Tue, Aug 02, 2011 - Page 6 News List

Experts doubt a Breivik insanity plea would work

QUESTION OF DEGREES?A professor of psychiatry said proving a clinical psychosis would not be enough to avoid prosecution for the slaughter of 77 people in Norway


The man who has confessed to the deadly attacks in Norway on July 22 is expected to claim insanity, but several experts say his long and detailed planning of the massacre shows he is not crazy and can go to prison.

Anders Behring Breivik, a 32-year-old right-wing extremist, is set this week to begin undergoing a psychological examination to determine his mental state.

Two psychiatrists, Synne Serheim and Torgeir Husby, have been tasked by an Oslo court to present their opinions by Nov. 1, but the final decision on whether he can be tried for the slaughter of 77 people will be up to the court.

To be found unaccountable for the attacks — a bombing of government offices in Oslo and a shooting rampage at a youth summer camp — Breivik would according to Norwegian law need to be diagnosed as suffering from a psychosis, like schizophrenia or severe paranoia.

While Breivik’s lawyer Geir Lippestad has already suggested he is “insane,” psychiatry professor Tor Ketil Larsen stresses that proving a clinical psychosis is not enough in Norway to avoid prosecution.

“In addition to having a psychosis you must ‘lack the ability to realistically understand your own relationship to reality,’” according to Article 44 of the Norwegian Constitution, the University of Stavanger professor said in an e-mail.

That does not seem to apply to the suspect, who wrote a 1,500-page manifesto in perfect English ahead of the attack and appears intelligent and conscious of his actions.

Meanwhile, Larsen said that there could be a small chance of Breivik avoiding prison, since “one might wonder whether he suffers from schizophrenia with systematic delusions and so-called megalomania.”

“Approximately four percent of people with schizophrenia actually have a high IQ so it is not impossible for someone with severe schizophrenia to carry out complicated actions such as making a bomb or getting hold of money,” Larsen said.


He pointed out that “it is, however, unusual and one could argue that such a systematic planning is not expected for people who are not legally responsible according to Article 44.”

Randi Rosenqvist, another psychiatry expert, agreed.

Regardless of how crazy the attacks might seem to the general public, “he kept his head too cool to have acted under a psychotic impulse,” she told the Dagbladet daily, stressing however that an in-depth evaluation was needed before reaching any clear conclusions.

Several psychiatrists said Breivik had narcissistic and megalomaniac tendencies, visible in the photographs the suspect posted of himself on the Internet wearing different uniforms and in his manifesto and claims that he was on a “mission.”

“I think we agree he has a narcissistic personality disorder and he has also very grand views and thoughts about himself,” said retired hospital psychiatrist Per Boerre Huseboe, who continues to work as a court expert.


Huseboe, meanwhile, said he thought it was “possible” the 32-year-old was psychotic in light of his lack of emotions as he for an hour-and-a-half hunted down and shot and killed 69 people — most of them teenagers — on the Utoeya island near Oslo.

If Breivik actually is so mentally ill that he cannot be held accountable for his actions, how did his illness go undetected for so long?

According to Larsen, it is possible in theory at least “to live in a society for years with psychosis without being detected for treatment.”

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