NEWS ANALYSIS: If it wasn’t viewed as such an important test of legal principles in Norway, the civil suit filed by convicted mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik could easily be written off as a joke. Not only have psychiatrists dismissed his claims of inhumane treatment in prison as invalid and driven by his own conceit, Breivik himself has done a rather good job of torpedoing his own case and making himself a target of ridicule.
“I think it’s difficult to take his complaints seriously,” said court-appointed psychiatrist Dr Randi Rosenqvist, who testified as a key witness during the second day of Breivik’s civil lawsuit against the state for allegedly violating his human rights. Rosenqvist is one of the country’s most respected forensic psychiatrists, and has observed Breivik since his arrest five years ago.
Cold coffee and paper cups
During the roughly three hours Breivik himself was allowed to testify in a makeshift courtroom in Skien on Wednesday, he spoke at length about why he feels his human rights have been violated by “degrading” and “inhumane” treatment in prison. Newspaper Dagsavisen’s commentator Hege Ulstein noted how Breivik complained that the radio in his three-room cell didn’t work properly. It took several months before he was allowed to hang anything on the walls of his prison accommodation. He had to eat off paper plates using plastic utensils and drink from paper cups. His coffee was cold. He lacked sufficient access to nicotine and caffein. He had to eat microwaved food prepared in advance, and even was served the same dinner two days in a row. He described such treatment as “worse than waterboarding,” and claimed he was being treated “worse than an animal. People may ask why on earth I haven’t broken down. But I’m close to breaking down now.”
Breivik claims he’s suffered from the isolation that’s part of the high-security conditions of his confinement after he murdered 77 people in twin attacks on July 22, 2011. He demanded to be able to have “meaningful relations” with “at least five friends or supporters” and that they be allowed to visit him. He also demanded the right to receive letters and the right to publish two books, or at least one “political text” every third year. He complained bitterly that he’s been “gagged” and prevented from building up a new Nazi party. When routinely asked to reveal his occupation at the start of his testimony, Breivik said he was now “party secretary” for his alleged Nazi movement. When he attempted to read through his party program, he was finally interrupted by Judge Helen Andenæs Sekulic.
Complaints professionally rejected
After all but ridiculing himself through his sheer audacity, his arguments were summarily and firmly rejected by psychiatrists including the court-appointed Rosenqvist. She claimed Breivik shows no signs of any so-called “isolation injuries:” People can become depressed, she allowed, noting that “it’s not pleasant to sit in jail,” but she categorically stated that Breivik is not suffering. “I know that there are many other people in prison who have it much worse than he does,” she told newspaper Aftenposten afterwards.
Rosenqvist, who ironically enough was called in to testify by Breivik himself and his lawyer, Øystein Storrvik, also dismissed the plaintiff’s claim that he has “converted” from being a militant who resorts to violence: “You can’t in any way believe that what he says is true,” Rosenqvist testified. “He is dyssocial with a high risk factor. If he at any point in time isn’t allowed to express himself or be seen as an important person, he will do new, serious things, like seizing hostages, setting fires, injuring himself” or resorting to suicide. Asked whether he could mix with other prisoners, Rosenqvist called that “unthinkable.”
If Breivik actually was suffering from his isolation, she said, symptoms would include apathy and passiveness. As for the “isolation headaches” he also complained about, Rosenqvist testified that “everyone can get headaches. I can get a headache from work. If he has a headache, he should take a glass of water and a pill.”
‘Me, me, me’
Dr Ulrik Malt, a professor of psychiatry who also is following the Breivik case, declared that Breivik “is the same person he was four years ago,” who puts himself in the “victim’s role” and has a “poor me” syndrome. “It’s all about an inability to see anyone other than himself. It’s just ‘me, me, me.'” Malt supported Rosenqvist’s observations fully, telling reporters that Breivik is “clearly not” suffering any injuries from his isolation. Both Rosenqvist, Malt and other psychiatrists following the case believe Breivik remains, as the state attorney described him in opening arguments on Tuesday, “a very dangerous man.”
The day’s testimony prompted the father of two of Breivik’s victims to tell Aftenposten that “this case is becoming more and more of a parody. This is a case that shouldn’t have come to court in the first place, if you ask me.” Others have claimed it’s important to treat all allegations of human rights abuses equally, and that everyone has a right to mount legal challenges. Still others view it all as another drain on taxpayers’ resources, for a man who caused the most pain, suffering and sorrow that Norway has experienced since World War II.
The case was to continue Thursday and Friday, with prison officials on the witness stand but with much of their testimony to take place behind closed doors, since it would reveal details of high-security measures.