The day a Boston jury decided 21-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev deserved the death penalty for his part in the Boston Marathon bombing was the same day I finished reading the searing new book “One of Us” by Asne Seierstad which details in brutal fashion Andres Breivik’s 2011 slaughter of 77 Norwegians, 69 of them teenagers at a summer camp.
Breivik, a political terrorist and to some a madman (interestedly some of the families involved balk at calling him a madman, preferring he take responsibility for his horrible deeds), set off a truck bomb at a government building in Oslo and then made his way to an isolated island summer camp where he calmly shot dozens of teenagers at point blank range. Many of them begged for their lives but Breivik marched on, killing one at a time. He showed no mercy except for one boy he deemed too young to kill. When some teenagers swam to escape his bullets, he continued firing at them in the water.
For those murders, Breivik got the maximum sentence under the law in Norway — 21 years total. Not 21 years for each death — 21 years for 77 murders. There is no death penalty in Norway but it’s likely Breivik will never get out because the judges can extend his sentence five years at a time ad infinitum. The prisons in Norway are notoriously humane but Breivik when last heard from was suing authorities for better video games.
Whatever you think of the death penalty, it’s fascinating to witness how our country and Norway treated these two mass murderers. There were several times when I was reading “One of Us” that I was nearly brought to tears because Breivik was so cruel. Believe me, if anyone deserves a good beating, it’s this out of control narcissist. And yet, the Norwegian police treated him with kid gloves in the hours after the murder. Far from beating Breivik, the police provided him with food and drink on demand and actually began negotiating with him when he asked for for a computer in prison complete with specific software like Photoshop. Think about that — the afternoon he slaughtered dozens of innocents, he had the nerve to negotiate for better treatment and the police went along with it!!! It makes me long for the days of L.A. Confidential.
And now we have a Boston jury imposing the death penalty on impressionable 21-year-old Tsarnaev who was likely a stooge of his older murderous brother. That may be but the jurors deciding his fate were treated to day after day of his own inhumanity and decided to treat him in kind. Their opinion is the only one that matters. After reading “One of Us,” I came away thinking the Norwegian judges treated Breivik too humanely. He will go on living for years in his prison cell, playing video games, reading about his own exploits and enjoying them no doubt. In the end, I thought the Norwegian system of justice was far too humane for the likes of him but the judges hands were tied — he got the maximum. He deserves so much more.
And that brings me to the ultimate question — which country got it right?