Conflicting Assessments: New Report Finds Breivik Sane Ahead of Trial

By in Oslo

Contrary to an initial assessment, right-wing extremist Anders Breivik is not criminally insane, a new report found on Tuesday. Now both reports will be used when he goes on trial for killing 77 people last year. The defendant himself claims to be mentally fit and plans to defend his actions in court.

Anders Behring Breivik, right, at a court hearing on Feb. 6, 2012. Zoom
AP/ Scanpix

Anders Behring Breivik, right, at a court hearing on Feb. 6, 2012.

Norwegian state prosecutor Svein Holden's office doesn't have much room left. One wall features two aerial photos, the first of the bombed-out government quarter in Oslo and the other of the tiny island Utøya. Small dots mark the location of each crime that took place on July 22, 2011, when a total of 77 people were killed.

Rows of files are stacked beneath the photos. Some are blue, and deal with the events surrounding the explosion of the car bomb in central Oslo. The black files cover the massacre at the summer camp for the center-left Labor Party's youth wing, the AUF.

Holden will be the prosecutor in the trial against the confessed perpetrator of those crimes, right-wing extremist Anders Behring Breivik, which begins next Monday in the Norwegian capital. And he's not surprised that the number of files he's dealing with continues to grow. "This case is the biggest in the history of our country," the 38-year-old lawyer told SPIEGEL ONLINE.

In fact, on Tuesday afternoon his row of files grew by 310 pages, which are likely to make the already stressful life of the young father even tougher. They make up the second psychiatric review of the alleged perpetrator, which contrary to the first assessment concludes that the then 32-year-old was not suffering from psychosis at the time the crimes were committed. The court plans to consider both reports.

Trial Hinges on Mental State

The second assessment, presented to the court on Tuesday by psychiatrist duo Agnar Aspaas and Terje Tørrissen, couldn't be more different from the first one. According to their summary, there are no signs that the subject could have suffered from impaired consciousness.

"Such a thing has never come up in Norwegian legal history," court psychiatrist Arne Thorvik told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "In contrast with the United States, where court counter-opinions are part of the daily routine, we have only ever used one report to help judges determine the degree of penalty."

The two new experts didn't have it easy, either. They conducted some 37 hours of discussions with Breivik, in addition to observing him for 24 hours. Breivik resisted this, but in January judges agreed to the unusual measures after widespread criticism of the first psychiatric assessment.

Breivik was put into a 60-square-meter (645-square-foot) cell with a computer, television and books, where two teams of four social workers, nurses and psychiatrists observed him day and night.

There is a growing sense that this trial will hinge on whether or not Breivik is considered to be mentally ill. "We will have to come together in the coming days and think about whether we need to revise our argument," state prosecutor Holden said during a press conference after the new report was submitted to the court.

Breivik Claims Sanity

Norwegians are deeply divided over whether the biggest enemy of the state since the Second World War should be sent to a high-security psychiatric facility for mental illness, or if he was a truly convinced perpetrator whose political motivation presents a frightening impression of the dangers posed by anti-Islam ideology.

Breivik himself is likely to be pleased with the court's decision to accept the new report. In a statement he released ahead of the Easter holiday, he denied being mentally ill. "That is the worst humiliation that one could inflict upon me," he wrote in a 38-page essay addressed to various national media outlets. In the document he cites some 200 mistakes allegedly made in the first report, including supposed mistakes and entire quotations he says were made up. "To stick a political activist into psychiatric care is more sadistic and evil than killing him," Breivik wrote.

Initially his lawyer Geir Lippestad had expressed satisfaction with the first forensic report's conclusions, saying his instinct as a criminal lawyer told him that categorizing Breivik as mentally ill would be "the best solution." But Breivik didn't want that, prompting Lippestad and his team to spend recent weeks developing a new strategy to convince the court of his sanity instead.

'They Are Staging a Circus in the Courtroom'

Part of this strategy is to call witnesses who support Breivik's justification for his deeds: that Norway is about to be taken over by Islamists and that the ruling Labor Party is conspiring with Muslim immigrants to commit this treason. Breivik used this notion as the basis for his perverse plot to attack the youth of the Labor Party, the future elite of Norway.

For the psychiatrists Torgeir Husby and Synne Sørheim, who compiled the first psychiatric report, these were bizarre delusions that had nothing to do with reality -- and were therefore a key indication that Breivik was a paranoid schizophrenic. Defense attorney Lippestad will try to prove the opposite on behalf of his client. He has called the radical Muslim preacher Mullah Krekar to testify. Krekar was recently sentenced to five years in prison by the same court for his hate-filled sermons.

The list also includes the anti-Islamic blogger Fjordmann who was in touch with Breivik and who was frequently cited in the hundreds of pages of Breivik's manifesto. The head of the extreme right-wing Norwegian Defence League, Ronny Alte, has also been called, as have senior politicians of the right-wing Progress Party, and the editor-in-chief of the conservative newspaper Aftenposten, Hilde Haugsgjerd.

Little Hope of Release

The list has provoked angry reactions. "They are staging a circus in the courtroom," fumed prominent lawyer Harald Stabell, adding that he hoped the judge would keep a tight rein on proceedings. Other commentators backed Breivik's lawyer Lippestad. Berit Reiss-Andersen, the president of the Norwegian Bar Association, said Lippestad had every right to present such a list. "The verdict on this list was premature," she told newspaper Verdens Gang.

The court and Norwegian society will now have to confront Breivik's anti-Islamic ideology rather than dealing with his mental state. "We had virtually no ideologically-motivated violence in Norway since World War II," psychiatrist Thorvik told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "That is probably why the first psychiatrists were so unfamiliar with Breivik's ideology," said Thorvik, who had voiced strong doubts about Breivik's supposed insanity.

The new team of experts took pains to avoid criticizing their predecessors at an impromptu news conference in the court on Tuesday. But they hinted at why they had arrived at a different assessment than Sørheim und Husby. There was a "greater distance of time" from July 22 last year, they said.

But the psychiatrists who compiled the differing reports agree on one point -- the danger that Breivik would kill again is very high. That means that regardless of whether he is put in psychiatric care or in prison, he'll have no hope of release.

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