The lawyer 'defending the indefensible'

As his trial starts, Norwegian mass murderer wants to be found 'sane and accountable', says his counsel

Click to follow
The Independent Online

There is a touch of Hollywood about Geir Lippestad, the shaven-headed, softly spoken lawyer who has taken on the seemingly indefensible task of defending Anders Behring Breivik – the mass murderer responsible for Norway's worst act of terrorism since the Second World War – when his trial begins tomorrow at Oslo District Court.

A batch of glossy colour photographs has been doing the rounds in the Norwegian media over the past few days. They might have been lifted from the popular, super-stylish American TV series Mad Men. The pictures show a trio of male lawyers and a woman, who make up Lippestad's law firm, in a subtly lit frame, gathered around a black-leather sofa.

Lippestad sits unobtrusively on the left, legs crossed, wearing a light grey suit and staring defiantly straight ahead. His laid-back colleagues strike similarly resolute poses. Last week the law firm dismissed suggestions that it was seeking undue publicity. But the message was unavoidable: Geir and his gang are the acme of cool and they mean business.

Lippestad will need all the coolness he can muster over the next 10 weeks. The 48-year-old lawyer has been in the limelight ever since he decided – just two days after Breivik carried out his twin terror attacks in July last year – to represent the right-wing extremist killer. But from tomorrow onwards all his legal acumen will be put to the ultimate test when he appears in court to defend his client at what promises to be a landmark trial.

The lawyer is anything but a covert right winger with hidden sympathy for Breivik's genocidal philosophy. He is a longstanding member of the Norwegian Labour Party, whose young members Breivik gunned down in cold blood as they were attending a political summer camp on the fjord island of Utoya last summer. He is also the father of eight children. Two of them suffer from disabilities and one of them, his 16-year-old daughter, Rebekka, became critically ill earlier this year. She survived and soon afterwards his wife gave birth to another girl. Lippestad says that Breivik's mass murder of young people made him feel guilty about having another child, when so many fellow Norwegians had lost sons and daughters.

Lippestad received threats when it became known that he intended to defend Breivik, and at one time he needed a bodyguard. He says he is driven by an unswerving conviction that in a democratic society such as Norway even perpetrators of the most heinous crimes have a fundamental right to full legal representation.

"No matter how horrible the crime, a defendant has to be represented. This is just a vital brick in the wall of democracy, and I would say that 99 per cent of Norway understands that this is absolutely essential to a sound justice system," he says.

Before Breivik, Lippestad had already made a name for himself as a lawyer prepared to defend far-right criminals. In 2002, he represented Ole Nicolai Kvisler, a neo-Nazi who was convicted of the racist murder of a Norwegian-Ghanaian teenager called Benjamin Hermansen and subsequently sentenced to 17 years' imprisonment. Breivik asked Lippestad to act as his defence counsel because of his role in the Kvisler case.

Lippestad is one of the few people in Norway to have had regular contact with Breivik. "He believes we are at war. He wishes for a new world order which few people can agree with," is how he describes the mass murderer's insistence that his actions were designed to root out multiculturalism and prevent Muslim "world domination".

As his counsel, Lippestad is in the unenviable position of having to provide arguments, however distasteful, that will in some way try to justify Breivik's views. "In the majority of trials, you have a defendant who denies the facts or says he did not intend to do what he did," Lippestad says.

"Here you have someone who recognises the facts, who takes responsibility for them and who says he would do the same thing if the opportunity arose. He wants to be found sane and accountable,"he adds.

As a result, Lippestad is likely to spend most of his time during the 10-week trial trying to disprove reports by two psychiatrists which conclude that Breivik is a paranoid schizophrenic and was not wholly responsible for his actions. He would therefore be a candidate for long-term psychiatric care, rather than imprisonment.

But the defence team's case was strengthened last week by another psychiatric report on Breivik which claimed to have established that he was sane and fully accountable for his actions. Lippestad intends to build on the latest report's findings, albeit through unconventional defence tactics. His witnesses will include an Islamic extremist from Kurdish Iraq called Mullah Krekar who has been resident in Norway since 1991 and is a right-wing extremist blogger.

Krekar, who is renowned in Norway as the country's "most controversial refugee", was formerly the leader of the Ansar al-Islam group which carried out attacks in Kurdistan. He claims to have once met Osama bin Laden. Lippestad has said he wants to call Krekar to the witness stand to show that people who are not considered insane can also be extremist. "Islamists also believe that Europe is the setting for a war of religion and that the idea is not just a delusion that Breivik has imagined," he says.

The right-wing blogger is a figure who refers to himself as "Fjordman" and whose extremist views are believed to have been one of Breivik's main inspirations. "We will place people from extremist backgrounds on the witness stand to explain their thought processes in order to show that there are others who share the same ideology, without going so far as to commit crimes," Lippestad says.

The point where insanity stops and evil begins – or vice versa – will be the crux of the trial. By no means everyone is convinced that Breivik, the mass murderer, was wholly responsible for his actions. Even Hitler's henchman Heinrich Himmler is reputed to have been adversely affected after being confronted with the Holocaust in action. But Breivik was shown grinning as he sat in the police car after his arrest. Foreign observers such as Germany's top criminal psychiatrist Hans-Ludwig Kröber are far from convinced that he is entirely normal, as his defence team claims.

"That grin as he was being driven away from the scene of the crime, it's an all too familiar expression among schizophrenics," Kröber declared in an interview last week.