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Monday, June 17, 2024

Terror trauma six months later

The flowers in front of the Norwegian Parliament are long gone, as they are from other impromptu memorials around the county, but Sunday marked a half-year since Norway was attacked by a home-grown right-wing terrorist. Mourning for his victims continues and survivors are calling for more help in the run-up to the trial that begins in three months.

It's been six months since Norway was the target of long-planned attacks, which Norwegians responded to with flowers. Survivors and victims' families continue to struggle with grief and trauma. PHOTO: Views and News

Legal posturing continues as well, and last week, defense attorneys for confessed terrorist Anders Behring Breivik appealed an Oslo court’s decision to subject him to another round of psychiatric evaluation. The first evaluation by court-appointed psychiatrists declared Breivik as insane, meaning he can’t be punished with a jail term and must be treated instead.

That set off a storm of controversy and a rush of conflicting opinions by other psychiatrists who disagreed with the insanity determination. In an unusual move, the court where he’ll be tried thus decided to seek a second opinion, in an effort to remove doubt that even prosecutors claim will linger because of the first opinion.

Some psychiatric and legal experts claimed the court’s call for a second evaluation was a direct rebuke of Norway’s state prosecuting authority (påtalemyndighet), which has been called “arrogant” and displaying “superiority” in its own evaluation. Prosecutors’ decision not to appeal the insanity declaration themselves also baffled many survivors and families of victims, because it seemed the prosecution was willing to let Breivik avoid prison.

Prosecutors Svein Holden has explained the lack of an appeal by saying that a second opinion overruling insanity would instill enough doubt to keep Breivik out of prison anyway, and subject to psychiatric treatment instead. The court, however, disagreed and ordered a second evaluation anyway, which Breivik’s defense attorneys have now appealed. They contend the court itself can’t make such an order unless the prosecution and/or defense request it.

Survivors still struggling
As the legal maneuvering goes on, those who survived Breivik’s bombing and bullets dread having to face him in court in April, and some think their own state-appointed lawyers aren’t giving them enough help. A group of survivors of Breivik’s massacre on the island of Utøya has submitted seven requests for improvement, including “more concrete and detailed” information regarding pre-trial procedures, that the lawyers initiate contact with the survivors and “don’t wait for us to call you,” that lawyers be available and accessible when needed, that they don’t leak information to the media and speak with survivors before speaking to the media.

Several survivors, including officials of the Labour Party’s youth organization AUF who fled the island during the massacre, were unhappy to see information from what they thought were confidential hearings with police turn up in local media. Newspaper Aftenposten recently published a detailed account of how AUF leaders fled on board the island’s lone ferry, based on transcripts of police questioning of witnesses, and while their flight had been reported before, the transcripts revealed new information and raised more uncomfortable questions about the AUF leaders’ reaction and judgment, especially since they’re likely to be candidates for top political posts in the future.

Other survivors continue to struggle with the trauma of having seen their friends and colleagues shot and killed, after-effects of the fear they felt and, not least, the physical injuries they suffered. While some have managed to get on with the lives, others have dropped out of school, or find it hard to concentrate.

Among them is Marte Fevang Smith, age 17, of Nøtterøy. “When school started (last fall), I was still recovering from a head wound,” Smith told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN). “Then I just got exhausted by having to sit there and pretend like nothing had happened. I couldn’t follow my classes.”

She’s now been allowed a reduced course load and permission to use another year to qualify for graduation. “I had wanted to become a psychologist, but not anymore,” Smith told DN. “Perhaps I’ll pursue something within the area of child protection instead.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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