The trial of Anders Behring Breivik for the worst peacetime
atrocity in Norwegian history is set to begin tomorrow, with his
mental health at the crux of the case.
In the first days after the twin terror attacks last year,
Norway's prime minister was quick to come out with a comforting
message to the grieving nation. The country would respond to Anders
Behring Breivik's massacre with "more openness, more democracy,"
said Jens Stoltenberg. This would not change Norwegian society.
Nine months later, the trial for the worst peacetime atrocity in
Norwegian history is set to begin tomorrow, and the country is at a
Norwegians have had their confidence in the judicial system
shaken after two conflicting psychiatric reports have come to the
opposite conclusion on Breivik's mental standing. The first from
November deemed him paranoid schizophrenic and hence legally not
punishable. The second, released last week, said he was not
Some of the questions now being raised: Are Norwegian courts
putting too much weight on forensic psychiatrist reports in
determining legal sanity? And are too many criminals being
incorrectly diagnosed as psychotic?
"It is clear to me that this case will weaken the position of
forensic psychiatry in Norway," says Nils Christie, a criminal law
professor at the University of Oslo. "I think it is all to the good
that psychiatrists, as other experts, get decreased power in the
system, and that the judges and juries regain their authority."
The debate has its roots from the first psychiatric report. As
soon as Breivik was declared sane, many started to question the
reliability of the system. How could someone who so meticulously
planned a complicated attack over so many years be psychotic?
Breivik had bought a farm and produced his own fertilizer
explosives. On July 22, he planted a car bomb in front of the
government building and then drove to the island of Utoya disguised
as a police officer to massacre the Labor party youth at their
summer camp. Prior to that, he spent years writing a 1,500-page
manifesto in English detailing his crusade against the Muslim
colonization of Europe.
"Of course he is sick, but if he is insane or not, that is
something else," Eskil Pedersen, leader of Labour party youth
organization AUF who escaped Utoya that day, recently told members
of the Norwegian Foreign Press Association. "You can't be normal and
kill 77 people, but you can be sane in the legal way."
The outcry after the controversial first report has revealed
Norwegians' thirst for justice in a country otherwise known for
scorning capital punishment and life sentences and promoting
rehabilitation of prisoners. Suddenly victims were worried that
Norway's most notorious killer in modern times might not serve
prison time - in this case 21 years - for his heinous acts. Many
felt it wasn't enough that he would be sent to compulsory mental