A new public opinion poll shows that 75 percent of the Norwegian population wants their home-grown confessed terrorist, Anders Behring Breivik, to be held accountable for his deadly attacks on July 22 and sent to prison. The poll results, which follow massive debate over Breivik’s mental health, came as prosecutors prepared to disclose what sort of custody terms they’ll seek for the young man who killed 77 persons.
The poll, conducted by research firm Norstat for Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK), seems to confirm what many have been claiming: That the vast majority of Norwegians believe Breivik is not insane and that he is mentally healthy enough to serve as normal a prison term as possible.
Only 10 percent of Norwegians believe Breivik is so sick that he should be committed to a psychiatric institution instead of sent to jail, according to NRK’s poll. The remaining 15 percent were unsure as Breivik’s lengthy trial wrapped up this week.
Professional opinions still at odds
The state attorneys prosecuting Breivik on behalf of the public, however, declared months before his trial began that they’d likely ask the court to sentence him to a psychiatric institution, not prison. They felt bound by a report on Breivik’s mental state by court-appointed psychiatrists, who found him to be suffering from psychosis and paranoid schizophrenia. Under Norwegian law, Breivik would then be considered unfit for prison because he couldn’t be considered legally responsible for his actions.
Public outcry was swift, and the court, in an unusual move, appointed two new psychiatrists to examine Breivik, to get a second opinion. When they arrived at the opposite conclusion of the first team, and diagnosed Breivik as sane and in control of his actions, confusion was complete. The prosecutors had to step back from their initial plan, and withhold any sentencing requests until all evidence was presented at his trial.
Breivik’s 10-week trial, which ends on Friday, has since included extensive evidence of how he carefully planned his attacks for years, and carried them out. Many who survived his massacre on the island of Utøya have described a cold and calculating gunman who they believe knew exactly what he was doing. While the second team of psychiatrists seemed to agree, and said they found only signs of personality disturbances and not psychosis, the first team held fast to their belief he suffers from delusions and was psychotic at the time of the attacks.
The important role of legal doubt
Many legal experts were predicting that the prosecution, set to begin their closing arguments at noon on Thursday, would still ask for psychiatric care and not prison for Breivik. That’s because any doubt in the matter of his mental health generally means the law should go in the defendant’s favour, allowing him or her to avoid prison and instead be treated for their psychiatric ailment.
In the never-ending paradoxes of this case, though, Breivik himself wants to be declared sane and held accountable for his attacks. He has presented himself all along as a right-wing anti-Islamic terrorist who attacked Norway’s Labour Party-led government and the party’s youth summer camp because he held them responsible for allowing immigration to Norway. Breivik fears Norway and Europe will be “taken over” by Muslims, and he has said he decided to act to prevent that. It may be argued that a jail term would thus actually be in his best interests, since it’s what he wants. He has claimed that being committed to a psychiatric institution would be “a fate worse than death.” It would undermine his role as a terrorist, and he’d likely appeal, subjecting the nation to another lengthy round of court proceedings.
If he’s ruled insane, it could be argued that all terrorists are insane and should be treated, not punished. Several legal and medical experts in Norway worry that Breivik is being presented as sick, perhaps because it’s difficult for Norwegian authorities to believe how he otherwise could commit the atrocities that he did. The public wants him punished, according to the new opinion poll.
The prosecutors have stressed that they can’t allow themselves to be swayed by public opinion on the matter. Rather, they insist, they must act in accordance to the legal system Norway has at present, even though the Brevik case seems likely to spark changes in that system including measures to reduce the power now held by court-appointed psychiatrists.
It’s all ultimately up to the judicial panel hearing his case to decide. The defense will conduct its closing arguments on Friday, and Breivik will also be allowed to make a closing statement. A verdict is expected later this summer.
Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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