Osama bin Laden Raid Controversial in Germany

The free world rallied around the United States after the 9/11 attacks--but not all back the killing of the man who ordered it.

The free world rallied around the United States after the 9/11 attacks–but not all back the killing of the man who ordered it.

While some American pundits have questioned the propriety of celebrating the killing of Osama bin Laden as if it were a victory in a sporting event, the notion that going after the world’s most wanted terrorist is a crime is reserved for the political fringe.  Not so in Germany. While Chancellor Angela Merkel has said she’s “glad” we got him, most of her countrymen are aghast and, as WaPo’s Charles Lane observes, “[M]any of Obama’s erstwhile Euro-fans are feeling a twinge of buyer’s remorse.”

And nowhere is the chorus more moralistic than in Germany, where former Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, a Social Democrat, has pronounced the action “clearly a violation of international law.” The quality press is full of carping and quibbling. Handelsblatt called the raid “an act that violates both the international prohibition of force and humanitarian law.” Der Spiegel, under the headline “Justice, American Style,” reports an expert’s view that it’s “questionable whether the USA can still claim to be engaged in an armed conflict with al-Qaida.” Elsewhere in the same journal, a reporter calls NewYork celebrations of bin Laden’s death “reminiscent of Muslims celebrating in the Gaza Strip after the 9/11 attacks.”

To be sure, the criticism is not universal. The newspaper Bild opined that “it is not only good that bin Laden is dead. It is also good that the U.S., after ten agonizing years, has finally freed itself from his terrible stranglehold.” Chancellor Angela Merkel pronounced herself “glad” that the terrorist chieftain was dead.

But German clerics and politicians immediately chided Merkel for her lack of tact, claiming that she might inflame the Muslim world. And Bild is a right-wing tabloid, the less-than-respectable news source of strap-hangers construction foremen.

The fashionable critique of Obama and the U.S. achieved its purest form on ARD Television, Germany’s equivalent of the BBC, where commentator Jörg Schoenenborn pompously observed that nothing good could come from Obama’s Bush-like breach of international law. “Al Qaeda will seek revenge,” he asserts, “so, is the world any safer? No.” Yet Americans dance in the streets, which Scheonenborn attributed to something essential, and essentially primitive, in the American character. The USA is, after all, “quite a foreign land to me. What kind of country celebrates an execution in such a way?”

And a Hamburg judge has filed a criminal complaint against Merkel for her remarks:

A Hamburg judge has filed a criminal complaint against Chancellor Angela Merkel for “endorsing a crime” after she stated she was “glad” that Osama bin Laden was killed by US forces. Meanwhile a new poll reveals that a majority of Germans do not see the terrorist’s death as a reason to celebrate.

Schadenfreude, the enjoyment of others’ suffering, may be a famously German concept, but it is apparently not a feeling that many Germans aspire to. Thepolitical and public fallout following Chancellor Angela Merkel’s statement on Monday that she was “glad” Osama bin Laden had been killed was among the most hotly debated topics in the German media this week.

Politicians, including those within her own center-right coalition, said that no death was cause for celebration, and reproved the remark as un-Christian and vengeful.

But Hamburg judge Heinz Uthmann went even further. He alleges that the chancellor’s statement was nothing short of illegal, and filed a criminal complaint against Merkel midweek, the daily Hamburger Morgenpost reported Friday.

“I am a law-abiding citizen and as a judge, sworn to justice and law,” the 54-year-old told the paper, adding that Merkel’s words were “tacky and undignified.”

In his two-page document, Uthmann, a judge for 21 years, cites section 140 of the German Criminal Code, which forbids the “rewarding and approving” of crimes. In this case, Merkel endorsed a “homicide,” Uthmann claimed. The violation is punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment or a fine.

“For the daughter of a Christian pastor, the comment is astonishing and at odds with the values of human dignity, charity and the rule of law,” Uthmann told the newspaper.

Truly, truly bizarre. Bin Laden wasn’t an innocent–or even an ordinary accused murderer. He was certainly a legitimate military target. And the notion that being happy that a monster is gone is inconsistent with human dignity is, frankly, absurd.

FILED UNDER: Europe, Terrorism, ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. john personna says:

    Obviously a Hitler thing.

  2. leftylucy007 says:

    Der Spiegel, under the headline “Justice, American Style,” reports an expert’s view that it’s “questionable whether the USA can still claim to be engaged in an armed conflict with al-Qaida.”

    Really? Tell that to the families of the service men killed on German soil just a few months fago, as well as al Qiada’s announcement today that they seek to destroy the US as a response to his death.

  3. john personna says:

    Let’s remember the narrative. The mission was to capture, and to kill him only if he resisted. That he resisted is something we considered likely. Hence, preparations for his disposal.

    What’s hard about that?

    It it a lack of self-control on the part of Americans that we can’t let the story lie?

  4. george says:

    The history of Germany in the 20th century has made many of them very sensitive about political/moral issues, and ready to find examples in others that show their past isn’t completely without analogy in other parts. It’ll pass in a few generations.

  5. The Germans have become pacifists.

    The world is truly bizarre.

