Whatever the verdict, Breivik has forced Norway to face its dark side

World Focus

Tony Paterson
Thursday 23 August 2012 20:36 BST
Flags, flowers and candles commemorate the victims of Anders Breivik, in Oslo
Flags, flowers and candles commemorate the victims of Anders Breivik, in Oslo (AFP)

Builders have been hard at work inside Oslo's daunting Ila prison complex where Norway's self-confessed mass killer Anders Behring Breivik will likely be sentenced to spend the rest of his life by a panel of black robed judges during a six hour court hearing today.

The 1930s high security facility stands isolated among pine covered hills north of the capital and one wing of the jail has just been converted into a fortified one man psychiatric unit staffed by a medical team of 17 and costing some 3 million Norwegian Kroner (£320,000) a year.

The work has been carried out to meet the legal requirements set out in the judges' verdict whatever it may be. There are two possibilities: either the man responsible for Norway's worst acts of violence since the Second World War will be declared mentally fit or insane.

Psychiatrists have remained at loggerheads over the question of Breivik's sanity since his 10 week trial came to an end in June. They asked whether a 33-year-old far right anti-Muslim extremist who killed eight with a bomb in central Oslo and then went on to slaughter 69 mostly teenaged members of the Norwegian Labour party in a shooting spree, could possibly be considered normal.

One team of doctors concluded that Breivik suffered from schizophrenia and paranoid psychosis. But after further detailed examination and regular meetings with the killer, another group of psychiatrists found that there was no evidence of insanity. The court's judges have to decide one way or the other. Norway awaits their answer with bated breath.

Whatever the verdict, Breivik will not be moving far. Either he will remain incarcerated in his current Ila 3-cell unit for sane offenders or he will be shifted to prison's new purpose built facility for the mentally impaired. “This is about creating a humane prison regime,” is how a prison spokesman put it.

But both verdicts present major political and psychological headaches for Norway - a country which until Breivik's twin terror attacks on 22 July last year - considered itself among the most tolerant and peaceful in the world.

Breivik has insisted all along that he is sane and complained that to be declared mentally ill would be a “fate worse than death.” But if judges accept his plea of sanity, Breivik will claim to have emerged the trial's triumphant victor and his gross acts of violence will be seen to have been the work of a thoroughly evil, but logical perpetrator.

The killer has announced plans to write and publish a book explaining his racist anti- Muslim philosophy and he already has an internet following: “Norway is going to be saddled with a martyr who will end up being idolised by right wing fanatics across the world,” Anders Giaever, a Norwegian political analyst and commentator told The Independent, “Breivik will be a sort of Charles Manson figure.”

Other observers such as Frank Rossavik of the respected Begens Tidende newspaper believe that judges will follow the advice of prosecution lawyers and rule that because there are doubts about Breivik's sanity, it is better to err on the side of caution and declare him insane. “The bomb attack had some political logic, but I am not sure about the shooting spree. Is someone who goes about spending nearly an hour shooing teenagers in the head normal?” he asked.

But a verdict of insanity presents the Norwegian justice system with an equally difficult dilemma. Survivors of Breivik's brutal massacre on Norway's idyllic fjord island of Utoya are hoping that today's verdict will bring a swift conclusion to their nightmare. But if declared mad, Breivik's lawyers have declared that their client will appeal and a new trial, which would not take place until next year, would prolong the trauma.

An insanity verdict would raise other problems: “We will be accused of trying to sweep the problem of Breivik under the carpet,” said Mr Giaever. “If Breivik is insane, were the September the 11 pilots and Hitler just mad? Whatever the verdict we are in a no- win situation.”

A spate of attacks on immigrant Roma beggars in Oslo earlier this summer has meanwhile suggested that Norway's united stand against racist intolerance that was prompted by the killings, is beginning to evaporate.

Breivik's surviving victims will nevertheless draw some comfort from the fact that he will almost certainly be spending the rest of his life under lock and key in Ila prison - a fitting location for a right wing fanatic: Ila was used as Norway's main Nazi concentration camp during Germany's World War II occupation.

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