Feature

Assassinating Osama bin Laden

How the Europeans view the killing of Osama bin Laden.

With the cold-blooded murder of Osama bin Laden, America has once again made a mockery of international law, said Andreas Fischer-Lescano in Germany’s Handels­blatt. As the architect of 9/11, the al Qaida leader was certainly a dangerous terrorist, and “from a political standpoint” killing him, rather than arresting him, may have seemed the only option. Still, “it is nothing short of a disgrace that Nobel Peace Prize laureate Barack Obama should celebrate his killing with the words ‘justice has been done.’” Shooting an unarmed person in the head is murder, not justice. States have an obligation to respect the principles of international law by arresting and trying criminals—even terrorists. If instead they resort to targeted killings, “then the prophecy of French philosopher Jacques Derrida will come true: State governments will be indistinguishable from terrorist groups.”

“Aside from its cowardly and inhuman aspects,” said John Waters in The Irish Times, “the most striking thing about the assassination of Osama bin Laden was its pointlessness.” Bin Laden had long since become irrelevant to al Qaida. The terrorist group is now a concept or ideology that needs no guidance or hierarchy to wreak its destruction. Killing its founder “may satisfy desires for vengeance and retribution, but it will not weaken the movement.”

What was the alternative—a trial? asked London Mayor Boris Johnson in the London Daily Telegraph. Where? The U.S. doesn’t recognize the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, so it couldn’t send bin Laden to The Hague. And if it tried him in New York, “we would have endured a long, showboating courtroom drama, with lawyers from the school of the O.J. Simpson defense” arguing that their man had been set up. What a coup for al Qaida that would have been, with the cameras of the world “trained for weeks on the noble and priestly features of the accused, as he subjected America and her allies to some of his finger-wagging denunciations.” Even worse, said The Irish Times in an editorial, “an imprisoned bin Laden would have prompted violent hostage-taking bids to free him.” Just imagine how horrifying it would have been had al Qaida militants taken a bus full of schoolchildren and begun killing them one by one until their leader was released.

Still, the argument that bin Laden had to be murdered because he was uniquely evil just doesn’t wash, said Ryle Dwyer in the Irish Examiner. Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann was accused of slaughter on a far larger scale than bin Laden, yet when the Israelis found him, they did not simply shoot him down. They tried him in a court of law. President Obama, by contrast, seems to “think that Americans can behave as outlaws and just do as they please.” His gloating was a particularly distasteful spectacle. “The publicity surrounding the whole thing was handled like an election stunt, especially with mindless chanting of the gathering claque.” Americans have shown us once again that they believe themselves to be beyond international law.

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