  6. rodney dill says:

    scheisse

  7. john personna says:

    The Germans have become pacifists.

    The world is truly bizarre.

    Don’t forget the echoes of Israeli raids, looking for ex-Nazis.

  8. JKB says:

    Note to Europe: Children should be seen and not heard.

  9. PD Shaw says:

    The judicial complaint is particularly striking.

    One straw in the delegitimization of the Wiemar Republic was consistent contempt the German judiciary showed for the politicians.

  10. single dad says:

    He isnt dead , if he is dead why they dont let see hes face then?.. ‘ That blood and else all can be Fake it is 50% that hes dead but i thinkt he isnt because they dont let us see his body!

  11. george says:

    The Germans have become pacifists.

    The world is truly bizarre.

    I remember reading about an interview during the end of the cold war, when the Germans were protesting stationing cruise missiles in their territory. They were being called pacifists – and the reaction from one of the Germans was that they’d been called a lot worse a generation ago …

    Their history is a big part of their politics.

  12. TG Chicago says:

    He was certainly a legitimate military target.

    Can you elaborate on this? Seeing as how he never conducted a military attack on the US, I’m not clear on how he is a military target.

    (I’m not saying I oppose the raid; just that I don’t get how he was a “military” target… unless you mean, “someone the military was targeting”)

  13. G.A.Phillips says:

    Fake it is 50% that hes dead but i think the isnt because they dont let us see his body!

    His body is crab food, if you want to see it rent some scuba gear…

  14. James Joyner says:

    @TG Chicago: I’ve added a link to Michael Cohen’s Killling Osama bin Laden was a Legal Act in the post.

    Here’s the key phrase from the AUMF:

    That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.

    This is a legal argument that has been consistently upheld by the US Congress; by Presidents Bush and Obama, by the Supreme Court and by the United Nations.

    Now I understand that some may not support this legal opinion, but it is vitally important to acknowledge that viewing bin Laden as a legitimate military target – and no different from any solider on a battlefield – is not only a completely reasonable argument, it is one that is firmly grounded in US and international law and is supported by a wide array of legal scholars both inside and outside of government. So this isn’t just a case of victor’s justice or revenge. It is legally appropriate to believe that the US had the right to go into this compound and kill Osama bin Laden, even if he wasn’t carrying a weapon.

    There is of course an exception — as there would be an exception in any battlefield engagement – was Osama trying to surrender? To date the only “evidence” that he was is a report passed along by an anonymous Pakistani intelligence officials (the same people who were either lying about OBL’s whereabouts in Paksitan or unaware of them) claiming that OBL’s daughter says he was held captured for 10 minutes and then killed. This hardly qualifies as evidence and I find remarkable that Greenwald, for one, considers it as legitimate a source as what is announced publicly by US officials. However, it should be noted that if this story is true it would be an illegal act and absolutely worthy of further investigation: and it would represent an extrajudicial execution.

    The fact is, only if Osama was in the act of surrendering or had been captured and killed is there any real legal question here. Otherwise this is the legitimate killing of an appropriate military target. This is in fact, very similar to the killing of Admiral Yamamoto during WWII, an unarmed, but legitimate military target shot down by US bombers.

    He was the head of a combatant group and thus a legitimate target.

  15. PD Shaw says:

    To me the issue (if there is any) is the propriety of U.S. invading Pakistan, to which Pakistan has standing to present it’s grievance. I’m curious how Germans see the international law applying in this situation, because it appears to become very murky when trying to figure out U.S. status in Pakistan.

  16. André Kenji says:

    1-) I´m seeing lots of people in Brazil complaining about Osama´s killing. I find that to be hypocrisy, but that´s not limited to Germany.

    2-) In fact, until Otto Von Bismarck, the Germans weren´t involved in most of the Big European wars(Crimea War, Seven Years War, etc). In most of the conflicts that they fought they weren´t the agressor(In fact, they did not manage to have a colonial empire, unlike most of Western Europe).

    Frankly, the idea that “German pacifism” .should be something bizarre denotes a lack of historical knowledge.

  17. Southern Hoosier says:

    If bin Laden had been hiding in Germany, he would still be alive today. We could not have sent the Seal team into Germany the way we did in to Pakistan. If the Germans had arrested him, they would not have extradited him to the United States unless we agreed not to execute him.

  18. Southern Hoosier says:

    André Kenji says: Friday, May 6, 2011 at 19:46
    (In fact, they did not manage to have a colonial empire, unlike most of Western Europe)

    German East Africa (Deutsch-Ostafrika)
    German South West Africa (Deutsch-Südwestafrika)
    German West Africa (Deutsch-Westafrika)
    German New Guinea (Deutsch-Neuguinea)
    German Samoa (Deutsch-Samoa)

  19. They have their international law, now let them enforce it.

  20. Southern Hoosier says:

    Hitler Reacts To Osama Bin Laden’s Death

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-VY8olKJh0I&NR=1

  21. nevrdull says:

    @Southern Hoosier:

    Deutsch-Ostafrika (1885-1918)
    Deutsch-Südwestafrika (1884-1915)
    Deutsch-Westafrika (1884-1919)
    Deutsch-Neuguinea (1899-1914)
    Deutsch-Samoa (1900-1914)

    André Kenji was right: you don’t know much about german history. in contrast to some other european nations, the german imperial phase was just that: a phase of roughly 50 years. it was beaten down in WW I, and even more thouroghly so in WW II.

