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Sabine Wanmaker, 25 August 2012

Anders Behring Breivik was declared sane yesterday. When the judge was reading the courts’ arguments for its decision it seemed obvious he was sane. However, it was a hard decision for them to make and one of the few questions left in this trial (as it was clear from the beginning and all parties agreed Breivik committed his acts).

In this trial, there have been two contradicting psychiatric reports, which led to much confusion. Not just for the involved parties but just as much for Norwegian society. We met with Ulrik Malt, a psychiatric who observed Breivik and testified as an expert-witness in the trial. He explained to us how it was possible that these two contradictory reports actually described one and the same person. Malt explains that the symptoms observed by the two psychiatric teams were almost the same, but those observations led to different interpretations and thus, to two opposing outcomes.

Take for example his neologisms (new words invented by Breivik such as ‘suicidal humanism’), that the first team of psychiatrists interpreted as a symptom of schizophrenia while the second team thought they were self-made concepts fitting his ideology. Tore Bjorgo, a terrorism expert who cooperated in our research, told us another interesting example.

“Breivik mentions the civil war several times in his manifesto and this was interpreted as a delusion by the first psychiatric team. However, in the world of far-right extremists, this is a very commonly used term and it refers to what Breivik sees as the culture clash between the ‘real’ Europeans and the muslim immigrants. Other examples, that were interpreted as being part of Breivik’s psychosis were: his idea that he he has the right to decide who can live and who will die and his conspiracy-theory of Islam taking over Europa leading to Eurabia.”

An important criterium in all psychopathological disorders is that the behavior cannot be explained by cultural behaviour or thoughts. According to the judges, the first psychiatric report did not pay enough attention to this. The second psychiatric report claimed (and the judges followed this claim) that his behavior can be explained by his extreme-right views and thus, during his terrorist acts, he was not psychotic.

One of the most important arguments against him being psychotic (in general) which led the judges to believe he was sane, was the fact that he nuanced his opinions during the interviews and trial and that all the observers were able to follow his speeches. A psychotic person will be convinced by his own thoughts in such a way that he would not nuance his views in any way; his thoughts would be disorganized and his speech would not be clear. Breivik’s behavior, to the opposite, was structured: he payed rent to his mother and he was generally dressed neatly. Also, his cognitive functions like impulse control and the capacity to plan ahead were normal. The judges took this as another clue that his behavior was not the behavior of a psychotic person. For many Norwegians this was even more shocking; how can a sane person execute such a horrifying act?

Even though Breivik was declared sane yesterday, the judges concluded he did suffer from narcissistic personality disorder. This was reflected in the descriptions of Breivik by his mother and his friends. They described a switch from someone who had been an outsider for quite some time, yet a friendly one, to an antisocial person. His mother described him as both a kind guy that was always willing to help friends to solve their problems, but at the same time a son who was using her and was showing more antisocial behavior towards her.

These two opposing views can be explained by the loyalty she feels as a mother on the one hand and the feelings of  anger on the other. She described that she was worried about his behavior in the year before the attacks. He was obsessed with his looks, he was angrier than normal and switched between ignoring her and talking while sitting too close to her. She was not able to follow his thoughts anymore.

His friends described him as a stubborn boy with some strange ideas, an outsider of the group. However, he went on holiday with them. After he began to play the computer role-playing game of World of Warcraft he changed his behavior and did not participate in the friendships anymore.

One of the most striking examples of his narcissistic personality disorder was the fact that he began to cry in court when he was watching his self-made propoganda movie while he never showed any emotions during the rest of the trial. Also, he feels he plays a very important in European history.

As Ulrik Malt mentioned to us, people underestimate the difficulty of diagnosing someone. Fortunately, today, while distributing surveys on the street, a lot of people told us they were very pleased with the final verdict that said Breivik was sane. We think Norway can look back to a fair trial with, at the end, a just verdict. However, the role of psychiatrists in trials was undermined because of the Breivik trial, as recent polls show 54% of Norwegians do not trust psychiatry anymore after this trial.


Liesbeth van der Heide, August 25 2012

Yesterday, the judges of the Oslo District Court passed their final verdict, declaring Breivik to be sane and legally responsible for his acts, sentencing him to 21 years of prison with a minimum of 10 years. Judge Wenche Arntzen delivered the verdict at 10:00am telling the court the decision was unanimous. Prosecutors Inga Bejer Engh and Svein Holden had argued for an insanity verdict. Breivik himself wished to be found sane.

Anders Behring Breivik’s 21-year jail term closes Norway’s darkest chapter. The main reaction to the verdict was relief, both among victims and the rest of Norwegian society. Utøya survivor, Frida Holm Skoglund, 20, said: “I’m going to fully live the first day of the rest of my life.”

In practice this sentence of 21 years may mean that Breivik will be in prison for the rest of his life. His sentence will be reviewed for the first time after 10 years but could last his life out (‘forvaring’) as he is deemed to be a danger to society, as the sentence can be extended every 5 years. There is no limit to the number of times the 5-year timeframe can be extended.

