MADRID/BERLIN (Reuters) - European happiness with the death of Osama bin Laden was tempered on Wednesday by details showing he was unarmed when shot dead and qualms about whether torture of prisoners helped U.S. forces track him down.
Al Qaeda leader bin Laden — the world’s most wanted man — was shot in the head in a U.S. special forces raid on his walled villa hideout in Pakistan on Monday.
In Germany and Spain, legislators questioned Chancellor Angela Merkel and Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero over their enthusiastic praise of U.S. President Barack Obama.
“It’s likely that bin Laden sought his own destiny,” Zapatero told parliament on Wednesday after Gaspar Llamazares, deputy from the small leftist party Izquierda Unida, questioned his congratulating Obama.
Zapatero said “any democrat” would have preferred bin Laden stood trial, but that he understood how the operation ended in the way it did for “one of history’s bloodiest criminals.”
Islamist militants set off bombs simultaneously in four packed commuter trains in Madrid in March 2004, killing 191 people and wounding more than 2,000, in attacks they said were inspired but not ordered by al Qaeda.
In Germany a senior member of parliament from Merkel’s conservative Christian Democratic Union, Siegfried Kauder, criticised her Monday statement which said she was “glad that killing bin Laden was successful.”
“I wouldn’t have used those words. That is a vengeful way of thinking that one shouldn’t have. That’s mediaeval,” he said.
“A random killing is not permitted according to international agreements. If one concludes that bin Laden was no longer active (running al Qaeda operations around the world), the killing could be seen as random.”
Television and radio hosts zeroed in Washington’s revision of certain details of the operation, such as the fact that bin Laden was not armed and that the woman killed had not been used as a shield, saying his death looked more now like an execution.
Speakers on a Spanish talk show questioned the official version of the burial at sea of bin Laden’s body and said Obama’s image would suffer among Europeans who would rather have seen a capture and trial.
Europeans also jumped into the renewed debate over torture and so-called enhanced interrogation technique after U.S. officials said key sources of initial information that led to bin Laden came from at least one prisoner that was tortured.
“What stands out to me is the White House attempt to whitewash Guantanamo. They are saying that information that led them to bin Laden came from there and that it was obtained through torture,” Manuel Erice, deputy director of Spain’s ABC newspaper said on a talk show on TVE state television.
Many Europeans struggled to understand the open celebrations in the streets of New York and Washington earlier this week.
“While many nations suffered from al-Qaeda’s terrorism and few in the world will mourn bin Laden’s death, the United States is the only place where it sparked spontaneous outpourings of raucous jubilation,” wrote columnist Gary Younge in Britain’s left-leaning Guardian newspaper.
“The initial euphoria in the United States may be quite difficult for people in Western Europe to take, but in one sense is understandable in the context. The 9-11 attacks were perhaps more visceral than most people expected. The impact on the United States was more deep-seated,” said Paul Rogers, professor of Peace Studies at the University of Bradford.
Al Qaeda militants flew hijacked airliners into New York’s World Trade Centre and Washington’s Pentagon building on September 11, 2001, killing nearly 3,000 people.
Some commentators said Obama could lose his lustre in Europe, where he has been widely admired for taking a more multilateral, collaborative approach to foreign policy than his predecessor George W. Bush.
But the left-wing French daily Le Monde said in an editorial that Obama had struck the right tone, saying he had announced the news in a sober speech, without sounding triumphant.
“Nothing of the ridiculous ‘mission accomplished’ of ... Bush, dressed as a fighter pilot, to proclaim in 2003 ... the U.S. ‘victory’ in Iraq,” said le Monde.
Germany’s Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper expressed misgivings about the legality of the killing.
“Which law covers the execution of bin Laden?” wrote Heribert Prantl, a senior editor at the left-leaning daily.
“U.S. law requires trials before death penalties are carried out. Executions are forbidden in countries based on rule of law. Martial law doesn’t cover the U.S. operation either. The decision to kill the godfather of terror was political.”
Additional reporting by Mohammed Abbas and Avril Ormsby in London and Catherine Bremer in Paris; editing by Mark Heinrich