Judge grilled court psychiatrists
June 15, 2012
Oslo Judge Wenche Elizabeth Arntzen spent nearly an hour on Friday questioning the two court-appointed psychiatrists who insist that confessed terrorist Anders Behring Breivik is insane. Now they say they think he can be treated as well.
“We are treatment optimists,” testified Synne Sørheim, part of the psychiatric duo who examined Breivik together in the weeks following his attacks on July 22 that killed 77 persons. She and fellow psychiatrist Torgeir Husby continued to defend their diagnosis that Breivik suffers from paranoid schizophrenia and psychosis. If the court upholds their declaration, Breivik will be committed to psychiatric care and not to prison.
Arntzen had questioned them closely on whether Breivik’s mental state hadn’t fluctuated in recent years, from documented periods of isolation to periods of more seemingly normal social contact. Prosecutor Svein Holden said in court on Friday that Breivik had started rising through the ranks of the Free Masons, from 2006 to 2009, when Husby and Sørheim believe he already was ill. Arntzen wondered whether Breivik’s allegedly poor mental health thus could have improved, not least since he had no psychiatric treatment at the time.
Husby and Sørheim didn’t seem to think so, noting that fluctuations don’t necessarily mean a person is no longer ill. While Sørheim conceded that “there can be different interpretations” of his symptoms, they firmly believed he suffers from delusions. Asked what sort of treatment they’d suggest, Sørheim said it could involve various medication, but admitted that “there’s no doubt” that medicating delusions is difficult. Neither would predict how Breivik might respond to medication.
Questioning the ‘right’ to kill
The judge also raised several issues that have been a matter of much debate in Norway in the months since Breivik, a 33-year-old Norwegian and avowed right-wing extremist, said he carried out his attacks to save Norway from immigration and halt its emergence as a multi-cultural society. He targeted Norway’s Labour Party government and the party’s youth organization that he feared was producing the next generation of pro-immigration politicians.
The psychiatrists base their insanity diagnosis largely on what they see as the right Breivik believed he had, and still has, to choose who to kill, not least because of what they view as his delusional role in the unverified organization Knights Templar. Judge Arntzen noted, however, that most terrorists also think they have a right to kill, questioning what was the difference between Breivik and other terrorists.
“I don’t think I should go into what other terrorists think they have the right to do, I don’t know anything about that,” Sørheim responded. Husby noted that other right-wing extremists have distanced themselves from Breivik, even citing a recent report on the so-called Fjordman’s website in which the right-wing “Fjordman” claimed Breivik was insane. It was a surprising citation for Husby to make, since he testified at length on Thursday about the importance of their own face-to-face conversations with Breivik. He harshly criticized other psychiatrists for diagnosing Breivik without ever having met him. Fjordman himself has stressed that he never met Breivik either.
Asked by Artnzen to view Breivik in a “right-wing context,” Sørheim continued to claim that Breivik’s words and beliefs are “anchored in his delusions” that he had a calling to kill and that, in their opinion, amounts to mental illness.
How was it possible, Arntzen wondered, that several other psychiatrists who also have had close contact with Breivik didn’t spot the illness that Husby and Sørheim did? At one point, Breivik was under 24-hour observation by a team of medical personnel. Psychiatrists working at the prison where he’s being held also have testified that Breivik is not ill.
“Why it didn’t come forward at Ila (the prison), I have not opinion on that,” Sørheim said. “I have no comment.” Husby suggested it can be easier to detect such illness under the sort of questioning they conducted with Breivik. “Why they (the other psychiatrists) didn’t discover this, we don’t know,” he said.
Both of them also downplayed the importance of observations of Breivik during his ongoing trial. It wrapped up its ninth week this week, and Breivik by most accounts has appeared calm and rational throughout.
“Observations in court have limitations,” Husby contended, adding that it might have been better if Breivik had been allowed to say more than he has. “If he’d talked more, maybe more gærnt (crazy things) would have come out,” Husby suggested, adding that Breivik could have been “his own worst enemy” but has learned to adapt to the setting he’s in. “He’s not stupid,” Husby said.
Arntzen reminded the psychiatrists that Breivik was allowed to speak almost uninterrupted at the beginning of his trial, has been subject to cross-examination and been allowed to comment on witnesses’ testimony. How did they think he did under cross-examination?
“He reverts to things he wants to talk about,” Husby responded. “With all respect to the prosecutors’ way of questioning, they don’t get out the important details.” He referred again to Breivik’s ability to adapt to various settings, and clearly thinks the setting under which they questioned him last fall was the best and resulted in the correct diagnosis.
Asked whether Breivik ever expressed a desire to be declared sane, both psychiatrists said no, with Sørheim claiming “he was sure he would be ruled sane. We did not comment on that.”
Some of the psychiatrists, professors and legal experts whom Husby harsly criticized in opening remarks on Thursday have told Norwegian media they think Husby is arrogant. Others can understand that both Husby and Sørheim are determined to defend their work and their diagnosis.
It’s ultimately up to Arntzen and her fellow judges to decide. She gave no indication of whether she was satisfied with the answers she received on Friday from Husby and Sørheim on Friday. Other lawyers in the case were also able to pose questions. The trial is due to conclude late next week, with a verdict due in July or August.
Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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