Now the final verdict is known, we can look back at the trial and relate the verdict to our main research questions. To what extent does the verdict reverberate the classic goals of criminal justice: retribution, prevention, restoring democratic order and upholding the rule of law? And does the final verdict provide in the need for closure for Norwegian society – i.e. how does it affect the coping mechanisms in society?
Today we will be handing out surveys and interviewing people in Oslo to find an answer to those questions.

Rose march in OsloDaan Weggemans24 August 2012

Friday the 24th of August will be the last day of a trial which has been one of the biggest terrorism trials in the history of continental Europe. The trial of Anders Behring Breivik has been deeply emotional and confrontational for many Norwegians. They had to deal with violence on a scale which had not been experienced in Norway for a long time.

For this important trial the relevance of the concept of performativitiy is evident. Following Beatrice De Graaf (2011), a performative perspective on terrorism trials entails that ‘trials are a stage where the different actors adopt and act out strategies with the aim of convincing their target audience(s) in and outside the courtroom of their narrative of (in)justice’.

Breivik himself has been very aware of the fact that he was being watched by an audience. This audience consisted not only of the Norwegian people but also hundreds of international journalists present at the trial, and millions of people following the trial via the media all around the world. In his manifest Breivik has written that after his attacks the trial that inevitably will follow ‘offers him a stage for the world’. He stated that: ‘The goal for the European resistance fighter is not to win the trial but to present all available evidence, presented in this compendium, and his cause in the most favorable way in order to help generate a maximum amount of sympathisers and supporters (…).’

But the other parties were aware of the performative aspect of this trial as well. In this light the prosecutors have chosen for a very factual and detailed approach of the case. In their opinion the trial should be as similar to other criminal justice cases as possible. Prosecutor Inga Bejer Engh emphasized the importance of approaching the trial and the suspect, despite what he is accused of, in a ‘normal’ way. ‘My goal has been to treat him like any other criminal, and I think that that is important’. With this message the prosecutor tries to show that the Norwegian judicial system can handle terrorism cases like this.

The importance that this message reaches the public is demonstrated by the fact that this coming Friday, the judges start by reading out the conclusions of the verdict. The conclusions will be further explained during the rest of the day. The judges hope with this format to reach the biggest audience as possible with their verdict.

During our research in Oslo we will concentrate on the audience who witnesses this performance. Thus, we focus on he Norwegian public, that has been subject to both astonishment and compliments of international journalists, politicians and experts. Various experts – among others, Tore Bjørgo, Laila Bokhari, Ben McPherson and Siri Thoresen – with whom we have spoken during our stay in Oslo have emphasized the unique role of the Norwegian people after the attacks and during the trial. Their active involvement in the trial by, for instance singing songs addressed to Breivik, debating about the trial and visiting memorial-sites has made the Norwegian people not only a spectator of the trial, but also a participant trying to influence the other parties in the trial with a message of democracy and the need for a fair trial. For them, an open and tolerant society is the most important variable at stake before, during and after the trial.

Our research the upcoming days will focus on the feelings about the progress of the 22nd of July trial. Did the trial succeed in the eyes of the audience in becoming a trial of justice and has it helped them cope with the consequences of the attacks? Today, everybody spoke about one thing: will he be declared sane or insane, responsible or not responsible for his acts? One day before the end of this trial we are interested in the effects the verdict might have on the final answer to this question. Can a trial be fair in the eyes of an audience if they at the same time feel the punishment was not correct?

Liesbeth van der Heide, 23 August 2012

As the country waits for Friday when the five judges of the Oslo district court pass their final verdict on the mass killer Anders Behring Breivik, we met with one of Norway’s most prominent terrorism experts, Tore Bjørgo, who shared his expectations of Breivik’s verdict with us.

Bjørgo has been involved in the 22nd of July trial from the very beginning, appearing in the media and participating in the debate. On May 31, he testified in the 22nd of July trial, analyzing Breivik’s ideology and acts from a historical, right-extremist perspective.

Bjørgo felt it was his duty to testify against the first psychiatric report. “I read his manifesto and read the interpretations of his behavior and I think they (the first psychiatric team) are wrong. His thoughts and ideology are very different from what most Norwegians think and thus, you could say his ideas are deluded or insane, but compared to many people with right-extremist views (and let’s not forgot, quite some people share his opinions), he is not that deviant.”

Bjørgo told the court that within his mental framework, Breivik acted very rationally and he knew exactly what he was doing.

He also argued Breivik’s main goal had been to ‘communicate his message of cultural war’ and to ‘incite fear and make people lose faith in democracy’ through his acts. According to Bjørgo, he did not succeed in doing so, as Norway rallied after the 22nd of July in the famous rose marches where hundreds of thousands of people vowed their dedication to values of tolerance and democracy.

The main question for the final verdict that keeps Norway occupied these days is whether Breivik will be judged sane or insane. Mette Yvonne Larsen, coordinating counsel for the aggrieved parties – who we are meeting later this week – said earlier that most of her clients do not believe he is insane:  “They were there, they looked him in the eye, they watched him calmly walk around the island shooting.”

The general prosecution said they were in doubt about his sanity, and therefore he should be declared insane out of caution.  They argued that it is better to mistakenly place a sane individual in psychiatric care rather than to place an insane individual in prison.

