The 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City killed 168 people and injured hundreds more. The response to this tragedy was typically American: calls for vengeance against the perpetrators and political posturing by government leaders resulting in passage of draconian laws that restrict rights but do nothing to prevent future violence.
Timothy McVeigh, the man who detonated the bomb, was executed in 2001. His accomplice, Terry Nichols, was sentenced to life. As a direct result of the bombing, Congress overwhelmingly passed and then-President Clinton signed into law the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, which amended the federal habeas corpus statute to place onerous provisions on criminal defendants and greatly circumscribe their ability to obtain relief in federal court.
The United States is the only western country that still uses the death penalty, and last year together with China, Iran, North Korea and Yemen, carried out the most executions. With over two million people in prison, we have the highest incarceration rate in the world. Attempts to explore the root causes of crime are dismissed as bleeding-heart approaches, and resources for drug rehabilitation, mental health services and vocational training are severely limited.
Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg's initial response to the twin attacks that left 76 people dead was to de-politicize the tragedy and call for more democracy, more tolerance, and help for the survivors and victims' families: "We meet terror and violence with more democracy and will continue to fight against intolerance," he said. In response, tens of thousands of Norwegians lay thousands of flowers around the capital.
Norway's criminal justice system couldn't be more different than ours. There is no death penalty and no life sentences. The focus is on rehabilitation not retribution. Hedda Giertsen, a professor in criminology at the University of Oslo, explains that they put a lot of resources into this: "The idea is for people to be able to leave prison and lead a life free from crime. There is help to find accommodation, help with personal finances, education - nearly half of Norway's prison population is offered some sort of course or education."