Why Norway Is Satisfied with Breivik’s Sentence

The sentence preserves the country's image of possessing a rehabilitative rather than a retributive justice system. And if Anders Behring Breivik is not fully reformed, his term in prison can be extended in five-year increments after the initial 21-year chunk

  • Share
  • Read Later
Stoyan Nenov / Reuters

Norwegian mass killer Anders Behring Breivik is escorted out the courtroom at the end of his trial in Oslo on Aug. 24, 2012

In a case that tested Norway’s proud tradition of liberal justice to its limit, a five-judge panel in Oslo decided anti-Islamic mass killer Anders Behring Breivik was more evil than sick and sentenced him to the maximum 21 years in prison. The decision, coming more than four months after his trial began, was greeted with confused dismay by most overseas observers but was well received by the murderer of 77 people, as it was by the surviving victims, the families of the dead and most of the country.

For the survivors and the bereaved families, a sane man can now be properly punished, while Breivik will feel he can still burnish his credentials as a political terrorist, without being written off as a madman. In a paradoxical moment in the packed courtroom, as the verdict was read out, survivors of Breivik’s attack hugged one another even as the gunman smiled in satisfaction just a few feet away.

But in the country still profoundly shocked by the July 2011 slaughter, the overwhelming emotion is relief. Breivik has said for months that if found sane, he would not seek to overturn the decision in a higher court, adding in a final moment that he would not “legitimize” it by appealing the verdict. The prosecution, which in a reversal of established courtroom tradition had demanded Breivik’s compulsory mental-health care, said it too would spare the country an appeal and the prospect of a painful repeat of the trial.

(PHOTOS: Explosion and Shooting Rock Norway)

Tore Sinding Bekkedal, a survivor of Breivik’s attack on Utoya Island who heard dozens of his friends murdered as he hid inside a toilet, says: “I am relieved to see this verdict. The temptation for people to fob him off as a madman has now gone.” It would have been impossible, he says, to square the years of planning and meticulous construction of the bomb that killed eight in the center of Oslo with insanity. John Hestnes, head of the victims’ support group, adds: “I am delighted with this. He did this. He is not crazy, and this means that he will be punished for what he has done.”

Regarded with astonishment from overseas, the 21-year maximum sentence — for detonating a lethal truck bomb and then driving to Utoya Island and shooting, point-blank, 69 people, mostly teenage members of the Labor Party youth wing — remains an important principle of a justice system that believes in rehabilitation over retribution. Bjorn Magnus Ihler, another Utoya survivor, says: “That’s how it should work. That’s staying true to our principles and the best evidence that he hasn’t changed society.”

But Breivik should not imagine he will ever walk free. If he is still considered dangerous after 21 years, his sentence can be extended in five-year increments for the rest of his life, which is a likely outcome given his glorification of violence, lack of remorse and desire to have killed more people. “He will be 53 at the time of his release,” said judge Arne Lyng, reading from the 90-page judgment, “although the court finds it improbable that the defendant will be released. Our democracy will still exist, it will still have different cultures and different religions. After having served his sentence, the perpetrator will probably still have the desire and the will to carry out violence and murder.”

(MORE: What Breivik Can Expect Inside Norway’s Prison System)

Some are outraged at the comforts of the three-room cell he will occupy in Ila Prison in Oslo, complete with gym equipment, computer and television. Mette Yvonne Larsen, a lawyer representing dozens of bereaved families, says the Ministry of Justice should take a look at this relative opulence. But largely, Breivik can now finally be ignored — which is what Norway has always wanted to do with the stain of his premeditated massacre.

Mustafa Rashid, father of Bano, the first of the July 22 victims to be buried, and Kjell Fredrik Lie, father of Elisabeth, who was buried last, have both said they would waste no energy hating or even thinking about the terrorist. They claim to speak for the country. Breivik’s final volley — an acid apology to “militant nationalists” that he had not managed to kill more — was drowned out by the judge, who cut off his microphone and told him to stay quiet. Norwegians will hope this verdict effectively does the same.