On his expectations for Friday’s final verdict, Bjørgo expects (60% to 40%) that Breivik will be declared sane and responsible for his acts, leading to a lifelong sentence (21 years plus custody). It remains open if the general prosecution will appeal if this happens. They might want to put an end to this trial just as much as anyone else.

Breivik himself insists his actions were politically motivated and expressed horror at the possibility of ending up in “the madhouse.”  His defense lawyer Geir Lippestad: “The defendant has a radical political project”. “To make his acts something pathological and sick deprives him of his right to take responsibility for his own actions.”

His lawyers have said Breivik would appeal an insanity ruling. Nonetheless, he prepared two speeches, one in case he is declared sane, one in case he is declared insane.

Beatrice de Graaf, 21 August 2012

After the ‘9/11’ attacks many countries seemed to have lost faith in the ability of criminal law to prevent and punish terrorism. A whole new set of extralegal, warlike measures were deployed to fight terrorists, while issues of criminal law – let alone fundamental rights (such as a fair trial, admission of evidence in court, proof of guilt beyond reasonable doubt, repudiation of information retracted through harsh interrogation methods etc. –  were dismissed as not fit enough in dealing with hardcore terrorists.

However, a number of high focus civilian criminal law trials have demonstrated that criminal terrorism prosecutions can and do result in convictions and long sentences, and  that they moreover prove the viability, accountability and proportionality of the rule of law and democratic standards in dealing with terrorism suspects.

Rather than rehearsing the debate on ‘soft’ criminal law/human rights approaches versus the ‘hard’ war-model or extra-legalism motivated by security concerns only, we would like to further investigate the impact of terrorism trials on society first. Because at the heart of this dichotomy lies the assumption that one has to choose between freedom and security, or democracy and security. We would like to argue that it is possible to have them both. Terrorism trials can both advance governmental security considerations, uphold principles of fair trial and restore public peace and feelings of security at the same time.

However, up until now, there is no international comparative study showing what terrorism trials do for the public craving for security. It might very well be that trials help to restore public peace and satisfy the need for closure, retribution and revenge. Terrorism trials might also assist victims, their relatives and others involved in coming to terms with their grief and suffering. This was very much made clear in the civilian trial against Zacarias Moussaoui, that took place in the United States in a regular courtroom between 2002-2006, and that offered both victims and their relatives an opportunity to express their feelings of loss and grief during the hearings.

In this research project (initiated in 2010) we focus on the performative and communicative aspects that are central to terrorist trials, as described in this ICCT-expert paper. The project builds upon the work Beatrice de Graaf: earlier ICCT – The Hague hosted meetings ‘Terrorism Trials as Theatre’ and the ‘Terrorists on Trial seminar series’, as well as the NIAS Research Theme Group ‘Terrorists on Trial. The Court Room as a Stage in the Struggle for Publicity, Public Support and Legitimacy’ (see also the commentary written by Eelco Kessels).

The project applies a performative perspective to terrorism trials, hence not solely concentrating on the immediate judicial performance of the magistrates and/or the defence, but putting trials in their wider sociological context, adopting notions of social drama, social psychological coping mechanisms and communication sciences. Terrorism trials serve multiple ends, depending on the actors involved, who are all busy trying to mobilise their respective target audiences around their narratives and (in)justice frames. Thus, trials are a very visible and theatrical means of demonstrating concepts and narratives of (in)justice. The ‘actor’ who has the most compelling performative strategy will succeed in convincing his target audience of his narrative. Through analyzing the roles played by the various actors (suspected terrorists, lawyers, judiciary, victims, media, etc.) in these trials, a fresh perspective will be provided at their judicial, political and social impact.

We already analyzed and described different contemporary and historical trials like the Lockerbie Trial, the Guantanamo military tribunals and the Zacarias Moussaoui Trial.

Now, we will apply these insights to the Breivik Trial that will reach its verdict Friday the 24th of August. Thanks to the Norwegian Police Academy, the Oslo District Court and the Dutch embassy in Norway, we are able to conduct interviews and inquiries into the impact and effect the verdict has on coping mechanisms of people involved in the trial, in- and outside the courtroom.

On this blog, we will give you updates on our proceedings in investigating the ways the Breivik Trial, especially the verdict, affects public coping mechanisms. We will conduct a number of interviews and inquiries dealing with two major questions:

  1. How does the trial help in furthering the classical goals of a criminal trial: retribution, incapacitation, prevention, deterrence, and possibly even rehabilitation?
  2. How does the trial help in assisting different groups in society in coming to terms with their feelings of loss, stress, anger and their need for assurance and security, e.g. how does the trial affect people’s coping mechanisms?

We will conduct interviews with attendees in and outside the courtroom, with victims and their representatives, with lawyers and with judicial officials.

In this sense, we hope to contribute to the ongoing debate on the uses, abuses and necessity of criminal law, criminal prosecution and in the end, we hope to restore faith in criminal trials as a theater where the different stakeholders in the trial let themselves be educated by the basic principles of a free and secure society.

We will publish the results of our interviews and inquiries on this blog and will also make the questionnaires available after concluding this research.

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