I’ve just read that Anders Breivik was found fit to be held criminally responsible for the mass killings in Norway: Anders Behring Breivik declared sane and sentenced to 21 years.
I must say that didn’t surprise me (for at least a couple of reasons), but what really interested me was the disagreement between the psychiatric reports, with a first report saying he was psychotic at the time of the attacks, and a subsequent report saying not.
I tend to refrain from armchair diagnosis, as it’s really not reasonable to proclaim about the mental state of someone I haven’t interviewed – or viewed interviews of, at the very least, and even then I wouldn’t rush to it. I was struck, and really quite annoyed, by the mass of people rushing to label him a “delusional and insane … lunatic“. As I wrote at the time, there wasn’t the evidence in what information was available, to say he was (or was not) psychiatrically ill. I must say though, that I’m not really surprised that all but two of the psychiatrists who assessed Breivik found him not to be psychiatrically ill.
However, there is an extremely important confounding factor here: the desire to hold Anders Breivik legally responsible for his actions, and to incarcerate him – rather than to see him as being ill and in need of treatment. As I mentioned in my previous post, the legal question of Breivik’s insanity, as distinct from psychiatric illness, is in some ways easier to speculate about: even if he were ill, he appeared to understand quite clearly the nature of his actions. As to the moral wrongfulness, some things I read at the tme suggested that despite regarding the murders as necessary, he did appreciate (to a degree) that they were also wrong. So it’s definitely conceivable (at least if Norway’s legislation in this regard is based on the McNaughton Rules) that even were Breivik psychiatrically ill, he might not be legally insane, and that he might therefore be found legally responsible.
Of course it’s further complicated by the fact that Breivik expressly wanted to be found legally responsible, so that his actions wouldn’t be “dismissed” as the product of psychosis. Complicated. And horrible.