Prosecutors asked a Norwegian court on Thursday to declare far-right mass-murderer Anders Breivik insane and commit him to a mental institution, flying in the face of a public who think his chillingly lucid testimony shows he deserves prison. By Balazs Koranyi
Confronted by conflicting psychiatric reports, the prosecutors said they could not be sure that the perpetrator of Norway’s worst peacetime massacre was not responsible for his actions, but had to give him the benefit of the doubt.
“In our opinion, it’s worse to send a psychotic person to preventive detention than to send a non-psychotic person to mandatory care,” prosecutor Svein Holden told the court.
“We are not convinced that Anders Behring Breivik is legally insane, but we are in doubt. So our petition is for a judgment that he shall be transferred to compulsory mental health care.”
Norwegians have shown almost stoic calm through the course of an often harrowing trial, with its grisly witness accounts and Breivik’s impassive explanations of how he coldly carried out the killings last July.
Breivik first detonated a bomb outside government headquarters in Oslo, killing eight, then systematically gunned down 69 people, mostly teenagers, at a summer camp run by the ruling Labour Party on the island of Utoeya. The youngest was just 14.
“What is most incomprehensible is how unaffected he was by his acts,” prosecutor Inga Bejer Engh said.
“He described without remorse or feeling how these young people begged for their lives, and how he shot them in the head to make sure they were dead.”
Yet in an opinion poll published on Thursday, three-quarters considered Breivik sane enough for a jail term. Most Norwegians cannot understand how someone could spend years planning such an attack so meticulously, yet not be responsible for his actions.
A pre-trial psychiatric report that found Breivik to be criminally insane caused such outrage that the court ordered another one, which came to the opposite conclusion.
Already contemplating a fresh public outcry, Engh told a news conference:
“Our task is to interpret the governing law and in that, public opinion cannot be considered relevant. If laws are out of tune with public opinion, that’s very serious, then we have to sit down with the legislator to discuss it…but that can’t be done now, it can be done only after a binding sentence.”
Breivik himself says he should be declared sane, but acquitted on grounds that he was defending the Norwegian people by fighting the supporters of Muslim immigration.
The final decision will rest with the two professional and three lay judges who have promised to announce a ruling by Aug. 24. The trial ends with closing defence arguments on Friday.
As Holden closed the prosecution’s case, Breivik looked on nervously, sometimes smiling, but often shaking his head.
Fearing that his far-right creed will be dismissed as the ravings of a madman, he has said an insanity finding by the judges would be “worse than death” and he would appeal.
Iranian-born Ali Esbati, who was on the island to hold a lecture, was inclined to agree. His partner, Norwegian journalist Marte Michelet, has been singled out by Breivik as a public enemy because of the couple’s mixed-race children.
Esbati said the court could in effect “deem any political murder as a work of insanity”:
“I’m a bit worried that this would be used as a pretext for viewing this atrocity absolutely disconnected from its social and political context, which would be sad.”
Breivik greeted the days’s adjournment with a clenched-fist right-wing salute – a gesture he had often used early in the 10-week trial, until his lawyers asked him to stop.
During the trial, survivors took the stand one after the other, showing scars and amputated limbs as they gace accounts of Breivik’s 80-minute hunt for victims on Utoeya.
Witnesses said he killed his victims with battle cries, firing several shots, many of them in the back, then shooting his fallen victims in the head from close range.
Ylva Helene Schwenke, 15, described how Breivik shot her in the neck, then shot her several more times as she lay bleeding on the ground.
Breivik claimed to be a commander in the Knights Templar, an organisation that prosecutors said exists only in his head.
The first psychiatric report found him to be a psychotic paranoid schizophrenic.
But the second, by a different team, concluded that he was most likely suffering from a narcissistic personality disorder, but was not psychotic, and was therefore legally sane.
Other experts testified that Breivik may have a range of development and neuropsychiatric disorders, and may also suffer from delusions.
Whatever the eventual ruling, Breivik is likely to spend the rest of his life in Ila prison on the outskirts of Oslo.
If found sane, he faces a 21-year sentence with the possibility of indefinite extensions as long as he is deemed to pose a danger to society.
If found insane, he will probably be committed indefinitely to a mental ward built especially for him, subject to a review every three years. DM
Photo: Anders Breivik (Reuters)
Some firing squads are all issued with blank cartridges with the exception of one person. This helps alleviate personal responsibility for the execution squad.