Is Breivik sane? Norway can't decide

Anders Behring Breivik's trial hinges on his sanity. Friday, the Norwegian Forensic Board said it's still uncertain about his state of mind after two psychiatric assessments.

Heiko Junge/AP
Confessed mass killer Anders Behring Breivik sits in the courtroom in Oslo, Norway, Friday, June 1.

The debate over conflicting psychiatric assessments of Norwegian mass killer Anders Behring Breivik, the man behind last summer's terror attacks that left 77 people dead, has ratcheted up again after the Norwegian Forensic Board said today that it is still not satisfied.

The board wrote in a letter to an Oslo court that there are “significant deficiencies” in the second report, which found him sane and contradicted the first report that deemed Mr. Breivik a paranoid schizophrenic. 

However, several of those called in to give expert testimony throughout the trial say that Breivik's political ideology has not been considered enough and that with that taken into account, his actions seem less like those of an insane man.

Judge Wenche Arntzen said the board pointed out two deficiencies in the second report – concerning evaluation of personality disorders stemming from his childhood and the testimony given by Breivik’s mother, which was not weighed heavily by the second set of psychiatrists.

The latest development could increase the likelihood that Breivik will be found insane and hence not criminally responsible for placing a car bomb outside government buildings and going on a shooting rampage at a Labor party youth summer camp on Utøya island in July 2011. 

Defense Attorney Geir Lippestad, who at Breivik's request is fighting to have him found sane, told The Monitor he believes the Forensic Board places more weight on the first report than the second, but that the defense had no plans to change its witness list, which had already been expanded to include additional psychiatric experts.

“There are certain deficiencies with two premises (in the second report), such as 2006,” said Lippestad, regarding the period when Breivik moved back in with his mother. The two psychiatrists behind that report say Breivik was not depressed at that time. 

The news comes after testimony from a series of political and religious experts this week in which they criticized the first psychiatric report because, they say, it did not sufficiently take into account Breivik’s extreme ideology. Their testimony lends support to Breivik’s argument that he is sane.

Terje Emberland, senior researcher at the Holocaust Center in Oslo, told the court yesterday that after reading Breivik’s manifesto and seeing his court appearance, he believed Breivik expressed “fascist tones” with his use of mythology and perception that civilization was being threatened by racial integration. Although extreme, he said, it was “not necessarily a reaction from a clinical psychological nature.”

“It is not hard for one to say that these people are sick,” Mr. Emberland said when asked by public prosecutor Svein Holden about Brevik’s perceived Messianic call to save Europe. People readily accept such calls in a religious context but less so when it is politically motivated, he said. 

Tore Bjørgo, a professor at The Norwegian Police University College and a terrorism expert, also testified yesterday that the first set of psychiatrists had not taken political ideology into consideration enough. He pointed out an error in the psychiatrists’ report regarding Breivik’s reference to the Civil War as an example of his paranoia, when in fact it is a common reference among extremists.

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“Compared with Norwegians, he's crazy as a top,” said Bjørgo. “But if you look at the most militant sections of the right-wing culture, he is not as deviant.”

If the first evaluation which determined Breivik is insane prevails, prosecutors will only be able to seek having him committed to a mental health facility. If the second carries the day, they'll be able to seek a ma maximum sentence of 21 years for terror charges.

Prosecutors have also expressed doubt about Breivik’s claim that he founded an anti-Islamic organization, which he calls the Knights Templar, on a 2002 trip to Liberia. They say his trip to the African nation was to smuggle blood diamonds.

Holden, the prosecutor, told the Monitor that the prosecution was seeking to call in as a witness Alpha Kallon, the Liberian man who met Breivik there. Norwegian newspaper VG today reported that it found Kallon in Minnesota and he has confirmed meeting with Breivik to buy blood diamonds and receiving 40,000 Norwegian kroner ($6,506).

Breivik contends he was in Liberia to meet a Siberian war hero, who sent him as a representative to London in April 2002 to meet with others and found Knights Templar.

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