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

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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

152 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. 

Adam_Irae
Adam_Irae

 21 to life. Three times what Charles Manson is serving, for perspective.

Adam_Irae
Adam_Irae

The thing is, the Norwegians do not think it a light sentence. The survivors do not think it a light sentence. The victims families do not think it a light sentence. Overwhelmingly, the people of Norway, both the ones affected by the crime and the ones not touched, feel that justice has prevailed.

Thats...the headline of the article, Johnny.

The people who feel this is a light sentence seem to be Americans. The American justice systems seems to be based on the state doling out vengeance to satisfy the people. Like Roman Colosseums. To the degre that people have become so deadened to the stimuli that a sentence three times as harsh as the one Charles Manson is serving now seems "light".

Adam_Irae
Adam_Irae

 Charles Manson had his first parole hearing 7 years after his incarceration, and hes had them every 3 years since. He is still not out. Breivik got a more severe sentence than the one Manson is serving, and will have longer between hearings.

JNordang.Paz
JNordang.Paz

@1931Well, authorities didn't let him go to the funeral of his mother, and as stated before his sentence is 21 to life. Probably life... 

I'm Norwegian BTW.

Adam_Irae
Adam_Irae

Hold on to that feeling of wrath and outrage. The conviction that he deserves pain and suffering, and that he has no rights.  That is what drove Breivik. That is how he felt about his victims. The stronger that feeling is within you, the closer to Breivik you are. You have, basically bought his worldview.

Adam_Irae
Adam_Irae

 Well, the families of the victims seem satisfied, the survivors seem satisfied, and Norwegians in general seem satisfied. Perhaps you should take some time to explain to them why you are convinced they are wrong?

JohnnyReason
JohnnyReason

Very well said. We in the US have our share of immigrants who, paticularly those from Asia, India and the Middle East,  contribute so much to our society. Generally, these are people who are very well educated or, at the very least, highly adventurous and very smart. It's a pretty big deal to leave your native country to start a new life in a place such as the U.S. My hats off to these immigrants.  We are basically getting another country's cream of the crop and we're very lucky for it.

JohnnyReason
JohnnyReason

 Even if ethnic tensions are indeed on the horizon despite Norway's best progressive efforts, do you truly think the humane and just thing to do is expel people? That seems quite cruel, regardless of any societal problems it would (in theory, but probably not) solve.

Adam_Irae
Adam_Irae

 Um...the article you are commenting on is on how the victims and their relatives are, in fact, satisfied that justice was served. Do you ever feel than maybe there has been a bit of inflation in the vengeance part of the US system when you get that far out of synch?

Todd Dunning
Todd Dunning

Yeah Ziad - apparently Norwegian lives are in the markdown bin, with teenagers on sale.   Apparently it's more important to feel warm and fuzzy being compassionate to a mass murderer

Adam_Irae
Adam_Irae

 He got 21 to life, and it was pretty clear form the start that it was the sentence for the crime. the only question was on whether he would be found insane.

How is that a sham? Because foreign newspapers after the sentence reported it as "21 years" to stir up an outrage response in dim readers, that makes it a sham?

Adam_Irae
Adam_Irae

 It seems like the people whose children it actually was considers it right? Tell me, what gives you the right to set your need for vengeance above theirs?

Adam_Irae
Adam_Irae

 And yet, it seem far more mass murderers chose Texas. Isn't that peculiar?

Morten Horn
Morten Horn

 Michael, you're not informed as to the security conditions during trial. The defendant sat in an open court room, with no physical barriers. Actually, during the trial, one of the spectators was able to throw a shoe at him (like that guy did at Bush, once), hitting one of his lawyers sitting right next to him. However, it's true that he will at least in the beginning be kept away from other inmates. Both for his own and his inmates' security.

As for mass murderers, fortunately, we don't have many of those in Norway. Just this one, who will now be kept locked up most probably for the duration of his sorry, failed and completely wasted life.

jernfrost
jernfrost

I think Norway would come out favorably. In Saudi arabia people who are victims to terrorist attacks are imprisoned to not cause an alarm. Rape is accepted etc. It is pretty pointless to compare a medival society like Saudi Arabia to modern western democracies such as Norway and the US.

Mats Leo Sønsterud
Mats Leo Sønsterud

 Of course you can compare the Norwegian crime rate to the US one. Especially when the Norwegian crime rate is a tenth of the US' rate. Size doesn't matter, crime rate is calculated pr capita after all.

By the way, Saudi Arabia's homicide rate is twice that of Norway, and that's not counting the domestic voilence since that's legal down there.

StefaniaBelmondo
StefaniaBelmondo

 So you want to compare the crime rate of  a civilized country like Norway to countries where domestic violence is not a crime? Whatever suits you.

Adam_Irae
Adam_Irae

 He got a stricter sentence than Charles Manson is serving, and with far less chance of ever getting out. You cannot give a longer sentence than life, which is what he got.

BMelos
BMelos

Your comment is full of ignorance. In Saudi Arabia victims of terrorist attacks are not imprisoned. I was in Saudi Arabia during the terrorist attacks and I was one of the victims, my house was basically destroyed and I was hurt. Also Rape is not accepted. I remember in 2008, 2 Saudi police men raped a woman, they were both executed.

BMelos
BMelos

What about Bahrain and Qatar they both have the same homicide rate as Norway. And in both countries this man would have been executed. The Norwegian homicide rate is 1/8 of the United States.

BMelos
BMelos

I was comparing homicide rate, my mistake. So domestic violence has nothing to do with this.

BMelos
BMelos

This is covering the western point of view. You have to be here to actually know what is happening. The news that you get in the west is at least 30% correct (especially about the women driving thing, which is actually stupid from the Saudi government). Look I am not a fan of the Saudi Government, or Saudi Arabia generally, but If you asked me Saudi Arabia is safer than the US(I am now living in the US). Btw Terrorist attacks no longer happen in Saudi Arabia.

jernfrost
jernfrost

I obviously did not mean every victim. I am sorry to hear what happened to you. But if you do not know that this happens, then you are the ignorant one: http://www.guardian.co.uk/worl...

Same can be said about rape. Obviously I used hyperbole to make a point. The fact though is that rape victims in general receive little help in Saudi Arabia. A mans word is always held in higher esteem than that of a women. Simple facts like, that women are banned from driving in Saudi Arabia, speaks for themselves about what Saudi Arabia thinks of women.