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Norwegian Crime and Punishment

A Commentary By Debra J. Saunders

In 2007, Norwegian Justice Minister Knut Storberget proposed extending Norway's absolute maximum criminal sentence of 21 years to 30 years for genocide, crimes against humanity and terrorism. That proposal didn't go anywhere. The maximum criminal sentence in Norway is 21 years.

Now 32-year-old Anders Behring Breivik stands accused of killing 76 individuals, many of them teenagers, in a vicious rampage that began with a bombing in Oslo Friday. If convicted, he can expect to be a free man in his 50s.

On Monday, Breivik pleaded not guilty. He also told the court that he carried out Friday's attacks to "save" Norway. If he is convicted and still wants to "save" Norway and is deemed at "high-risk" of re-offending, authorities could add five years to his sentence. Or they could parole him when he becomes eligible in 10 years. If Breivik gets the 21-year maximum, he will end up serving about 101 days per victim.

Norway is an idyllic country. Norwegians know best what works for them. It will be interesting to see whether Norwegians want to keep the 21-year prison-term cap after Breivik uses his trial as a megaphone to shout out the anti-multiculturalism, anti-Muslim and anti-Marxist message of his 1,500-page manifesto.

There is a lesson for Americans in this tale. Politicians in some states, including California, are pushing to end their respective states' death penalties. There are consequences.

Our "betters" in Europe got rid of capital punishment decades ago. Next, western European leaders went after life without parole. As Eurocrats focused on the redemption of offenders, they seemed to forget their obligation to protect the innocent and serve as a voice for silenced victims.

Hoover Institution legal fellow Abraham D. Sofaer sees the 21-year cap as "absurdly inadequate" for this type of heinous crime. "I'm sure it's well-intentioned. Maybe it works in most cases," he added. "But then you get these cases, where one would think almost anyone would agree that 21 years is an insult."

This wouldn't be the first time a modern terrorist won short time for a long list of victims on European soil. In 2001, three Scottish judges found former Libya intelligence operative Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi guilty in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, which killed all 270 aboard. Scotland's life sentence made him eligible for parole in 27 years.   

But after eight years, Scottish Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill granted Megrahi "compassionate" release on the grounds the Libyan had terminal cancer and was not expected to live more than three months. Almost two years later, Megrahi is alive and living large in Libya -- having served mere weeks per victim.

When a country's justice system dispenses with the death penalty and then life sentences, it has no mechanism to redress evil.

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg actually used the word "evil" at a heartbreaking memorial service. Stoltenberg pledged that his country would respond to the evil with "more democracy, more openness and more humanity, but never naivete." It's clear where he should start: Eliminate the 21-year maximum sentence. 

In his manifesto, Breivik wrote, "Once you decide to strike, it is better to kill too many than not enough, or you risk reducing the desired ideological impact of the strike." Oslo police say that when they confronted him, he laid down his weapons and surrendered without a fight.


See Other Political Commentary

See Other Commentary by Debra J. Saunders

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