NEAL CONAN, HOST:
Through five days of testimony, Norwegians relive last summer's horror when a self-proclaimed crusader detonated a car bomb near the prime minister's office in Oslo, then drove to a nearby island and methodically shot dozens at a youth camp. When he finished, 77 people lay dead, most of them teenagers, the youngest, 14. The admitted killer, Anders Behring Breivik, is on trial in a case that centers on his sanity. Two psychiatric evaluations reached different conclusions.
Peter Talos has been in court this room - been in the court from the start of this trial, reporting for the Norwegian News Agency, and joins us now by phone from his home in Oslo. Good of you to be with us.
PETER TALOS: Hello.
CONAN: And how does Breivik justify mass murder of innocents as the actions of a sane man?
TALOS: Well, you see, Mr. Breivik is - whether he's insane or not, he claims that he has political, we'll say ideology, claiming that he will save Europe from the Muslim threats. So that's why he - his program or ideology or whatever you call it is to remove the politicians and the politicians of tomorrow that made this development possible.
CONAN: The politicians of tomorrow. The camp he attacked was largely attended by children of the ruling left-wing Labour Party.
TALOS: Yeah. Or that's what he called it. He's gone to war against - what he calls multiculturalism, which he sees as a threat through the - to Europe and to the people of Europe and, of course, to the people of Norway.
CONAN: In his testimony on his own behalf, Breivik read what appears to have been an amended version of the manifesto he posted on his website.
TALOS: Yeah. That was a short version of it, which he claims was a necessary background for him during the trial - to start the trial with reading kind of a short story of his ideology.
CONAN: And how did he appear in court as he was reading out this statement?
TALOS: See, at the first day, he's been - today was actually his sixth day - six days in court, and the first day - actually, the first five days, he seemed very confident. He speaks very well. He used many words. And he seems - has given an impression that he is very self-confident, and he also says that that he has a very strong confidence in himself. And - but today, something changed when they start to talk about the evaluation of the psychiatric that has watched him for - two reports that have actually been done, then.
CONAN: Well, one of those reports indicated that he should be held accountable, that he was sane when he did these killings. The other one said this man is a narcissist and clearly should be confined to a psychiatric hospital.
TALOS: Actually, it was the opposite. The first report said that he was he was - what did it say? Paranoid?
TALOS: Suffering from schizophrenic paranoia. And the other one says that he was a narcissist, and that it was possible to put him in jail, and not in a hospital.
CONAN: And as he's been presented in the courtroom, how did he hold up under cross-examination? One thing to read out your own statement on your own behalf, another to face a prosecutor.
TALOS: He's been - like I said, he's been very self-confident. He's given - his answers are very stable. He speaks very well for himself. And except the fact that his ideology is, to say it weakly, it's very special and it's very extreme. As he says himself, he's a violent extremist. He's a militant, violent extremist, and that's what he wants to be, and he doesn't really try to get away from that fact.
CONAN: And if the court - the judges in the court find him insane, that would, he believes, invalidate his political arguments.
TALOS: Yeah. It seems like that. Normal, it's considered to be less of punishment or it's actually, technically, it's not the punishment if they sentence you to - sentence you as an insane man and put you in a hospital because then you then aren't responsible for what you did. Anders Breivik, however, wants to be considered as a person who know - knew what he did on the 22nd of July.
CONAN: And has scoffed at the conceivable punishment. As I understand it, he could get 21 years in jail if convicted and found sane and that he says, wait a minute, either I should be acquitted or I should be put to death.
TALOS: Yeah. Instead that - but we can't really put anyone to death in Norway, but it's correct that there are maximum - maximum punishment is 21 years. But we also have what we call - I've been looking for the correct English expression, and I think it's called containment, which is a system where a person that is considered to be a threat even after a certain period of time, he can actually be held in prison indeterminate because the - we can't - it's not really considered safe to let him out again in the society.
TALOS: And they have to try this containment for every five years.
CONAN: I wonder, has this case been broadcast on TV? Has the cameras been allowed into the courtroom?
TALOS: Partly, partly. Normally, we don't do that in Norway, but there are certain openings in the laws, but they have never really been tried before. And so during this trial and before this trial, the press organizations have tried to make the courts to open up, and they have a little bit but not the whole trial.
CONAN: Breivik's testimony was not broadcast.
TALOS: No, that's correct. They say that because they wanted to - they didn't want to upset his victims and his - and the family of the dead.
CONAN: And we'll get to their reaction in just a moment. But a big trial like this in the United States, there would be a whole encampment of television cameras just outside the courtroom, broadcasting almost nonstop. Has that been the case there in Norway?
TALOS: Yeah, it is. And there are also quite a few international news networks just outside the courtroom. But you see, the press are allowed in the courtroom. And for myself, I work for the news agency, and we are actually writing down everything that's said in the courtroom and publishing that. So you can't really film or you can't broadcast on television or - and on the radio, but in print and on the Web, everything is published basically.
CONAN: And what has been the reaction of those who survived the attack and those who are related to the victims?
TALOS: They've been very calm. They've been - I don't know - there were many speculations in advance what could happen during a trial like this because you should see that 77 deaths in Norway is more than twice the annual death rate and the murder rate in Norway. So 77 victims in one day is something we haven't really thought in our wildest dreams could ever happen. So the - I think the expectations were quite - anything could happen, but what's happened in reality is everything has been very calm. The victims and their families are in the courtroom and in, actually, 17 different courtrooms around the country watching the trial. But it has been very calm in very respectful way of - I mean, how the trial has gone so far.
CONAN: And what will they do to mark the anniversary?
TALOS: Actually, I don't know. There's been a lot of speculations, but one thing is certain, it will be all over the country. There will be the - what you say, markings, but how, we don't know yet.
CONAN: After this incident, there was enormous criticism about the slow reaction, why it took so long to get police out to Utoya, the island where most of these deaths occurred. Where does that inquiry stand?
TALOS: The police have given their reports. Almost all officials, like the fire department, the police and the hospitals and the ambulance have given their reports, but now everyone waits for this big, official commission which will give their report in August. They will kind of not judge what happened, but they will give a very detailed description on what's happened on all the different areas that were, actually, put to test on that tragic day because, as you said, there has been a lot of criticism. There have been also - we found out that a lot of the routines that should work on that day really didn't work as it was set up to be. So I think the whole nation now is still waiting for the - this report of this commission now.
CONAN: There was supposed to be a helicopter that could carry these people to the site of an attack, if there should be one. On the day, the helicopter wasn't available. They got into a boat and the boat nearly sank.
TALOS: That's true. Actually, the crime rate in Norway isn't really that high, so the police helicopter is actually more of a surveillance helicopter. It doesn't really carry people. But there is, as you found out, afterwards, there is a kind of - or should be a kind of co-working between the police and the air force, which didn't...
CONAN: Didn't work, yeah.
TALOS: ...as it should (unintelligible). And there are also, on different areas, a lot of other routines that really didn't work as they were set up to be, so there had been a lot of criticism. And I think very much on the political side has changed and will change in the months and years to come because of what happened.
CONAN: One, final question. In his manifesto, Breivik claimed to be the commander of a group of extremists in Europe. He called them the Knights Templar. Any evidence of that?
TALOS: No, not really. The police has looked and searched everywhere, and they still actually still investigating that part because the press also, of course, tried to find out if there's anything solid in these informations. We don't really know. I think the police don't really know either, and they're claiming that they're still investigating that, but they really haven't found anything.
He said that he's a part of three cells in Norway and there should be more in Europe, which are - he was a member of the parts of the same group and supports the same ideology.
CONAN: Peter Talos, thank you very much for your time today.
TALOS: You're welcome.
CONAN: Peter Talos, reporter for the Norwegian News Agency, with us by phone from his home in Oslo. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.