Should Breivik Be Released After 21 Years in Prison?

The ABA Standing Committee on Law and National Security hosted a panel on Comparative Approaches to National Security moderated by Professor Harvey Rishikof, with Brigadier-General Blaise Cathcart from JAG, and Eneken Tikk of NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence in Tallinn, Estonia. The panel looked at how different states have tried to resolve the tension of security and liberty in a variety of national security contexts, a topic recently covered by The Star.

Cathcart spoke on the virtue of the whole government approach of obtaining information, and Tikk recounted the challenge of the 2007 cyber attacks in Estonia.

The highlight of the panel for me was a surprise contribution by the Chair of Bar Association of Norway.
The crucial question for her was how much liberty are we willing to give up, whether cyberspace or in every day life, to combat terrorism.

The U.S. response to 9/11 was a military one. Part of the Bush rhetoric was that attacks were to prevent American way of life, but this did not translate into the preservation of liberties. Most analysts today concede that 9/11 was motivated by military and political intervention in the Middle East. The American response was to increase this intervention further, and there has not been any real resolution despite at least $1.283 trillion and countless lives.

In Norway, Anders Breivik actually was fighting against a way of life, one based on multiculturalism and inclusion. Norway’s Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg responded to the attack with “more democracy, more openness and more humanity. But Norway has its own unique challenges. The death penalty is perceived as completely barbaric, and is outlawed. There is a maximum sentence of 21 years in prison there, for any offence, because the focus of their justice system is on rehabilitation.

Should people like Breivik be given their freedom after only a couple decades? Or is the appropriate response a series of extra-judicial assassinations? When we compare an amorphous and ill-defined “War on Terror” response to the current situation in Norway, where Breivik would legally be released within 21 years of imprisonment, we realize there is a huge spectrum of responses and an enormous distance in values, even between Western democracies.


  1. I did not understand the final paragraph. How could the appropriate response to Breivik be “a series of extra-judicial assassinations”? Breivik is in custody, and he is only one person — were he to be sentenced to death, this would be neither extra-judicial nor a series. Or was this intended to refer to other collaborators or enablers thought to be poised to strike again and whom police forces in Norway do not think they will be able to arrest? If so, I had not heard of them.

  2. The question is one of broader policies in response to these events.

    We still don’t know what larger networks he may or may not have been connected to. In the case of 9/11, assumptions were made on this point without reliable information or evidence.

  3. In Australia, which, like Norway, does not have capital punishment in any state (each state has its own Crimes Act or Criminal Code), Breivik could be sentenced to 21 years imprisonment for EACH murder committed, to be served sequentially (assuming he stood trial and was convicted).
    Martin Bryant, who shot and killed 35 people and wounded nineteen others, at Port Arthur, Tasmania, in 1996, was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole.