In Norway, murder compounded by ineptitude

Bumbling response shows dangers of lax security

July 28, 2011|By Ron Smith

The first aftershock from the mass slayings inNorway was that the evil deed was done by a native Norwegian, a tall, blond man in a police uniform, not by some Islamist angered at the country's support for America's "war on terror."

Thirty-two-year-old Anders Behring Breivik surrendered without resistance on Utoya Island, where he had spent more than an hour shooting youngsters at a Labor Party conference. The Associated Press reports that the gunman himself was astonished thatNorway's Special Forces didn't arrive long before they did.

The second aftershock came with the full telling of that lengthy delay, a tragic comedy of errors, beginning with the fact that Norwegian Delta Force police officers made the trip by car — they have no helicopters — and had to be rescued by civilian craft when their boat broke down during the 60-second trip from the mainland to the island.

Dozens more youngsters were killed than would have been had there been a quicker response, not one slowed from the beginning by the fact that panicked calls from Utoya Island were ignored by operators on emergency lines who were totally focused on the aftermath of the Oslo bombing done by Mr. Breivik before he lit out for the youth conference to carry out his dream of murdering as many as he could of the progeny of the Norwegian ruling elite.

The consensus is that the official reaction to these acts of terror consisted of inexcusable bungling made worse by ever more bungling, including the initial miscounting of the dead campers, later revised downward from 86 to 68.

The AP report says the police in Norway — a huge country spanning some 1,100 miles north to south, not to mention 50,000 islands — deploy exactly one helicopter, which seats only four. But it wasn't available anyway because all police chopper pilots were away on summer vacation.

The authorities decided that scrambling an army helicopter from a base 40 miles to the south would take too long, so the police, able to hear the cries of shooting victims on the island, clambered into the only boat they had, a small inflatable craft into which too many officers crowded, causing the engine to become waterlogged, shutting it down.

When they finally got to Utoya, Mr. Breivik immediately surrendered, which brings us to yet another shock: Learning that in the famously open and tolerant nation of Norway, the maximum penalty for any kind of crime is a mere 21 years in prison.

This bomber/gunman, driven — as he has documented in a Unabomber kind of manifesto — by the desire to ignite aEuropean rebellion to the huge wave of Muslim immigrants, can look forward to spending the rest of his youth and the beginning of his middle age living in a prison chock full of amenities.

The Time Magazine web site features a slide show of the Halden Fengsel maximum security prison, where inmates live in comfortable quarters featuring tiled bathrooms, flat screen televisions and views of the heavily-treed 75 acres on which the prison was built.

Inmates enjoy a soccer field, hiking trails and a lovely gymnasium. They eat and socialize with the people assigned to guard and guide them in their rehabilitation, half of whom are women. This mixing of the sexes is said to lessen tensions. One wonders if that's the case at San Quentin. Probably not, but this isn't Scandinavia.

Columnist Debra Saunders told me Tuesday that there's a lesson in this tale, which is when politicians begin lowering maximum criminal penalties, as they did in Europe many years ago, you wind up lacking any proportionate response to heinous crimes.

First, the death penalty goes, then life without parole is deemed too harsh for modern society, and you wind up like Norway, minus all those Norwegians, stuck with unmerited leniency being shown to violent criminals.

Norway has a reputation for lax security. A Spanish anti-terrorism expert, Fernando Reinares, says the attacks a week ago "point to an astonishing failure in police intelligence."

A competent security apparatus would have identified Anders Breivik as a threat because of his purchases of bomb-making ingredients and specialist weaponry.

Instead, Norway suffered mass murder compounded by ineptitude.

Ron Smith's column appears on Fridays. His email is rsmith@wbal.com.

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