Friday, August 24, 2012

The Sentencing of Anders Brevik

Hal Pepinsky,,
August 24, 2012
                Today a court gave Anders Breivik Norway’s maximum sentence of 10-21 years for murdering 77 people last year in an urban bombing and ground assault a year ago on a Labor Party youth camp.  Most unusually, the guilty verdict and sentence was a triumph for the defense, and a defeat for the state which sought to have him found not guilty by reason of insanity.  The attorney general is thought unlikely to exercise a right to appeal, given overwhelming public and media approval of the 5 judges’ unanimous decision.  It is reported that the only Norwegians who argued that Breivik’s murders were insane were white supremacists who wanted it known that they themselves would not be crazy enough to use terrorism as a political vehicle.  The prevailing Norwegian sentiment seems to be relief that the court has recognized that the violence represents a real political problem rather than a psychological aberration.
                On one hand, the sentence and popular reaction to it reflect Norwegian reluctance to punish criminals for punishment’s sake.  It is enough that Mr. Breivik has been declared guilty and that he is deprived of the liberty to do any further violence.  This in a country where Mr. Brevik will enjoy all other rights of Norwegian citizenry such as voting and access to free education because “deprivation of liberty” is regarded throughout the criminal justice system as being THE punishment for serious offenses.
                On the other hand, the sentence shows just how hung up on punishment even Norwegians are.  Common speculation is that Mr. Breivik will have his sentence extended as long as he lives, because he remains such a dangerous offender.  But he poses virtually no danger if left at large.  He only targeted Norwegians in Norway in an attempt to get his own fellow citizens to get their political act together.  It would be practically impossible for him to disappear at large in a small country (just over 5 million strong) where residents normally register their whereabouts with authorities via the post office, where Brevik could not conceivably re-arm himself to carry out any further attacks.  Further “deprivation of liberty” is unnecessary to reduce chances that Mr. Breivik will ever reoffend.
                Ultimately, Mr. Brevik’s sentence shows just how hung up even extraordinarily restrained Norwegians are on the assumption that we have to want to do something “painful” to an offender’s body to show we care about victims’ suffering.  Apparently, the assumption still has as strong a grip on the national psyche as it did more than thirty years ago when internationally renowned Norwegian criminologist Nils Christie called on fellow citizens to reinforce Limits to Pain that have traditionally restrained their inclination to punish “criminals.”  The will to punish for punishment’s sake remains robust in Christie’s country regardless of whether punishment is necessary for social defense.  Love and peace--hal

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