For a country determined to move on but cursed to never forget, there are many things that will remain troubling. After the car bomb was detonated, why was the description of a man in police uniform and his license-plate number allowed to hang around on a sticky note in a police control room while the suspect passed two cop cars on his way to Utoya? Could he have bluffed his way onto the island with a box full of guns if the media had been used to circulate his description in the minutes after the bomb attacks? How do the police explain their failure to make it to the island quicker? Could a sharper intelligence service have picked up Breivik in the months leading up to the killings when agents were warned by customs officials that Breivik was purchasing suspicious chemicals from nearby Poland? The former Minister of Justice, two police chiefs and the head of the intelligence service have all already resigned, but whispers have even begun about Jens Stoltenberg, the Prime Minister, who was such a symbol of Norwegian unity in the days after last year’s attacks, remaining in his job.

(MORE: Sentenced to Serving the Good Life in Norway)

Questions will inevitably be asked too about the role of psychiatry in the trial, including the folly of trying to draw the line between mad and bad. By any lay measure, Breivik is a combination of the two, evidenced by his weird twitches, blank face, lack of emotion as he described murdering scores of children and the sheer scale of his crimes. Even the psychiatrists, whose weeks of testimonies were supposed to cast his sanity within a legal framework, could not agree on his mental state. Two pairs of state-sponsored shrinks reported contradictory findings in the run-up to this trial and stuck to their diagnoses under long cross-examination.

The sentence effectively exonerated the diagnosis of Breivik as a nonpsychotic terrorist with narcissistic and antisocial personality disorders. The reputations of the other doctors, who diagnosed the killer with psychotic paranoid schizophrenia, are in tatters. But so too is their whole profession. The Minister of Justice has already pledged to look at the role of forensic psychiatry in Norwegian courts. It seems clear the relationship will change.

In essence, though, Norwegians feel proud that their society is fundamentally unchanged. The scenes of jubilation inside the court attest to the victims’ belief in the country’s liberal justice. And as far as justice can ever be done for a crime this heinous, this is probably it. A plurality of Norwegians wanted Breivik punished for his crimes. But, more than that, in the end they just wanted him gone. The man who stained the rocks and trees of Utoya with the blood of the country’s brightest young people will almost certainly never be free again. At the end of this exhausting trial, that is enough for most.

MORE: Norway Killer Declared Sane, Sentenced to 21 Years in Prison

155 comments
Aquilagrande
Aquilagrande

The force behind his actions was probably an intence hate against Norwegian authorities. That hate was probably initiated in his early childhood when he was institutionalized togeather with his mother in a psychiatric ward. What was done to him there probably had the effect of an abuse and that abuse made him nurture a thirst for revabge from early childhood and onwards.

Adair
Adair

Um Charles Manson is serving life in prison, after having his death sentence negated by California during the 70s. He will never see the light of day. I don't know what Adam_Irae is talking about. 

JohnnyReason
JohnnyReason

The people here who are defending the light sentence seem to be unable to grasp one important thing that holds society and governments together: The belief  that justice will prevail.

When justice is seen as not prevailing, people lose faith in their government's ability to look our for their welfare and tend to take matters into their own hands.

If all the Breiviks of the world were allowed re-entry into society after a mere 21 years (probably won't happen in this case, but who knows -- prison could force him to realize his wrongs and he could be rehabilitated), people will surely murder or assault such people.

Vigilantism is a dangerous thing and society should do all it can to discourage it. And if that means locking guys like Breivik away for life -- or even executing them (though I'm pretty ambivalent about the death penalty) -- so be it.

onaturalia
onaturalia

21 years. It's a big win for murderers in Norway.

Niel Daly
Niel Daly

I'd absolutely keep him alive but send him to a prison in Saudi Arabia

JLS1950
JLS1950

"For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit

their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say

what their itching ears want to hear."

Sometimes I think the French disallowed even to wait...

banditcdr67
banditcdr67

I can understand being against the death penalty and the want to rehabilitate over retribution but you have to concede the fact that there are some acts that are so horrible that normal rules don't apply.  Who judges whether or not Breivik is not a danger to society?  I'm sure he can manipulate that system as well and be back on the streets in twenty years.  Feel ok having him live next door to you once he's out (even if he claims to be rehabilitated)?  I think probably not...

banditcdr67
banditcdr67

I can understand being against the death penalty and the want to rehabilitate over retribution but you have to concede the fact that there are some acts that are so horrible that normal rules don't apply.  Who judges whether or not Breivik is not a danger to society?  I'm sure he can manipulate that system as well and be back on the streets in twenty years.  Feel ok having him live next door to you once he's out?  I think probably not...

