Experts challenge insanity diagnosis

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More psychiatrists are challenging last week’s declaration by court-appointed colleagues that confessed terrorist Anders Behring Breivik is insane and therefore can’t be punished with a normal prison term. Meanwhile, police have wrapped up questioning of Breivik’s older half-sister as they continue to investigate his past.

Both police investigators and Breivik’s defense counsel have been in southern California after Breivik’s half-sister agreed to answer questions. She was among the few who had contact with Breivik in the time leading up to his attacks that killed 77 persons in July. She also reportedly was worried about him, and had expressed concern to their mother. Police are now expected to question Breivik’s estranged father, who lives in France.

It’s the insanity declaration, though, that continues to stir debate and dominate headlines in Norway, with a steady stream of psychiatric and legal experts questioning its validity. Mental health declarations made by court-appointed psychiatrists are routinely accepted by the judiciary, but this one is generating so much criticism that court officials may need to obtain a second opinion.

“I can’t see any other solution than the court appointing new psychiatrists (to evaluate Breivik),” Dr Arne Thorvik, a psychiatrist with 19 years of experience in working with the legal system, told newspaper Aftenposten on Monday.

Lack of documentation
Thorvik is among the latest to read through the 243-page report prepared by the court-appointed psychiatrists Synne Sørheim and Torgeir Husby. They concluded that Breivik suffers from paranoid schizophrenia and psychosis but they won’t publicly comment on the contents of their report, apart from Husby’s general comments made upon delivery of the report that he and Sørheim had no doubts about their diagnosis and were in full agreement.

Thorvik and colleague Svenn Torgersen, asked by Aftenposten to evaluate Husby’s and Sørheim’s report, claim it lacks documentation for their insanity diagnosis. They also dispute whether Breivik’s delusions can be characterized as “bizarre” and they question whether he is paranoid schizophrenic or paranoid psychotic.

“I can’t find any documentation of the ‘bizarre’ delusions,” Torgersen told Aftenposten. He referred to a request from Breivik to dig up the remains of an old Viking king for DNA testing to see who among living Norwegians has the most similar DNA today. “This was called ‘bizarre” but it’s not,” Torgersen said. “It’s fully possible, has been done in Asia to confirm descendants of Genghis Khan, and isn’t science fiction. It’s today’s science.” Thorvik also called it a “weakness” that the report didn’t look for other clarification of Breivik’s statements than psychosis.

More criticism
Other psychiatrists already have challenged the report, which remains subject to a quality evaluation by a state commission before the court will determine whether to accept it. The other critics cite the report’s failure to address Breivik’s political ideology and online activity, whether he was functional and able to take care of himself, whether he was or is suicidal and whether it’s a sign of psychosis if he believed he was under surveillance. Questions also have been raised over the two court-appointed psychiatrists’ methodology, including the fact that Sørheim never met with Breivik alone, for security reasons.

Others note that Breivik operated as a “classic terrorist,” planning his attacks for a long time and carrying them out in a cold and rational manner. That raises questions of whether all terrorists are thus psychotic. Breivik himself has been offended by the insanity claim and believes the psychiatrists have misunderstood him.

Thorvik believes the court must appoint new psychiatrists for another independent evaluation of Breivik. “If not, there will continue to be doubt about this conclusion,” he said. “It’s important for the future, for the many victims and survivors and not least for all the non-violent people with this diagnosis who are bothered by the report.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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