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Europe

European Press Review: The Defeat of Civilization

The beheading of an American hostage in Iraq attracted a good deal of commentary in Europe's editorial pages on Wednesday.

The Financial Times said the horrific news of the beheading of an American businessman compounds the sense of an unfolding disaster. The paper noted that revulsion at the latest turn of events has "catapulted a failing occupation into an American and perhaps British political crisis and in Iraq itself the occupation is in deep trouble and sinking."

"We warned the worst was still to come in Iraq," wrote Rome's La Repubblica. "The horror of the American torture of Iraqi prisoners has unleashed a brutal escalation of what can be done to a human victim. The course of this war has led to an increase in atrocities on both sides and the moral darkness is only broken by the flash of an electronic truth which confirms the defeat of civilization itself."

Moscow's Kommersant took a more pragmatic view, questioning whether it's not a sad fact that in every war military prisoners are tortured. The paper argued "if one wants the torture of prisoners to end, one must end the war." But that is something neither Bush nor his presidential opponent Senator Kerry can address, the paper stated.

Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter observed that the Bush administration first disregarded the United Nations and international law and has now violated the Geneva convention. "The message is clear: Because we maintain a higher moral authority we don't need to stick to the rules," it wrote. The paper lamented a lack of historical perspective and the irrational notion that the motive of toppling Saddam Hussein and restoring democracy would be enough to guarantee post war success.

The Austrian daily Die Presse commented on the impact of the crisis on Tony Blair who appears to be in a lonely position. "Since going into war side by side with his comrade in arms George W. Bush, all luck seems to have left the erstwhile Sunny Boy Blair who has also aged considerably. Bad luck seems now to be sticking to Teflon Tony unless he changes course and exerts his influence on Bush as he has always maintained he can," the paper wrote.

London's The Independent wondered "what is it about Tony Blair's government that predisposes it to act as though its responsibility extended only as far as the good news and stopped well short of the bad? Always someone else has seen and dealt with unpleasant accusations, always someone else is responsible. Thus, we still have no answer to the most obvious and fundamental questions," the paper stated. It asked pointedly, "were ministers really not aware that British troops in Iraq had been accused of abusing prisoners, and if they were not aware, what do they think government is for?"