1931
1931

Norway's justice system is total nonsense.  21 years for what he did??  I only wish this piece of filth could experience Texas or Florida justice - real justice !!!  At a minimum, a life sentence for each of his victims  - to run consecutively, with no chance ever of parole!  At the maximum - execution !!

me
me

I'm glad this article used the word terrorist.

The BBC coverage never used the word once. 

It has seemed in the UK that a guy who puts a bomb in his pants, and doesn't go to the bathroom to set it off properly and so doesn't kill anyone, is a sane Muslim terrorist, but a well-planned guy who can pull off multiple killings on two different sites within hours is a possibly-insane, non-terrorist, unrepentent mass murderer. 

When does a mass murderer who kills for ideological reasons become a terrorist? I'm a little hazy. Appreciate some suggestions.

Steve Rodriguez
Steve Rodriguez

That guy should be executed.  Spare the Euro-socialist evolved response against capital punishment.  If the author is correct, and you are glad your civilization can continue unchanged, what about the lives that are GONE!!  Were they and their families unchanged?  If not, do their families care???  I am not going to compare apples and oranges with the two different justice systems (US and Norway).  Each country has a right to pursue justice in how they see fit.  But it is not subjective, it is objective moral fact:  it is WRONG for this guy to be alive.

NorwegianThirtySomething
NorwegianThirtySomething

Its not a concern to all Europeans. Not by a long shot. I've seen the successful integration of both Vietnamese and Pakistani immigrants that arrived in the seventies, for instance.

Most Islamic immigrants are moderate. In many cases they fled from an oppressive, sharia-touting regime in the first place. Why would they want to reintroduce it here?

There will always be extremists on both sides, buy they in no way represent the majority.

Tralititious
Tralititious

What he did was unforgiveable but his concerns about the Islamisation of Europe is of great concern to all Europeans. Muslims are now outbreeding the locals. Governments have ignored and continue to ignore the wishes of the overwhelming majority of the citizens.

Tralititious
Tralititious

What he did was unforgiveable but his concerns about Islam in Europe is of great concern to all Europeans. Muslims were brought here without any plebecite or consultation with the citizens and they are now outbreeding the locals. Every poll has shown that people don't want the Muslims here but the governments ignore the wishes of the overwhelming majority of the citizens. Sadly, unless something is done like expelling them back to Islamic countries then more of the Breivik type incidents will occur.

Tralititious
Tralititious

What he did was unforgiveable but his concerns about the Islamisation of Europe is of great concern to all Europeans. Muslims were brought here without any plebecite or consultation with the citizens and they are now outbreeding the locals. Every poll has shown that people don't want the Muslims here but the governments ignore the wishes of the overwhelming majority of the citizens. Sadly, unless something is done like expelling them back to Islamic countries then more of the Breivik type incidents will occur.

Lucia Matias
Lucia Matias

Scary...

This guy in the end will have a much better life than any of his victims. Prisons in Norway look like spas,everything is nice, cozy, comfortable. So he will never have another worry in his life, everything will be provided by the state.

On the other hand those who died and their families must be wondering if indeed there is justice.

Only those demented leftists and their twisted sense of justice can accept this situation.

Tralititious
Tralititious

What he did was unforgiveable but his concerns about the Islamisation of Europe is of great concern to all Europeans. Muslims were brought here without any plebecite or consultation with the citizens and they are now outbreeding the locals. Every poll has shown that people don't want the Muslims here but the governments ignore the wishes of the overwhelming majority of the citizens. Sadly, unless something is done like expelling them back to Islamic countries then more of the Breivik type incidents will occur.

Tralititious
Tralititious

What he did was unforgiveable but his concerns about the Islamisation of Europe is of great concern to all Europeans. Muslims were brought here without any plebecite or consultation with the citizens and they are now outbreeding the locals. Every poll has shown that people don't want the Muslims here but the governments ignore the wishes of the overwhelming majority of the citizens. Sadly, unless something is done like expelling them back to Islamic countries then more of the Breivik type incidents will occur.

Todd Dunning
Todd Dunning

Breivik has already been nominated for a Nobel, in just his first few days in office.

Ziad Salloum
Ziad Salloum

21 years for 77 people which means 3months 8 days for each person...I say he got a good bargain and the Norwegian justice system sold its citizen extremely cheap.... 

danton steele
danton steele

dude I totally remember you from Harbor Private school.

