Commission upholds insanity claim

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A seven-member commission charged with evaluating court-appointed psychiatrists’ reports on the mental health of criminal defendants has upheld a recent controversial claim that confessed terrorist Anders Behring Breivik is insane and needs treatment, not jail time.

Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported Thursday morning that the commission’s acceptance of the insanity claim comes despite widespread disagreement over the court-appointed psychiatrists’ evaluation of Breivik’s mental state. NRK had reported on Wednesday that at least three of the seven members of the commission on forensic medicine had raised serious objections to the report and conclusions made about Breivik by court-appointed psychiatrists Torgeir Husby and Synne Sørheim.

‘No substantial comments’
Tarjei Rygnestad, leader of Den rettsmedisinske kommisjon, nonetheless said the commission was forwarding the report “with no substantial comments,” meaning that Husby’s and Sørheim’s conclusions were accepted. The commission agrees that Breivik is criminally insane and can’t be held responsible for the July 22 bombing and massacre that he planned for years and which left 77 persons dead.

Rygnestad told NRK he couldn’t comment in detail because of confidentiality issues, but said the commission would be prepared to account for its evaluation of the report on Breivk if the court asks for that.

The determination that Breivik is insane has been a topic of great debate since Husby’s and Sørheim’s report was released in late November. Several other top-rated psychiatrists also dispute the report’s conclusions, and believe Breivik can and should be held accountable for his attacks. Newspaper Dagsavisen, for example, reported Thursday that two veterans of forensic psychiatry are calling for a new evaluation of Breivik, by new court-appointed psychiatrists.

‘Can’t live with the doubt’
“As a society we cannot live with the doubt that Synne Sørheim and Torgeir Husby have reached the right conclusion,” psychiatrist Pål Abrahamsen told Dagsavisen. Both he and colleague Steinar Hauge have read Sorheim’s and Husby’s report and agreed that “all are best-served” if another report is made.

Abrahamsen and Hauge have been involved in several hundred criminal cases for more than 30 years, and Abrahamsen said he believes Breivik is fully capable of standing trial and being held criminally responsible for his actions. “I believe he acted rationally,” Abrahamsen said. Both he and Hauge dispute Sørheim’s and Husby’s conclusions that Breivik suffers from paranoid schizophrenia and psychosis.

Commission member denied disagreement
The seven-member commission, though, supported the conclusion. NRK had reported that  its deputy leader Gunnar Johannessen had been critical, but Johannessen denied that to VG Nett Wednesday night.

Now it’s up to Breivik’s defense counsel and prosecutors to take the next step, and either accept the commission’s conclusion, ask for a new evaluation of Breivik or put forth other psychiatrists’ reports and seek advice.

Defense counsel often welcome insanity declarations, to keep their clients out of jail. In this case, Breivik himself objects to being called insane and seems anxious to defend his mass murder in court. One of his defense attorneys, Vibeke Hein Bæra, told NRK that Breivik would be presented with the commission’s decision “and then we’ll decide what to do.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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