The World from Berlin: President Barack Obama's 'Retaliatory Justice'

While relief that Osama bin Laden has finally been eliminated is widespread, many in Europe and Germany are concerned about the implications of the targeted killing. German commentators on Wednesday say celebrating the al-Qaida leader's death is a blunder.

People in Washington D.C. celebrating the death of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in the early morning hours of May 2. Zoom
REUTERS

People in Washington D.C. celebrating the death of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in the early morning hours of May 2.

The first reactions in the US, Europe and elsewhere were euphoria and relief. Osama bin Laden, author of some of the worst terror attacks the world has ever seen was dead. Justice, said US President Barack Obama, had been done. Even German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that she was pleased that the prince of terror had been killed.

In the three days since bin Laden's demise in his villa not far from Islamabad, however, some have begun having second thoughts about the US Special Forces operation. Europe, and particularly Germany, are uncomfortable with what looks increasingly like a targeted killing. Reports that bin Laden was not armed at the time of his death have only served to reinforce such unease.

Merkel herself has come under fire from politicians across the political spectrum in Germany for her initial reaction. And Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle has likewise warned that too much crowing over bin Laden's death might not ultimately be helpful to relations between the West and the Muslim world.

Some German commentators on Wednesday are likewise uncomfortable with the implications the US operation has for international law. Others voice doubt as to whether the strike will, in the end, improve Obama's chances at re-election in 2012.

Financial daily Handelsblatt writes:

"Osama bin Laden was a criminal. Thus, from a political perspective there are reasons for seeing his killing as unavoidable. But that Nobel Peace Prize winner Barack Obama celebrated bin Laden's death in his speech with the words 'justice has been done,' and that the German chancellor supported this with an expression of her happiness over his death are shameful blunders. They place approval on an act that violates both the international prohibition of force and humanitarian law."

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"The justice that Barack Obama seeks is a retaliatory justice. However if future global justice is realized not in constitutional proceedings where criminals receive a trial, but instead through quick targeted killings, then what French philosopher Jacques Derrida prophesied will come true. In relation to the techniques with which they operate, terrorist networks and state systems will become indistinguishable."

The left-leaning Berliner Zeitung writes:

"Love thy neighbor as thyself, says one of the most important basic precepts of Christianity. This principle is one of the hardest to follow, much more difficult to uphold than the ban on murder."

"Just how thinly the layer of Christian culture coats the low, archaic instincts of humans rarely shows itself as clearly as it did the day after the liquidation of the Islamist terrorist leader Osama bin Laden by US Special Forces. President Obama, a Christian, said in all seriousness that with bin Laden 'justice had been done,' as though there were no American constitution, no justice, no law."

"The US violated a number of principles of human rights with its operation against bin Laden. This is supposed to be an example to Arab democracies? Obama also threw overboard much freshly earned trust by tossing Osama bin Laden's corpse overboard from the USS Carl Vinson into the Arabian Sea. In his 2009 Cairo speech he called for respect for the human rights of the individual and for tradition.... To misrepresent dumping a corpse as a proper Muslim ceremony is a mockery."

The mass-circulation tabloid Bild writes:

"'I cannot eat as much as I'd like to vomit.' These strong old words from the painting genius Max Liebermann best express the feelings that arise when one hears the latest statements by the Greens about the death of Osama bin Laden."

"Osama's death was probably an 'execution,' criticizes Hans-Christian Ströbele. An 'act of war,' says parliamentarian Tom Koenigs. Excuse me? Western armies --including the Bundeswehr -- have been hunting the worst terrorist in the world for years with much bloodletting. And in the end his death stirs the Green sense of justice."

"What chance did Osama's killers give the people in the World Trade Center? Those burned, shattered, or who jumped from the 100th floor in a panic? For bin Laden, a human life was nothing."

"No, Mr. Ströbele, the chancellor is right. It is right that this misanthrope is dead."

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"Officially it was a sea burial, but it was more of an ocean dumping of political hazardous waste: US soldiers threw the body of the al-Qaida chief into the sea. That is ugly, but comprehensible. The grave of the terror leader could have become a pilgrimage site for his followers. But does bin Laden leave the Arab-Muslim world anything behind to hold onto?"

"Anyone who celebrates the death of the al-Qaida leader as a victory over militant Islam is mistaken. The terror group could be dying off, but new forms of jihad could arise under certain conditions. Only just, modern social conditions provide protection from bin Laden's legacy in Muslim nations. With the Arab Spring, the people are moving in this direction, without help from the West."

"The victory over al-Qaida -- if it comes -- will be far more than the success of American high-tech warriors. It will also be to the credit of the Muslims in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya."

The Financial Times Deutschland writes:

"Bin Laden's death presents a big chance. US President Barack Obama must now keep his promises to build bridges to the Muslim world. Above all he must push for a fair and neutral agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. At the same time the West must define itself as a hearty friend of the Arab society that is rising from the ruins of dictatorship."

"Bin Laden became famous as the Muslims were seeking a way out of their dependence on the West. But he wanted to take them several hundred years into the past. The Muslims must now find a way out of this political cul-de-sac. The heroes of extremism are dead or dying, the ideology is bankrupt."

The conservative Die Welt writes:

"Mission accomplished? The goals of the last 10 years of fighting, dying and killing have not been reached objectively."

"Afghanistan is and remains a country without any reliable governing power, where terrorists continue to find refuge."

"Revenge for 9/11 -- that was the logic of Operation Enduring Freedom for many Americans. The death of bin Laden is enough for them now. Election campaigns and budgetary restraints are also an issue. The West's long-planned retreat from Afghanistan will likely be accelerated. Bin Laden would have been pleased."

The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"The domestic political outcomes of the death of Public Enemy Number One are likely easier to predict than in foreign and security policy: They will probably be limited."

"George H. W. Bush lost to the widely unknown democrat Bill Clinton in 1992 despite his shining victory against Saddam Hussein, because the economy failed to gain momentum. For Obama the gutsy operation against bin Laden will mean little in the face of the enormous federal debt, the gaping budget deficit and high unemployment."

"In a paradoxical turn, America's waning fear of terrorism after bin Laden's death could reduce Obama's chance of re-election. The saying, 'It's the economy stupid!' got Clinton into the White House in 1992. The message will be the same in 2012."

-- Kristen Allen

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Photo Gallery: America Celebrates Bin Laden's Death

'The Forces of Peace Achieved a Victory Last Night'

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