A Memorial Hijacked?

For many of the families of the 3,000 American citizens who were murdered on September 11, 2001, the worst thing that could happen would be for their loved ones’ sacrifice and loss to be forgotten. To ensure that didn’t happen, federal, state, and local authorities have put millions of tax dollars towards a memorial on the site of Ground Zero — the place where the twin towers of the World Trade Center once stood in lower Manhattan.

Incredible as it may seem, those charged with translating that laudable commitment into reality have come up with plans that could surpass even the 9/11 families’ worst fears: A scheme for the design and use of the Ground Zero complex that threatens, at best, to obscure and, at worst, to defame the memory of those lost on that day.

Part of the problem lies with the plan itself. Its centerpiece would not be a September 11th Memorial. Rather, it would be something called the International Freedom Center (IFC). The Memorial would be located in a basement, with only 50,000 square feet assigned to its displays. Such a facility would be unable to display most of the recovered 9/11 artifacts, requiring the rest to be exhibited elsewhere.

Worse yet, a memorial that size is estimated to be able to accommodate only half the roughly 20,000 visitors expected to come to the site each day. Where, you might ask, would the rest go?

It appears that they would have two choices: The first would be the massive, 300,000-square foot, above-ground International Freedom Center that would be built on top of the 9/11 Memorial. A posting on the excellent new website created by 9/11 family members and their supporters, www.TakeBacktheMemorial.org, observes:

The International Freedom Center is slated to contain a history of mankind’s oppressions and the struggles to end them. [For example, the IFC’s web site declares: “It will tell stories … of Jim Crow segregation — but also [of] Martin Luther King, who helped stamp it out. Inspiring people through these stories to do freedom’s work today is our best long-run defense against more 9/11’s.”]It will also host evening-time political debates for ideologues of all ilks. [The IFC’s president, Richard Tofel, wrote in the Wall Street Journal last month, “The International Freedom Center will host debates and note points of view with which you — and I — will disagree.”] The IFC will be right there to take in the overflow (for a fee) and to teach them about all of history’s inhumanities and valiant freedom marches to end them. All of the inhumanities and freedom marches — other than the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and the United States’ valiant march to end terrorism, that is.

The not-so-hidden agenda behind the International Freedom Center can be discerned from the sorts of people involved in its underwriting and/or conceptualizing its displays. These include: leftist billionaire George Soros, whose declared hostility towards President Bush masks a deeper anti-Americanism, evident in his equating of Abu Ghraib with 9/11; Michael Posner, executive director at Human Rights First and driving force behind a “Stop Torture Now” campaign whose sole object is the U.S. military; Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union who wants the IFC to feature exhibits demonstrating how after 9/11 the Patriot Act and other measures have impinged upon civil liberties in the United States; and two radical-left Columbia professors — Eric Foner, who declared immediately after 9/11, “I am not sure which is more frightening: the horror that engulfed New York City or the apocalyptic rhetoric emanating daily from the White House,” and Nicholas DeGenova who once asserted that, “The only true heroes are those who find ways to defeat the U.S. military.”

In addition to the problematic exhibits and activities (including the Tribecca Film Festival, which recently featured a “dark comedy” about 9/11) likely to be housed by the International Freedom Center, its designers have also incorporated a “Drawing Center” in the site. According to the Washington Post, the latter recently featured “installations that depicted the well-publicized image of a hooded detainee at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib and linked President Bush to Osama bin Laden.”

When challenged about the prospect that such facilities would be used for divisive purposes utterly at odds with a solemn memorializing of the dead, New York Governor George Pataki precipitated a First Amendment fight by announcing, “We will not tolerate anything on that site that denigrates America, denigrates New York or freedom, or denigrates the sacrifice and courage that the heroes showed on September 11th.” Not surprisingly, neither the left-wing IFC nor the similarly-minded Drawing Center is likely to agree to such constraints.

If all else fails, visitors who find themselves unable to do at Ground Zero what they came for — namely, to pay their respects to those lost on 9/11 — and who are repulsed by the IFC’s anti-American propaganda will have another alternative. They can shop. The Port Authority is reportedly trying to jam 600,000 square feet of retail space throughout the site.

Where, it might be asked is President Bush on all this? The IFC’s wealthy chairman and driving force is Tom Bernstein, one of Mr. Bush’s former business partners and large campaign contributors. Perhaps that’s why White House spokesperson Dana Perino has said only: “We realize how important a matter this is to the people of New York, but it’s a matter the people of New York should decide.”

Actually, the hijacking of the 9/11 Memorial is something that is important to all Americans, and it is something that we expect our President and legislators to prevent.

(Frank J. Gaffney, Jr. is the President of the Center for Security Policy and a columnist for the Washington Times.)

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