Norway's Mass Murder Sentenced To 21 Years

Anders Behring Breivik, the man charged with killing 77 people in Norway last year, was found sane and sentenced to prison for at least 21 years. Steve Inskeep talks to Alan Cowell, senior correspondent with The New York Times, for more on the decision.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And we are also following a guilty verdict in the case of Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik. A court in Oslo also declared that he is competent, not insane. And we talked about this with Alan Cowell, a correspondent for the New York Times.

So what does this mean for Breivik?

ALAN COWELL: In way, in a bizarre way, this is a vindication. This is what he wanted. The last thing he wanted was to be found insane. That would have, from his point of view, completely undermined his argument that he acted with a certain warped logic to - as part of a campaign against multiculturalism, against the Islamization of Norway.

If he'd been found insane, that campaign would have been found insane with him.

INSKEEP: So normally you'd have the defendant arguing the insanity defense, but in this case it was the sanity defense. He wanted to be found this way.

COWELL: He wanted to be found this way. He smiled when the ruling was announced by the judge in the court in Oslo this morning. He's going to be held now for 21 years - a minimum 21 years, it can be extended - in what looks like fairly spacious solitary confinement in a prison outside of Oslo just on the outskirts, where he'll have access to an exercise room of his own, a laptop computer not connected to the Internet, and his living quarters and sanitary arrangements.

INSKEEP: Denying him Internet, that's a tough punishment there. You said 21 years. I'm curious - is that actually a lighter punishment in some ways than he might've faced if he'd been found insane?

COWELL: If he'd been found insane, he could've been treated indefinitely, given that it was unlikely that any physician would have signed him off as having suddenly recovered his sanity. In this case, 21 years is the minimum. It's both a minimum and a maximum. It's the maximum permissible under Norwegian law, but after that period it can be extended for periods of several years if he is deemed still to be a danger to Norwegian society.

INSKEEP: We've been reading, Mr. Cowell, some of the astonishing details of this man's story, that he trained for a long time preparing for what he saw as a mission, that he was taking steroids, that he was playing violent video games, doing various other things to get ready for what he wanted to do. What did you learn that you did not know about Breivik's story from this trial?

COWELL: Well, I think the overriding impression is his personal unshakeable self-righteousness. He entered the court this morning and gave out a sort of right wing salute with his clenched fist as if he were indeed on this campaign. The judges, incidentally, did find that his claim to have acted as part of a network called the Knights Templar had no evidence to support it.

The ruling seems to imply that he did indeed act alone, and of course the other conclusion one has to drawn, which was drawn by an official report, was that the police, the intelligence services in Norway, really could have prevented or minimized the damage. They could have tracked him to Utoeya Island. They could have brought down the number of casualties or even intercepted him on the way. And they didn't do that. And of course the police chief himself had to resign as a result of those conclusions.

INSKEEP: Alan Cowell is a senior correspondent for the New York Times. He's been covering the trial of Anders Breivik, who's been found guilty, faces 21 years in prison. Mr. Cowell, thank you.

COWELL: Thank you, Steve.

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