case they would presumably no longer be eligible for a pension. There is then also the financial side to recognising posthumously a miss carriage of justice.
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PostSubject: Re: Past crimes, pardons and apologies.   Mon 13 Jan 2014, 10:16

But there is a difference between a pardon and a legal recognition of a miscarriage of justice. Two very different things especially for crown subjects, the latter being very difficult to achieve (and with no set rules for compensation anyway) and the former carrying no liability for the state - so compensation in both cases is nearly always what they call "discretionary".

It is precisely examples like this that highlight the disadvantages for citizens in a society where their rights are not defined and protected by a written constitution. Those in the UK who suggest it is safer to "muddle on" without one either conveniently forget or - worse - have an ingrained callous disregard for the many people who share their nationality and who suffer tremendously from this lack of full citizen status when it matters.
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