    WRT the original topic: it is kind of embarrassing to see this whole thing blown out of proportion, especially in the absolutely execrable Spiegel. the whole thing will probably die a quick death until the summer.

  22. Southern Hoosier says:

    nevrdull says: Sunday, May 8, 2011 at 09:28

    André Kenji was right: you don’t know much about german history. in contrast to some other european nations, the german imperial phase was just that: a phase of roughly 50 years

    Thank you for making that clear, I never realized there was a time limit on colonial empires. How long does a country have to occupy another country before it is considered a colony? 50 years is too short. Maybe 75? Or 100? Tell that to the local people, we’ve not colonizing you, we are just going though an imperial phase.

  23. Michael A says:

    I am German myself and could agree more with that article. I have to admit that I am ashamed of many of my country fellows. Good article! But I have severely to disapprove on Nazi-Hitler comparisons or any ways of relating that way of thinking to our shameful past. Neither is it right to say “all Germans” are like that. It is true that a lot of people think they can moral lectures right now but definitely not all. I myself consider me as an example of people with a sense of reality 😉

  24. Michael A says:

    * I meant to say “could NOT more agree” (so I totally support it 😉 )

  25. Southern Hoosier says:

    Michael A says: Sunday, May 8, 2011 at 13:57
    Neither is it right to say “all Germans” are like that.

    True. Those that disagreed with Hitler either fled the country or were killed. A lot of Germans that went along with Hitler did so, just to stay alive. The worst of the lot were Hitler’s Youth, but they were brainwashed from childhood. I don’t know of any nation that doesn’t have something shameful in their past.

  26. Southern Hoosier says:

    But German clerics and politicians immediately chided Merkel for her lack of tact, claiming that she might inflame the Muslim world.

    Rev Jones burning of the Koran seems to have inflamed the Muslim world even more than the killing of bin Laden

  27. An Interested Party says:

    Thank you for making that clear, I never realized there was a time limit on colonial empires.

    That, of course, isn’t the point…Germany certainly did not have a colonial empire in the same way that the British and the French did…

    I don’t know of any nation that doesn’t have something shameful in their past.

    Indeed, like our nation has the ancestors of today’s Stormfront (the Klan, the Confederacy) in our past…

  28. Southern Hoosier says:

    The German colonial empire was an overseas domain formed in the late 19th century as part of the German Empire. Short-lived colonial efforts by individual German states had occurred in preceding centuries, but Imperial Germany’s colonial efforts began in 1884. Although most of Germany’s African and Pacific colonies were occupied by the Empire’s enemies in the first weeks of World War I, the German colonial empire officially ended with the effective date of the Treaty of Versailles on 10 January 1920 following the war.

    http://goo.gl/TjXAJ
    What part of German colonial empire don’t you people understand?

  29. Southern Hoosier says:

    An Interested Party says: Sunday, May 8, 2011 at 19:44

    I don’t know of any nation that doesn’t have something shameful in their past.

    Indeed, like our nation has the ancestors of today’s Stormfront (the Klan, the Confederacy) in our past…

    So the most shameful things our nation has ever done, is a website, guys in bedsheets and a group of states trying to secede.
    Talk about ignorance of history.

  30. André Kenji says:

    The German Colonial Empire was in fact relatively small. It´s true that the desire to build a really big colonial empire that helped to fuel World War I, but they weren´t more belligerent than the Italians(And they were far less belligerent than the French).

  31. An Interested Party says:

    Talk about ignorance of history.

    As opposed to your reading comprehension? One of the biggest stains on this country is its history of racism and all the horrible things that happened because of that…by the way, sweetie, the Stormfront reference was thrown in just for you…

  32. Docten says:

    I have to admit I am a bit bewildered by the event. Maybe someone can clarify it for me. It is being reported in the US as though it was a raid “behind enemy lines”, It was a Pakistani suburb. Why did they blow up the helicopter? Wouldn’t Pakistan have given it back? Why didn’t they surround the place and take prisoners? Did they think Pakistan would attack our troops once it started? Really? Even when we told them who was inside? I don’t think so. This leave me wondering about the mission, but then again, I’ve wondered about 9-11 for ten years. Any explanations?

  33. Southern Hoosier says:

    André Kenji says: Friday, May 6, 2011 at 19:46
    (In fact, they did not manage to have a colonial empire, unlike most of Western Europe)

    André Kenji says: Sunday, May 8, 2011 at 22:21

    The German Colonial Empire was in fact relatively small.

    So they had one.

  34. Southern Hoosier says:

    An Interested Party says:
    sweetie,

    Sweetie? (Blush) I didn’t know you cared.
    Since you put it in plain English, I agree, racism has been a shameful part of America’s past along with every country on Earth.