Shocking though it is that Anders Behring Breivik has been given the opportunity to hold forth for days on end, to the Norwegian court and consequently to the world, about his horrendous mass murder of 69 human beings, it has been a remarkably revealing performance, which is evidence that he was intensely conscious of what he was doing. As a result, he may yet be justifiably held to be criminally answerable for each and every one of those lost lives. In a juridical sense, he may be sane, though monstrous.
One of the very strangest passages of Mr. Breivik’s seemingly interminable speech was his recollection of how, as he approached his first two victims at the summer camp on Utoya Island: “My whole body tried to revolt when I took the weapon in my hand. There were a hundred voices in my head saying, ‘Don’t do it. Don’t do it.’”
This is the very opposite of a well-known pattern among some mentally ill killers, who hear diabolical voices urging them to kill. It is reasonable to infer that Mr. Breivik’s conscience was clearly and emphatically telling him to refrain from the murders he had so painstakingly planned, and that, by an act of will, he rejected his inner knowledge of the difference between right and wrong, good and evil. What is more, his body rebelled against his plan; his nerves, his instinct and his reflexes all told him to stop, but he chose to keep going.
Mr. Breivik testified that he had “dehumanized” himself in order to be ready for his warfare against “Marxist multiculturalism.” Even so, at the last minute, whatever remained of his better nature briefly and unsuccessfully asserted itself.
The five judges’ task of deciding whether he is criminally responsible is a difficult one. They will undoubtedly reject his own defence of justifiable homicide: his preposterous quest to save Norway.
The Norwegian procedure that let him talk on and on is not one to be recommended for use elsewhere. In Canada, he would either remain silent or else testify by answering a series of questions from his lawyer and then from the prosecutor. The lawyers’ arguments for and against him would follow. But Mr. Breivik’s verbosity will enable the judges not to treat the question of his sanity as a foregone conclusion.