Dude, you used to wear glasses and I hung out with lil jimmy and listened to too short, it sucked. Its the first of the month, so jax beach is poppin with dixie crystals and black cars wit rims. I am not horny, and I don't think that there isn't anything I can't do with the sugar either.

su3385
su3385

Obviously, the "maximum sentences of 21 years" is a sham!  It certainly would not appear to be "maximum" if it can be extended for the rest of someone's life. Personally, I think they should have gotten rid of him, the same way he did all those kids.

Todd Dunning
Todd Dunning

That's 4.23 months for each teenager he hunted down and killed as they cried for mercy. 

To all the Liberals supporting this sentence on this thread, does this sound about right if it was you or your children?

Kimmee Sun Woo
Kimmee Sun Woo

on his first day of release, I would wait and kill him myself. 21 years, hell I would want to go to prison myself just so I could kill him. 

Michael W. Perry
Michael W. Perry

If the Norwegians are so satisfied with this sentence, why did the courtroom have to be rebuilt to provide him with Eichmann-like protection? And, if there's no danger they'll do him any harm, why is he being kept away from the general prison population? I suspect Norwegian dislike of this slap-on-the-wrist runs deep. It's only political correctness that keeps down verbal dissent. 

More importantly, this light sentence leaves him alive and serving as a comfortably living role model for other Norwegian mass-killers. If you want to make a bang on the world stage, why try a mass killing in Texas, where you'll likely to be shot before you can kill more than one or two people? Why try it in a death-penality state, where even surrendering to the cops doesn't mean you live out a normal life span?

No, if you want to kill lots of people and get lots of attention, travel to Norway. Your victims aren't Texans. They will be passive, doing absolutely nothing to stop you. The police are remarkably incompetent. They will take 90 minutes to arrive, allowing for a massive death toll. And in the end, you'll be housed in more comfort that perhaps 95% of the world's population. 

BMelos
BMelos

People are comparing the the Norwrgian crime rate with the US, why not compare it with Bahrain, Qatar, or Saudi Arabia where the law is harsher but the crime rate is very low even lower than Norway's. The US is very large and divided in a very different way so don't compare it to Norway. 

NeoCeon
NeoCeon

There is no question about Breivik being a madman. He may not be psychotic(which should according to norwegian law have led to an mental-health treatment instead of prison), BUT he certainly is mad, he certainly IS a narcissistic psychopath. Already as a 4 year old he had developed psychological problems.

Many people on the left side of norwegian politics try nevertheless to utilize Breivik in their fight against people who do not share their opinions(anti-islamists for an example). 

And that's just pathetic and disgusting.

Walter Prout
Walter Prout

Actually, what everyone sees here with this is this..............

NO, Criminal justice system and NO, amount of laws will ever prevent anyone from committing any crime ! No matter how much Government you have, it's not enough to stop citizens from committing acts of stupidity ! IMHO, it doesn't matter what Norway feels or how they deal with crime because they can say the same thing for us American's and our nation. 

At first, I thought they were.....well......A little off in the head but..............What right does anyone have to judge another country for how it deals with it's citizens ?

The way I see this, PEOPLE of all Nations and walks of life continue to view SYRIA and it's internal war as common everyday life ! I don't hear you saying anything about it but then again, you voice your stupid hate at Norway for dealing with their nation's problem !

You people hold Double-Standards and frankly, YOU DON'T COUNT AS A VOICE !  

Swordfishtrombone
Swordfishtrombone

The only thing that I find questionable about this is that he will have a computer in his cell - does that include an Internet connection? Surely not?

If it does, I presume that his Internet use will be closely monitored, and participation on forums and social sites will be barred. We don't need this narcisistic, xenophobic mass murderer continuing to promote his sick ideology online, from his prison cell.

DarkCalf
DarkCalf

Justice is not about revenge. In fact they're almost completely opposite of each other.

JohnnyReason
JohnnyReason

 Norway's law, to me, seems to show a rather naive faith in humanity.  Essentially, the soft maximum sentence indicates that the country sees most people as good deep down, despite their actions to the contrary, and potential candidates for rehabilitation.  As an American, Norway's system fascinates me, for it lacks one component of justice that I see as very important -- Revenge.  I don't care if a guy like Breivik can be rehabilitated and becomes a male Mother Theresa in prison. One you kill 80 people, I think you should be written off. You're done, in my book. 

