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No clear winners in trial of Anders Behring Breivik

Breivik got 21 years, but was found sane as he wanted. Prosecutors saw him jailed, but mishandled the psychiatric findings. And now the prime minister is feeling heat for security's slow response.

By Correspondent / August 28, 2012

Defense lawyers Geir Lippestad (l.) and Vibeke Hein Baera stand together with mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik in the courtroom, Friday, Aug. 24, in Oslo, Norway.

Heiko Junge/NTB Scanpix/AP



Last week concluded what has been a confusing and all-consuming trial against Anders Behring Breivik in what was supposed to be a cut and dry case.

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Valeria Criscione is a New Yorker currently working as a correspondent in Oslo for several US and British newspapers, including The Christian Science Monitor. Prior to 2002, Valeria was the Oslo correspondent for the Financial Times covering politics, business, and culture. She has been freelancing since 2008 and holds a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University in New York.

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Breivik was caught on the island of Utøya with a Glock pistol, Ruger semi-automatic rifle, and an arsenal of ammunition after having killed 69 people at Labor party youth summer camp. He even confessed to the bomb attack on the government headquarters earlier that day that killed eight, and detailed his entire planning to police shortly after his capture.

By all measures, the case should have been over long ago. Instead, it dragged on for 13 months with a final verdict falling on Friday: The 33-year-old Norwegian and self-proclaimed militant nationalist was sentenced to the maximum sentence of 21 years’ permanent detention for terrorist acts.

IN PICTURES: Norway vs. Breivik

Now, there are renewed calls today for Jens Stoltenberg, Norway’s prime minister, to accept responsibility for failing to protect Norwegians from the attack and the slow police response that day.

After watching the trial for 10 weeks and listening to the debates since the attacks, one can’t help but feel something is lacking. In many ways, it is still not clear who really won.

Technically, Breivik did, at least on legal precedence. He was arguing to be judged sane so that his militant nationalist ideology would stand stronger. He attacked the Labor party targets because he faults them for allowing too many Muslim immigrants into Norway and thereby promoting the “ethnic cleansing of indigenous Norwegians.” The court ruled that he was sane and not paranoid schizophrenic as the first of two forensic psychiatric reports concluded.

He also won by getting considerable media coverage of his political ideology during the trial.  Indeed, in the political manifesto he released online shortly before his killing spree, he referred to the trial as part of “the propaganda phase” of his publicity efforts. That phase is expected to continue from prison, where he plans to write a trilogy of political books in English and correspond with supporters.

He did lose on one main point: that he be found not guilty.  Judge Wenche Elizabeth Arntzen rejected his argument that his planned massacre was a “pre-emptive attack” to avoid a wider civil war that would ensue as a result of the Muslim colonization of Europe. Neither Norwegian law, nor the European Court of Human Rights, gives the right to assassinate government figures for extreme political purposes, she said as part of the historic 90-page verdict.


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