The five Norwegian judges who unanimously held on Friday that Anders Breivik is criminally responsible for his massacre of 77 people (242 more were wounded) made a well-founded decision.
Though foolish, wicked and, to a great extent, spliced from other sources, Mr. Breivik’s horrendous, racist 1,518-page manifesto does not bear the marks of psychosis; nor did his statements in court. And his carefully planned attack on the young people’s camp on Utoya Island was all too diabolically efficient.
Mr. Breivik’s trial was extremely unusual in that the prosecutors argued that he was insane and should be found not guilty, while the accused insisted on his own sanity – the reverse of the usual situation when insanity is alleged.
The first psychiatric report found him to be insane, but the two doctors did not comply with the rule that they should evaluate him separately, saying they did not feel either “emotionally or intellectually able to do so.”
A second pair of court-appointed psychiatrists concluded that Mr. Breivik had a narcissistic personality disorder, but not a psychosis.
A finding of insanity could have resulted in one of of two extremes: a confinement for a relatively short time, until he was cured, or an indefinitely long one.
The actual verdict resulted in a sentence of 21 years in jail, with a possibility of parole in only 10 years, but a further possibility of indefinitely long preventive detention (under a law brought in 2002) after the 21 years if he is believed to be a danger to society.
Such indeterminately prolonged imprisonment may seem odd. It is quite like the dangerous-offender section in Canada’s Criminal Code, which is usually based on patterns of behaviour – “repetitive” or persistently aggressive – which hardly applies to a single event such as Mr. Breivik’s massacre. More relevant to Breivik-like cases may be a clause in the Canadian Code section on crimes so brutal “as to compel the conclusion” that the offender will not be restrained by normal standards.
The Norwegian police and security may have failed badly in not preventing Mr. Breivik’s massacre, but the Norwegian court has dealt wisely with an extremely disturbing assault on a usually peaceful, serene country.