Norway’s Stoltenberg Delivers a Pathetic Response to the 22 July Independent Commission Report

by Reidar Visser

Following the surprisingly frank and thorough independent commission report on Norway’s 22 July terror attacks and the almost catharsis-like performance of the Oslo district court which last week bravely ignored dubious psychiatric assessments and instead sentenced Anders Behring Breivik as a legally sane right wing terrorist, there was a degree of expectation related to the appearances before the Norwegian parliament today of Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and Minister of Justice Grete Faremo.

Alas, the performances of the two were as pathetic as many observers had feared. Much of Stoltenberg’s speech amounted to a schoolboy’s reiteration of a report with which every adult Norwegian by now is broadly familiar. Some fancy jargon was thrown in for good measure, including the supposed emergence of a common “narrative” on the attacks and a “compass” for the way forward. There were platitudes regarding more “openness” and “enhanced visibility” in government. And above all, there were promises about another string of reports, meetings and decisions to be made at distant points in the future – in some cases not until 2013.

Unfortunately, one of the few specific decisions cited by Stoltenberg today is also likely to prove a failure. A new centralised police emergency unit will from now on be physically located at Alnabru, within the jurisdiction (and administrative purview) of the Oslo police district. Effectively, this means giving one of the most incompetent police organisations in Northern Europe continued responsibility for important matters that should have been dealt with by a professional, national elite unit instead.  Prior to the 22 July attacks, the Oslo police were heavily involved in illegalities that deflected attention from Anders Behring Breivik and may have played a role in creating the scandalous state of unpreparedness that came to the fore on the day of the attacks.

A brave decision by Stoltenberg would have been to strip the discredited Oslo police of any tasks of national significance. This, however, may well be to ask too much. The problem is that some of the most dysfunctional parts of the Oslo police –  including most prominently the large and scandalised organised crime unit – are headed by people who enjoy the personal protection of Labour appointees in the directorate of police and indeed in the government itself. Quite in line with this, Stoltenberg today resorted to stop-gap measures that essentially perpetuate legacies of unprofessionalism instead of challenging them.

In this way, PM Stoltenberg is unable to provide the same kind of objective distance that characterised the 22 July independent commission report and the ruling by Oslo district court against Anders Behring Breivik. Through personal and union ties, the Norwegian Labour party is simply too deeply involved in the dysfunctional Norwegian police to be able to offer a substantial corrective. To the Labour party, large segments of the Oslo police are unassailable sacred cows – people that cannot be touched for political reasons and that are subject to no oversight simply because of the personal protection they enjoy among Labour loyalists in high places.

Comments by Minister of Justice Faremo towards the end of her speech today encapsulate the hypocrisy of the Norwegian Labour party.  She recommended increased cooperation between Norwegian police and foreign police services, but lamented the fact that this might involve countries not sharing “Norway’s rule of law standards”!  Apparently oblivious to the fact that cronies of her own government in the Oslo police have played a leading role in exporting illegal harassment techniques and FBI-strength “enhanced methods” to countries like Qatar and Jordan, Faremo today once more opted to perpetuate myths about a functional Norwegian law enforcement system instead of confronting those myths head on when needed.

In most parliamentary systems, the Stoltenberg government would have been considered a lame duck by now. However, Norway’s elections follow a strict four-year cycle irrespective of cabinet crises, and the current opposition know they have everything to gain from letting Stoltenberg soldier on trying to fix problems he cannot fix. Meanwhile, Norwegian citizens may have to wait another year before a new prime minister with the courage to clean up the rotten Norwegian police can finally emerge.