On July 22, 2011 Andres Breivik killed 77 of his compatriots in Norway. The details of the attack are gruesome, cinematic, and in some cases, literally unbelievable. After detonating a homemade explosive device outside of a government office in Oslo, Breivik, disguised as a police officer, rushed to the island of Utøya where the Labor Party held it’s annual youth summer camp. In less than two hours on the island, he had shot and killed 69 of its inhabitants. Breivik’s youngest victim was 14-years-old, and multiple victims drowned and fell off cliffs in attempts to escape the gunfire or flee the island. Breivik’s attack is now considered the worst atrocity perpetrated in Norway since World War II.
One year later Andres Breivik has been put on trial, and the world now gets to listen eagerly to the guilty verdict that’s been a long time coming. The details of the trial, though, too are strange, cinematic, and in some cases, literally unbelievable: Breivik was convicted and sentenced to Norway’s maximum jail time of 21 years, during which he will live in a three-room suite equipped with a television, laptop, and exercise equipment. Though legal experts say Breivik’s sentence is likely to be extended at the end of 21 years, he will nonetheless be eligible for parole in 2033 at the age of 53; this means that Breivik is being sentenced to roughly three months of prison time for each person he murdered.
The seemingly lenient verdict is just the tip of the iceberg. Per Balch Soerensen, whose daughter was killed during Breivik’s rampage, told reporters that he felt no animosity towards Breivik and was satisfied with the sentence he received. In accordance with Norway’s permissive legal system, the proceedings gave as much time to Breivik as to the victims, and he was given ample opportunity in court to rant against the bane of multiculturalism and the pernicious facets of Norwegian life that ostensibly motivated his attack – Marxists and Muslims.
Ina Rangones Libak, a survivor of the attacks, provided a vivid, if oddly casual, testimony of the events: “At first I was shot in the arms and I thought, ‘O.K., I can survive this; it’s O.K. if you’re shot in the arms.’ Then I was shot in the jaw. I thought, ‘O.K., this is a lot more serious.’ Then I was shot in the chest and I thought, ‘O.K., this is going to kill me.’ ” The New York Times reports that Libak’s testimony, “had spectators laughing and crying by turns.” And yet, despite the fact that Breivik received his sentence with a smile on his face and a clenched fascist salute, despite the fact that he ended the trial with an apology to other militant fascists that he had failed to kill more people and hoped to do so in the future, despite his confession that he had plans to decapitate the former Prime Minister, Bjorn Magnus Ihler, another survivor of the attacks, said, “if he is deemed not to be dangerous any more after 21 years, then he should be released. That’s how it should work. That’s staying true to our principles.”
The more I read about the Breivik trial, the more it bemuses me and the more I ask myself one question: What’s wrong with America? Unlike the E.U., Canada, Australia, Mexico, Rwanda, Nicaragua, and a long list of other countries, the United States continues to enforce the death penalty. On April 19, 1994, Napoleon Beazley broke into the home of John Luttig in order to steal his car; when Luttif got in Napolean Beazley’s way, Beazley shot and killed him. Beazley was 17 at the time of the crime, and in 2002 was lethally injected, making the U.S. one of only a handful of countries to still execute citizens for crimes they committed when they were minors. In 1999 the U.S. executed Sean Sellers for crimes he committed at the age of 16.
But it’s not just what we do as Americans, it’s how we do it. When I read that in April, thousands of Norwegians gathered to sing “Children of Rainbow” to prove that Mr. Breivik had not broken their spirit of tolerance and acceptance, I was eerily reminded of the crowds of American’s outside the White House on May 2, 2011 chanting “hey, hey, hey, goodbye,” cheering boisterously, gleefully at the news that Bin Laden had been killed. The question is an inevitable one: Why is it that the survivors of Breivik’s killing spree can be proud of a legal system so mild that it allows for their assailant’s parole in just 21 years, and yet Americans felt cheated that they didn’t get to see photos of Bin Laden’s dead body or enough details about the dog with titanium fangs that assisted in the nighttime raid. There’s truly something about watching the way the Norwegians have handled the aftermath, trial, and sentencing of Andres Breivik’s that makes me feel, as an American, somewhat uncivilized.