I can't help but wonder if such a lame sentence would have been given to world leaders who have committed crimes against humanity in the 20th century if they had been fortunate enough to be tried under Norwegian law. If so, what an insult to the human race.

beaverorduck
beaverorduck

I'm all for rehabilitation, but someone that committed this much destruction will never atone for his sins against so many families.  It doesn't affect me as a resident of the US, but I think that Norwegians should evaluate their stance on mass murder.

Shimmana
Shimmana

If the people of Norway are satisfied with the sentence, then so be it. Their crime rate is a lot lower than ours, so they must be doing something right.

Joe Mushroom
Joe Mushroom

Murderer of 77 people gets 21 years in jail (just over 3months for each life),

and disturbingly he will most likely be released earlier on good behaviour.

Psy-op or not, Norway shame on you! Your sick justice system disgusts me.

westway775
westway775

You can't rehabilitate a pathological monster like Breivik. Even the court acknowledged that, with its remarks about indefinite incarceration. Where is the justice in keeping this man alive at state expense?

salveradix
salveradix

Norwegian resident here.

For what it's worth, TIME delivers a good summary of the Norwegians' general take on it.

However, the article doesn't mention one of the key reasons why we're all so relieved he was found sane.

While Breivik's hyperinflated ego and percieved sense of his own importance to political history prevents him from aquiring this insight himself, the "best" verdict for him - if everlasting counter-jihad martyrdom and a long-term popular interest in his political ideas is what he envisions for himself (presumably it is) - is unquestionably to have been found insane.

Even more so if the insanity verdict, as in this case, were to be highly controversial and completely contradictory to common sense, given his apparent rationality and meticulous planning.

How easy wouldn't it be for those who share his political beliefs across Europe, Russia and the US, in years to come, to claim that his insanity ruling was little more than a political cover-up designed to lessen and ridicule the anti-islam sentiment, a medicalisation of an entire world view shared by many?

Given Norwegian modern history when it comes to hide away unwanted political ideas in hospital wardens (try googling Nobel litterature laureate Knut Hamsun's postwar verdict), this would be a relatively easy sell for an underground movement already prone to conspiracy theories and circular arguments.

With a sane killer, we won't have to endure the predictable story of a deep political thinker "silenced by the multiculturalist majority in fear of the consequences of the explosive underlying truth in his writings", or something like that.  Instead of this conspiracy-friendly subplot, future generations are left with his rambling manifesto having to create the cultural impact by and in itself: A work of (at the very best) mediocre literary quality, and whose historical, political and rhetorical inaccuracies are pretty easy to pick apart. Skilled killer, flawed thinker, bad writer.

Oh, and no: 21 years and 10-year minimum jail time served doesn't mean what it looks like,  so there's really no need to purposely misunderstand our justice system in order to score some US vs. Euro cheap point.

Breivik's 21 years of "preventive detention" in all practicality means the same as a death sentence in Kansas:  Life without parole.

Granted, he gets a color TV. But it should be noted that even here in Norway we mainly get Dr. Phil reruns during daytime and reality shows on the evening slots, so I'd say there's still some old-testament-style retribution left in our system.

Jeffrey Geez Glavick
Jeffrey Geez Glavick

So they believe that this person may or can be "reformed" in 21 years? interesting, and oh so dumb.Too many maybe's involved, like maybe next time he will shoot less people Ps-  You intentionally take a life and there is no giving it back, seems to me life is cheap in this world with this kind of punishment. Who speaks for the dead? just the families I guess, no one else realy cares in the end.

Walter Prout
Walter Prout

I really wonder if  Sigmund Freud , saw this coming ?

boonteetan
boonteetan

The kind of treatment showered on the maniac killer (who regretted of not having massacred more) gives one the impression that Norway must be a heaven for criminals.

 

It does seem to suggest that if one is homeless, hungry and poor, the best option is to start shooting at people randomly. Then comfortable lodging, reasonably good food and entertainment would be offered free as long as one does not go insane.

 

Maximum sentence is 21 years, likely to be let out after 10 years, for taking away 77 lives. Humiliatingly incredible, absolutely nauseating.

(zz1943, vzc1943)

JeanClellandMorin
JeanClellandMorin

I posted my opinion on facebook. It met with some resistance. Society, particularly in the U.S., is so focused on retribution, that we waste our energy rather than looking at prevention. We feed into the vicious circle with our outrage against the monsters. The "human" race is mindlessly proliferating itself without proper education on the responsibilities and consequences of bringing a child into this world. We make our monsters. // Jean Clelland-Morin