The Death of Bin Laden: A European perspective

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The killing of an unarmed Osama Bin Laden by US forces in Pakistan violated America's democratic and legal principles as well as religious values, argues legal expert Andreas Geiger.

Dr. Andreas Geiger is managing partner of Alber & Geiger, a leading European law firm in Brussels.

"When US President Obama announced that a special unit of the US forces had killed Osama Bin Laden, reactions all over Europe were similar. EU institution leaders in Brussels and heads of EU member states in the national capitals showed relief that one of the most dangerous terrorists of the last decades was not a threat anymore.

Then something happened. In a press conference, German Chancellor Angela Merkel made a statement for the EU's largest member state saying that she was 'happy that Bin Laden had been shot'. This gave rise to an immediate discussion in all media which forced Merkel to withdraw her statement soon after, saying that what she meant was that she was happy about the fact that the danger had ceased to exist – not that she was happy about the death of Bin Laden and about the fact that he had been killed by the US government.

Well, where is the problem? There is one. In fact, there are two. First, it is a legitimate question whether a person of Christian belief may at all be 'happy' about the death of any human being. And second, is a state government allowed to eliminate any human being through cold-blooded murder?

Depending on the political position one might argue that the Europeans are far too sissy. Or that the Americans are far less European than they think, basically still just being cowboys without any rule of law. But if we dig deeper, there is a lot more which needs to be seen.

A democratic state is bound by the rule of law and by international law. One of the basic principles of its foundation is that it does not lower its standards to the ones of its enemies. If it does so, such a state loses its democratic values and reliability. In short, the rule of law comes to an end. And the state itself does as well as a result.

Under a properly functioning rule of law system, Bin Laden should have been taken prisoner and put on trial in a US court, better even in the international court of justice in The Hague. But Bin Laden was shot. He had not been killed by accident, not in self-defence and not as collateral damage. It was a targeted killing, a hit job by a government. Without any court trial and conviction. This is murder and a violation of international law.

Of course, Israel does that all the time: sending out the Mossad to kill its political enemies or terrorists. And of course this is by any standards illegal and unacceptable. But Israel is not a world power. The US is. Now, what if the US starts to behave like that? And what if others follow?

This brings us to the second aspect, which put so much pressure on Merkel. Religion. On what basis can Western democracies ask China to respect human rights, ask African dictators not to kill their opponents and ask Islamic countries not to apply the cruel sharia in a modern world – if at the same time those Western democracies live on the same cruel principles of the Bible's Old Testament, demanding 'an eye for an eye', while officially claiming to live on the Christian principles of love, laid down in the New Testament?

America is proud of its democratic principles and its belief in God. The killing of Bin Laden violated both. Don't go down that road, America. Europeans know what they are talking about: This road led us into two World Wars."

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