Anders Breivik has won his case. The mass murderer persuaded a Norwegian court that his conditions in prison are inhuman and I’m bound to say that I agree with him. His conditions of incarceration are inhuman. The guards wake him at hourly intervals, sometimes strip-searching him. He’s allowed no contact with anyone except prison staff. He spends at least 22 hours a day alone in his cell.
On the other hand, do I think he deserves that sort of treatment? Of course I do. He set off a bomb in Oslo that killed eight people, and then he murdered 69 kids in cold blood on the island of Utøya. If the decision had been left to me, I’d have fed him slowly into the gearbox of a tractor feet first, but luckily the judicial systems of western democracies are not based on the atavistic rage of people like me.
If we’re going to treat convicted criminals worse than a rabid dog, then we need to be honest and just kill them.
Shoot them and get it over with.
We can’t have it both ways. If we claim to have abolished the death penalty but just replaced it with a system of torture then we are hypocrites, and from what we know of Breivik’s confinement, it certainly amounts to torture.
It has often been said, falsely, that hard cases make bad law when the opposite is in fact true: hard cases test good law and cases don’t come any harder than Breivik’s.
He’s vile. He’s an extremist, a terrorist, a heartless killer. His own father rejected him.
In other words, Anders Breivik is a perfect test of democracy. Do we send people to prison as punishment or for punishment? Admittedly, the jury is out on that one since we have developed a class of people for whom prison is a second home but in the absence of an alternative, what is to be done with the likes of Anders Breivik? Should there be some sort of extrajudicial punishment to be administered at the whim of a prison governor? Should that same governor have the right to punish you or me a little bit more if he disapproves, for instance of our not paying a TV licence?
It can’t happen. You’re either in jail or you’re not and no matter how repellent we might find Anders Breivik, he has been found guilty and sentenced but he was not sentenced to torture, much though we all might have wished for that. He was not sentenced to solitary confinement, without the possibility that he might meet a civilised individual in prison, a person who might perhaps help him to understand the enormity of his actions.
Can it be beyond the wit of man to have Anders Breivik mixing with prisoners who are not Nazis, not white supremacists, not adherents to an ideology that will reinforce his beliefs? Would it not make sense to expose Breivik to intellectual challenge from people who do not fear him, mentally or physically?
After all, if he isn’t in prison for rehabilitation, why not just kill him now? None of us would lose a wink of sleep over it.