A new report from court-appointed psychiatrists on the mental state of confessed terrorist Anders Behring Breivik has found him to be sane. Their conclusion doesn’t necessarily ensure, however, that Breivik will be imprisoned instead of being committed to a psychiatric institution.
The Oslo City Court issued a press release at midday on Tuesday stating that new court-appointed psychiatrists had concluded Breivik was not psychotic when he bombed Norway’s government headquarters on July 22 and then carried out a massacre at a Labour Party summer camp.
The new report conflicts with an earlier one that declared Breivik criminally insane. Prosecutors already have said that a conflicting declaration would raise doubt about Breivik’s mental state and any such doubt usually favours the defendant. In most criminal cases that would mean Breivik would still avoid prison and be placed under psychiatric care until he’s deemed mentally healthy again.
In this case, however, Breivik himself has contested an insanity declaration. He wants to be viewed as sane, arguing that his attacks were fueled by political ideology, not delusions. Breivik actually wants to be sentenced to jail, calling an insanity declaration “a fate worse than death.”
Debate far from over
The two psychiatrists behind the new report, Terje Tørrissen and Agnar Aspaas, were asked to evaluate Breivik’s mental condition after massive public debate erupted over the conclusions of the two earlier court-appointed psychiatrists, Synne Sørheim and Torgeir Husby. Their declaration that Breivik was insane meant he likely would avoid a prison term, even though he’s confessed to carrying out the terrorist attacks of July 22 that left 77 persons dead.
Instead, Sørheim’s and Husby’s conclusion alone would have compelled the court to commit Breivik to a psychiatric institution. Under Norwegian practice, he could thus be released from custody if eventually found to be mentally healthy.
That possibility sparked widespread public debate and strong protests, not least from those who want Breivik to be locked up for the rest of his life. Norway has no official life sentences but a system known as forvaring can effectively function as a life term.
Historic second opinion
The debate and the extraordinary nature of Breivik’s crimes prompted the court, in an historic move, to seek a second opinion on his mental state. Tørrissen and Aspaas have been working on their evaluation since January and observing Breivik since February, when he agreed to cooperate with them.
At one point, the psychiatrists and a team of medical experts had Breivik under observation around the clock for a period of three weeks, also while he was sleeping. Tørrissen and Aspaas also had several conversations with Breivik, both individually and together.
They appeared at a press conference broadcast live on national TV in Norway on Tuesday, and both said they were as sure as they could be that they’d drawn the right conclusion. They offered few details as to why they came to the opposite conclusion of their colleagues Sørheim and Husby, but suggested they’d had more information available and had been able to observe Breivik over long periods. They also suggested it may have been an advantage that more time had elapsed since the attacks occurred.
They handed their 310-page report over to the court on Tuesday. Vibeke Hein Bæra, one of Breivik’s defense attorneys, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that she and her colleagues were heading straight for Ila Prison in Bærum, where Breivik is being held, to discuss the new psychiatrists’ conclusions with him.
Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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