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Monday, July 22, 2024

Debate over Breivik’s fate won’t cease

NEWS ANALYSIS: Norway’s home-grown mass murderer and confessed terrorist Anders Behring Breivik continues to grab headlines in Norwegian media, as debate goes on over what will ultimately happen to him. The declaration that he’s insane, and can’t be held responsible for his actions, is hotly contested outside the corridors of power. Its acceptance, though, by both the prosecution and the defense may reflect the legal establishment’s difficulty in believing that his heinous crimes could be carried out by a rational Norwegian.

The court-appointed psychiatrists’ declaration of insanity set off debate in November that hasn’t died down yet. Many Norwegians, including survivors of Breivik’s bombing and massacre on July 22 and families of his victims, still can’t believe that the planning and procurement that went into the attacks could have been carried out by a person who’s insane. They see a man who was cold and calculating, totally lacking human empathy, perhaps, but not mad in the medical sense of the word.

No indications of illness
Friends and family of Breivik have also told local media that they never saw any indication of mental illness, or that he was incapable of taking care of himself. Newspaper Aftenposten reported, for example, that one family member described him as articulate, knowledgeable and reflective, “like he’d always been,” at their last meeting during Christmas 2010. At a time when the psychiatrists claimed in their report that he had lost the ability to function, after moving in with his mother in 2006, friends said he was taking part in family dinners, café visits, trips to holiday cabins known as hytter and various parties. Aftenposten based its information on transcripts obtained from questioning carried out by police as part of their massive investigation into Breivik’s attacks.

One of Norway’s leading forensic psychiatrists who was not involved in the court-ordered evaluation of Breivik, Randi Rosenqvist, has also made headlines recently, after it emerged that she hasn’t seen any signs of mental illness either. Rosenqvist, ranked as one of Norway’s most experienced psychiatrists in legal cases, is a former leader of the state commission on forensic medicine that supported the insanity conclusion of court-appointed psychiatrists Torgeir Husby and Synne Sørheim. Rosenqvist was hired by the prison to evaluate the risk Breivik represents and how he should best be handled.

She hasn’t spent nearly as much time with him as Husby and Sørheim, but had conversations with him last autumn and in December. Rosenqvist reportedly agreed with other staff members at Ila Prison, who, after having him in their custody and under observation for the past five months, do not believe he’s either psychotic or schizophrenic. She has recommended he be handled as a “VIP prisoner,” reported newspaper Dagsavisen, which gained access to her written report on Breivik. That would be best for prison staff’s security, she believes, because she sees no point in angering him by deflating his ego. As it is, Breivik has three cells at his disposal, one with a computer, DVD and books, another with exercise equipment and one for resting and watching TV. Breivik was allowed access to media last month and this week was able to start receiving visitors or conducting interviews if he so chooses.

Placate, don’t punish?
In short, it seems Breivik should be placated, not punished, even if he’s not considered insane. That reflects Norway’s tradition of trying to rehabilitate prisoners instead of simply punish them.

But something else seems to be at force here, as the authorities grapple with Norway’s worst criminal ever. If Breivik is deemed insane, it would follow that most all terrorists are insane as well, especially the fundamental extremists. But as Rosenqvist herself told German magazine Der Spiegel recently, “No one would think to call members of the Baader-Meinhof band insane.” The question also arises whether a US court would have ruled Osama bin Laden insane, if given the chance, or whether other countries would declare terrorists who attacked them as insane, and decide against holding them responsible for their actions as well.

That’s unlikely, and the issue has led one former supreme court justice in Norway, Ketil Lund, to suggest that the country’s rules regarding insanity must be changed. “I hope the Breivik case opens up some eyes to how unacceptable the Norwegian rules on insanity are,” Lund told news bureau NTB last week, after writing about the issue in newspaper Klassekampen. He thinks current practice dehumanizes those who suffer severe mental illness, by taking away their sense of responsibility. The Breivik case, he argues, involves “a man who planned and carried out his deeds, who thought of all eventualities that could influence his possibilities,” Lund said, adding that Norway’s rules don’t reflect international developments in the field.

Simply ‘must’ be sick
Some of Breivik’s old friends, despite claiming that they saw no signs of mental illness in the years leading up to his attacks, reportedly expressed to police investigators that he must have been sick anyway, to carry out such murderous crimes. Prosecutors opted against challenging the insanity declaration, arguing that even a new, opposite conclusion wouldn’t remove the doubt that currently flourishes. And if there’s any doubt, he’s automatically viewed as utilregnelig in Norway — insane and not criminally responsible.

It’s enough to make observers of the process now going on in Norway wonder whether forces are at work to brand Breivik as sick, insane and not responsible, because he’s one of their own and they can find no other explanation for such aberrant behaviour than mental illness. No one can blame the shocking attacks of July 22nd on foreign fanaticism or religious extremism. They were carried out by a young, blond, well-mannered and well-dressed son of an albeit estranged Norwegian diplomat. Norway’s worst mass-murderer grew up in one of its capital city’s most fashionable neighborhoods. It’s hard to believe such evil can exist within such a person. How else explain his actions, if he isn’t officially declared insane? It’s tempting to speculate how the legal system would have handled the case if the July 22nd terrorist had been foreign, and also a political or religious extremist. Would he or she have three cells at their disposal and been subject to long hours of psychiatric evaluation? Foreign experts may have been called in, and results different.

Newspaper Aftenposten reported on Thursday that attorneys representing various parties in the case agreed on who they’d like to see re-evaluate Breivik’s mental health, if the court seeks a second opinion even though neither the prosecution nor the defense has sought one. And even though several top Norwegian attorneys have claimed it’s impossible to find anyone unaffected by all the controversy around the case. Some say Breivik must be examined by psychiatric experts from abroad. Others say that’s not possible, either, because they’d need to be fluent in Norwegian and have a full grasp of Norwegian law.

Insane or not, Breivik faces continued custody either in prison or a psychiatric institution. Perhaps the most nagging question is what would happen to Breivik if he’s one day declared to no longer be psychotic or suffering from other psychiatric ailments. Could he be set free? Technically, yes, but then other forces may emerge to seek ways of keeping him in custody for the rest of his life.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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