Psychiatrists get their day in court

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The two court-appointed psychiatrists who’ve been harshly criticized for declaring terror defendant Anders Behring Breivik insane broke their silence on Thursday, with a bang. Torgeir Husby began his testimony with harsh criticism of their critics, and made it clear they weren’t backing down on their insanity diagnosis.

Court-appointed psychiatrists Torgeir Husby (left) and Synne Sørheim began their testimony by bashing their critics and defending their conclusion that terror defendant Anders Behring Breivik is insane. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) carried most of the court proceedings live on Thursday. PHOTO: NRK screen grab/Views and News

In doing so, both Husby and his partner, Synne Sørheim, won’t make it easy for the court to rule on whether Breivik is sane or insane. Even though as many as seven other psychiatrists testified earlier this week that they believe he is sane, Husby’s and Sørheim’s defense of their court-ordered report will instill doubt into the case. Doubt means the court may feel compelled to declare Breivik insane after all, and that he can’t be sentenced to jail for his attacks that killed 77 persons.

Between Husby’s strongly worded opening Thursday morning, and Sørheim’s body language, with arms firmly folded over her chest and a grim expression as her partner talked, they did their best to defend their professional integrity and their insanity conclusion on Breivik. It’s been repeatedly called into question in the media, by both medical and legal experts, and they finally responded, forcefully.

Referring to the astonishment expressed by colleagues over their insanity diagnosis, Husby testified that “I’m quite sure that … when the cameras stop flashing, there will be just as much astonishment over the often wild, unprofessional behaviour” that “lacked principle,” and that it will “cast shadows” over the psychiatric profession.

Lawyers for the prosecution and victims' families listening to the testimony of the court-appointed psychiatrists on Thursday. Prosecutors Inga Bejer Engh (front left) and Svein Holden must decide whether they think Breivik is sane or insane, so Thursday's testimony was important. PHOTO: NRK screen grab/Views and News

He said that neither he nor Sørheim could have possibly imagined what lay ahead of them when they took on their court-appointed role in August, just after the July 22 attacks. He denied they’ve tried to “mystify” their work and he seemed most angry over colleagues who have criticized their report without having met Breivik themselves. He claimed it’s a basic principle in psychiatry to talk face to face with patients, yet many of his critics seemed able to diagnose Breivik from afar.

Husby also complained that he and Sørheim had been barraged by journalists demanding answers to questions about their report. It was difficult for them, he said, to see their report being “dissected” from all angles.

Both he and Sørheim presented their professional credentials, with Husby saying he’d been practicing psychiatry for around 30 years and Sørheim since 2000. They’ve been court-appointed psychiatrists in more than 200 criminal cases including around 50 murder cases, he said, adding that both belong to “the mainstream” with no “clinical hang-ups.”

Terror defendant Anders Behring Breivik wants to be taken seriously and rejects claims he's insane. He has called the two psychiatrists testifying on Thursday "Asbjørnsen and Moe," who wrote and illustrated Norwegian fairy tales. PHOTO: NRK

They’ve been criticized for having examined Breivik together instead of independently, but they claimed their methods were “normal.” Conversations with Breivik were conducted together because of prison guards’ fears Breivik would try to take Sørheim hostage if left alone with her. Sørheim admitted to having worked with Husby more than with any other psychiatrists, but said she’d been part of 26 forensic teams during the past six years.

Husby also explained their report’s omission of Breivik’s right-wing extremism by saying they are psychiatrists, “not historians, terror experts, religious researchers, Internet players or journalists.” He said they don’t, for example, call in expertise from an exorcist every time someone kills a friend because they saw the devil in him or her.

Mostly, they said, they focused on how they viewed Breivik as “almost pathetically egocentric.” They’re aware others share Breivik’s right-wing views, but that he crosses the line towards insanity through his conceit and the roles he gives himself, for example as a saviour by attacking those who allow multi-culturalism.

Husby spoke so quickly while testifying that the lead judge in the case, Wenche Elizabeth Arntzen, broke in and asked him to slow down. The pair eventually launched into specific areas of their report, and read often from it.

“We have of course had doubts (about Breivik’s mental state) along the way, but the conclusion was presented without doubt,” Husby testified.

Thursday’s court proceedings were delayed by nearly 20 minutes while attorneys and the judge huddled in meetings. Arntzen eventually emerged to say they’d been discussing a request by Breivik’s mother to close the court session to the public, because of sensitive and personal information that was likely to come up about her and her family. The judge denied the request but ordered a three-minute video delay on broadcasting to prevent such information from being aired.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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