The World From Berlin: Breivik Trial 'Won't Be Easy to Endure'

The first two days of Anders Behring Breivik's trial have proved to be difficult for everyone involved. The remorseless defendant has used it as a platform to boast about committing 77 murders and spout far-right rhetoric. German commentators say on Tuesday that the proceedings will put Norway to the test.

Defendant Anders Behring Breivik greeted the courtroom on Monday with a salute. Zoom
AFP

Defendant Anders Behring Breivik greeted the courtroom on Monday with a salute.

The trial against mass-murderer Anders Behring Breivik began on Monday in Oslo and, just as many feared, the suspect has used the courtroom as a stage to spread his extremist anti-Muslim message.

On both Monday and Tuesday, Breivik entered the court room in the Norwegian capital with a smirk and a clenched-fist salute, which heralded a series of dramatic contributions to the legal proceedings by the 33-year-old defendant. He rejected the court's authority on Monday, but pleaded "not guilty" to setting off a bomb on July 22, 2011 in Oslo that killed eight before going on to shoot dead 69 others at a Labor Party youth camp on a nearby island.

On the second day of the trial, Breivik read a statement in which he defended what he called the "spectacular" murders. "I would have done it again," he told the court. Claiming to speak as the leader of an anti-communist, anti-Islam militant group he calls the Knights Templar, Breivik also attacked the Norwegian and European governments for welcoming immigration and multiculturalism. Many of his comments mirrored the 1,500-page manifesto he posted online just before the massacre.

"The attacks on July 22 were a preventive strike," he said of the killings. "I acted in self-defense on behalf of my people, my city, my country."

Lay Judge Dismissed

Breivik's statement was frequently interrupted by Judge Wenche Elisabeth Arntzen's requests for brevity. Another delay came with the removal of a lay judge who violated his impartiality by commenting online that Breivik deserved the death penalty -- a form of punishment Norway does not exercise.

Photo Gallery

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Photo Gallery: Norway's Trial of the Century
The crux of the proceedings will be whether the court deems Breivik mentally fit to stand trial. Two official psychiatric evaluations have reached opposite conclusions. If he is found to be sane, he would face a maximum sentence of 21 years in prison. However, he could also be detained for as long as he is believed to pose a danger to society. If the panel of two professional and three lay judges decides Breivik is insane, he will be put into psychiatric care.

German commentators on Tuesday outline their first impressions and expectations for the trial that is likely to shake Norway and the world in the coming weeks.

The conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"At first glance, Norwegian criminal law doesn't seem to be designed for a mass-murderer who killed 77 people and caused unspeakable suffering to his fellow citizens. In contrast to 'life sentences' in other places, the toughest sentence a Norwegian court can mete out is limited to 21 years. After the sentence is served, the guilt is formally erased. However, the sentence can be followed by preventative detention if necessary. Anyone who compares this to other legal systems will unequivocally calculate that 21 years in this ghastly case is only a fraction of the years lost by all the victims of the crime."

"The submission of two differing reports on the psychological state of the accused has put the verdict in the hands of the court again. If psychiatrists had been given the last word, the victims -- both the dead and survivors -- would not have truly experienced justice, at least not in the spiritual sense that is so important in this case."

"However, the case provides no reason to doubt the correctness of a European penal code that excludes the death penalty. An insane person couldn't be sentenced to the death penalty anyway, and a sane person would one day use up his heroic potential -- at which point he would have to face up to himself and his mass murder. For someone who is 33 years old today, that will be difficult to bear."

The conservative daily Die Welt writes:

"The fact that it even came to trial is a testament to the Norwegians' composure. A trial is more troublesome and painful than just simply declaring the murderer unfit for trial and locking him away. Mental health experts have tried to understand Breivik's character and mental state. As in life, there are at least two schools of thought. The biggest impertinence will be that such a criminal and his defense team -- who ahead of the trial behaved as though this were a television series -- will try to make sense of his insanity. All of this won't be easy to endure. But that is exactly the strength of the legal system: It tries to understand the unspeakable with clarity and soberness, both without giving up distance or falling prey to emotion. The legal system listens. Breivik will be harshly punished in the biggest trial in Norwegian history. But he must be allowed to speak. That's how a sober courtroom will become a place of collective cleansing and learning for the country, the survivors and the victims' loved ones."

Breivik's defense team recently drew criticism for posing in slick photographs that make them look like the latest legal drama on television. Zoom
DPA

Breivik's defense team recently drew criticism for posing in slick photographs that make them look like the latest legal drama on television.

The left-leaning daily Berliner Zeitung writes:

"The only question the court must answer that could be decisive for the trial in the end will be whether Breivik can be held criminally liable. This is affirmed by some and disputed by others, but seems -- and not just in this case -- like a pathetic relic. Just like members of Germany's Red Army Faction (RAF) or jihadists, it is also obvious that Breivik suffers from paranoia."

"But as German author and thinker Hans Magnus Enzensberger presciently reminded us decades ago, what we are dealing with here hardly represents the classic symptoms of paranoia: 'As for the terrorists themselves, it would be naive to downplay the danger they pose as that of isolated lunatics.' Indeed, it is true that no court would even come up with the idea of declaring the RAF's killer commando teams, Osama bin Laden and his cohorts who destroyed the World Trade Center in 2001 or the National Socialist Underground, which killed nine immigrants and a police officer, of being mentally incapable of standing trial. It is only Breivik's ability to reason that is questioned. Is it because he was a lone wolf in his crime? He may have been, but he certainly isn't alone."

"Terrorists from all eras and backgrounds comprise a community. They are held together by the conviction that they are fighters in a war that both justifies and obliges every murder. Literature that confirms their world view is abundantly available, particularly on the Internet in recent years. ... One way or another, he will be locked up for decades. But the paranoia will live on freely in books and on websites."

The Financial Times Deutschland writes:

"This trial against Anders Breivik will put not only the victims' loved ones to the test, but also all of Norway -- and it will ultimately leave them unsatisified. Relief for the collective psyche, some even speak of healing, won't be provided by the trial. The defendant's motives are too crude. Expectations should be accordingly low, otherwise there is a threat of wounds that won't heal quickly."

"Words of regret can't be expected of (Breivik). For exactly that reason there is no sense in continuing to place the accused in the media spotlight. A few photos from the trial's beginning are in order, as they serve the hunger for information from people worldwide who want to know who committed such a crime and why. But not every detail or move by the defendant is in the public interest. The trial must not serve to satisfy a need for revenge or confirm that Breivik is a 'monster.' It should be an objective reconstruction of the crimes, so that something like this can be prevented from happening again."

SPIEGEL ONLINE writes:

"The first day of the trial against Breivik left every observer dismayed and perplexed. More than anyone, the lawyers, journalists and victims in the courtroom were unified by a sort of infinite state of helplessness. How could this strangely vain and arrogant man, who at the same time comes across as insecure, be capable of the cold-bloodedness that the state prosecutors have documented in their indictment?"

"The most telling moment took place just ahead of the lunch break. Prosecutor Svein Holden played Breivik's propaganda film, in which the attacker warns of the danger posed to the West by an Islamic infiltration. In the moment that he appears in his uniform amid historic pictures of knights, his eyes suddenly filled with tears of emotion. At least that's how observers in Oslo see it."

"Breivik, the narcissist, seems moved by his own persona in this moment. This leaves the impression for the day that Breivik has no trace of compassion for the 77 dead, hundreds of injured and thousands of those traumatized by his crimes. Compassion, as the pitiful breakdown over his self-dramatization in the courtroom shows, is something he feels only for himself."

-- Kristen Allen

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