BERLIN/SINGAPORE (Reuters) - The killing of Osama bin Laden when he was unarmed has raised concerns the United States may have gone too far in acting as policeman, judge and executioner of the world’s most wanted man.
But for several Muslim leaders, the more unsettling issue is whether the al Qaeda leader’s burial at sea was contrary to Islamic practice.
The White House said on Tuesday that bin Laden had resisted the U.S. team which stormed his Pakistan hideout and that there had been concerns he would “oppose the capture operation”.
Spokesman Jay Carney declined to specify what sort of resistance bin Laden offered but added: “We expected a great deal of resistance and were met with a great deal of resistance. There were many other people who were armed ... in the compound.”
Former West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt told German TV the operation could have incalculable consequences in the Arab world at a time of unrest there.
“It was quite clearly a violation of international law.”
It was a view echoed by high-profile Australian human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson.
“It’s not justice. It’s a perversion of the term. Justice means taking someone to court, finding them guilty upon evidence and sentencing them,” Robertson told Australian Broadcasting Corp television from London.
“This man has been subject to summary execution, and what is now appearing after a good deal of disinformation from the White House is it may well have been a cold-blooded assassination.”
Robertson said bin Laden should have stood trial, just as World War Two Nazis were tried at Nuremburg or former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic was put on trial at the war crimes tribunal in The Hague after his arrest in 2001.
“The last thing he wanted was to be put on trial, to be convicted and to end his life in a prison farm in upstate New York. What he wanted was exactly what he got - to be shot in mid-jihad and get a fast track to paradise and the Americans have given him that.”
Gert-Jan Knoops, a Dutch-based international law specialist, said bin Laden should have been arrested and extradited to the United States.
“The Americans say they are at war with terrorism and can take out their opponents on the battlefield,” Knoops said. “But in a strictly formal sense, this argument does not stand up.”
A senior Muslim cleric in New Delhi, Syed Ahmed Bukhari, said U.S. troops could have easily captured bin Laden.
“America is promoting jungle rule everywhere, whether in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan or Libya. People have remained silent for long but now it has crossed all limits.”
Son Had, spokesman for Jema‘ah Ansharut Tauhid, the Islamic group founded by Indonesian firebrand Abu Bakar Bashir, said it was clear that bin Laden had become a martyr.
”In Islam, a man who died....in fighting for sharia will earn the highest title for mankind other than a prophet, that is
a martyr. Osama is a fighter for Islam, for sharia.”
But for many Muslim leaders the greater concern was bin Laden’s burial at sea, not land. His body was taken to an aircraft carrier where U.S. officials said it was buried at sea, according to Islamic rites.
I.A. Rehman, an official with the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, said it was more important than the issue of how bin Laden was killed.
“The fact that he was not armed is a smaller thing...There will be more focus on whether he was buried in an Islamic way. There has been reaction from Islamic clerics that he was not properly buried and this will be discussed for some time.”
Saudi Sheikh Abdul Mohsen Al-Obaikan, an adviser to the Saudi Royal Court, was more direct.
“That is not the Islamic way. The Islamic way is to bury the person in land (if he has died on land) like all other people.”
Amidhan, a member of Indonesia’s Ulema Council (MUI), the highest Islamic authority in the world’s biggest Muslim society, said he was more concerned about the burial that the killing.
“Burying someone in the ocean needs extraordinary situation. Is there one?,” he told Reuters.
“If the U.S. can’t explain that, then it appears just like dumping an animal and that means there is no respect for the man ... and what they did can incite more resentment among Osama’s supporters.”
Additional reporting by Jeff Mason in Washington, Michael Perry in Sydney, Alistair Scrutton in New Delhi, Rebecca Conway in Islamabad, Olivia Rondonwu in Jakarta, Aaron Gray-Block in Amsterdam; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani