- The Washington Times - Friday, June 10, 2005

Most Americans have not paid attention to the bureaucratic wrangling and political jockeying plaguing construction of the World Trade Center Memorial at Ground Zero in Lower Manhattan. But more should care besides New Yorkers and developers and families of the victims of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

A good portion of the project is federally subsidized. All of us have not only a financial but a moral stake in protecting the honor of the victims — and our country’s dignity. A Blame America Monument is not what we need or deserve. But it seems one is already in the works.

In a startling Wall Street Journal op-ed on Tuesday, Debra Burlingame exposed the “Great Ground Zero heist.” Miss Burlingame is on the board of directors of the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation and the sister of Charles F. “Chic” Burlingame III, pilot of American Airlines flight 77, which terrorists crashed into the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. She reports that the World Trade Center memorial will encompass a “cultural complex” whose primary tenant will be something called the “International Freedom Center.”

According to an IFC fact sheet, the project “will be an integral part of humanity’s response to September 11.” An educational and cultural center will host exhibits, lectures, debates and films “that will nurture a global conversation on freedom in our world today.” Tellingly though, Miss Burlingame notes, early plans for the center that included a large mural of an Iraqi voter were scratched in favor of a photograph of Martin Luther King Jr. and Lyndon Johnson when the designs went public. So much for nurturing that global conversation.

The center’s “civic engagement network” will connect visitors to “service” opportunities. Translation: Left-wing activist recruitment center. As the fact sheet notes, “Leading NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] will be offered outposts at the center to reach out to its visitors.”

On its face, the project may seem unobjectionable enough (putting aside how far afield it all seems from remembering the victims and heroes of September 11) — until, that is, you look closer at the chief movers and shakers behind the project.

Tom Bernstein, a deep-pocket Hollywood financier and real estate mogul, is the center’s primary mover. Mr. Bernstein’s longtime friendship and business partnership with Yale classmate George W. Bush provides cover for his radical activism as president of Human Rights First. The group opposed Bush Attorney General Alberto Gonzales on preventive detention and has joined the American Civil Liberties Union’s mau-mauing of the Pentagon about alleged prisoner abuse.

Among the many supposedly respectable scholars consulted on the project is Eric Foner. He’s the unhinged Columbia University professor who reacted to September 11 by griping: “I’m not sure which is more frightening: the horror that engulfed New York City or the apocalyptic rhetoric emanating daily from the White House.” The IFC’s list of scholars and advisers also includes left-leaning elites such as Henry Louis Gates at Harvard University; Stephen B. Heintz, IFC secretary and president of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund; Walter Isaacson, chief executive officer of the Aspen Institute; and Michael Posner, executive director of Human Rights First.

Miss Burlingame also reports that Anthony Romero, ACLU executive director, “is pushing IFC organizers for exhibits that showcase how civil liberties in this country have been curtailed since September 11.” Then there’s billionaire Bush-basher George Soros, who Miss Burlingame reports is an early funder and supporter of the IFC and whose spirit infuses this grievance-mongering enterprise.

Do we really want Ground Zero to be the playground of antiwar financiers, moral equivalence peddlers and Guantanamo Bay alarmists? As Miss Burlingame told me several days ago, “Ground Zero belongs to all the American people. If Ground Zero is lost, whether through negligence or malfeasance, it will be a loss that is felt for generations to come.”

Richard Tofel, IFC president, minimizes dissenters. In a statement, he told me “we understand that a few do not” agree with the project’s stated mission of promoting the “cause of freedom.” The question is not whether most Americans support a monument to freedom but if they will stand by while saboteurs make it The Ultimate Guilt Complex.

Michelle Malkin is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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