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Pentagon's 9/11 march criticized as tying war in Iraq to terror
Pentagon's 9/11 march criticized as tying war in Iraq to terror attacks
By JOHANNA NEUMAN
Los Angeles Times
WASHINGTON - On the fourth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, in which nearly 3,000 people died, the nation's commemorations will be as varied as its geography.
In Oregon, a 9/11 Memorial Tapestry will be displayed at the Corvallis Arts Center and a song inspired by the images of that day will be performed. A national grass-roots nonprofit called One Day's Pay urges people to observe the day with acts of charity. New York City plans a ceremony where the victims' brothers and sisters, along with other relatives, will read the names of those who died, pausing four times for a moment of silence - to mark the impact of each hijacked jet into the north and south towers of World Trade Center and to mark when each tower fell.
In the nation's capital, a government agency that has often been the target of protests is sponsoring a march of its own. The Pentagon's "America Supports You Freedom Walk" is intended to honor the U.S. military and the victims of the terrorist attacks, but critics say the administration is using the occasion to try to stiffen American resolve in Iraq and to counter a major antiwar protest in Washington two weeks later.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld announced the Pentagon march last month, as an occasion "to remember the victims of Sept. 11, 2001; to honor U.S. troops and veterans; and to highlight the value of freedom." The 1.7-mile walk from the Pentagon to the National Mall - passing such landmarks as Arlington National Cemetery and the Lincoln Memorial - will be capped by a concert featuring country star Clint Black, who in 2003 recorded the pro-military song "Iraq and Roll."
The march also will showcase the drive to build a memorial to the 184 victims who died when American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon.
But critics deride the event as a calculated scheme by the Pentagon to brand the Sept. 11 attacks as the precursor to a necessary war. Only those who had registered by Friday will be allowed to march - the Pentagon expects as many as 10,000 to participate - and officials are blocking access to the march route with 4-foot-high snow fencing, presumably to keep protesters at a distance.
"This is a desperate propaganda ploy, an attempt to link Sept. 11 to the war in Iraq," said Adam Eidinger, a coordinator for Operation Ceasefire, one of the sponsors of antiwar protests scheduled in Washington Sept. 24, which organizers forecast could attract 100,000 participants.
While his organization is not planning to protest the Freedom Walk - the group will instead spend the day canvassing neighborhoods with pamphlets urging a pullout from Iraq - Eidinger said "a handful" of activists have registered for the rally and plan to use fast-drying ink to write antiwar messages on the T-shirts distributed by Pentagon sponsors, to provide a dissent from within.
Some families of those who died in the attacks were outraged that the Pentagon paired the anniversary with a tribute to the military.
"How about telling Mr. Rumsfeld to leave the memories of Sept. 11 victims to the families?" said Monica Gabrielle, who lost her husband in the World Trade Center. "Stop connecting 9/11 and Iraq. The only real connection is that these innocent men and women were sent to Iraq on a folly based on lies using the victims of 9/11 - including my husband - as an excuse. Instead of a Freedom Walk, how about a Truth Walk? I think it's about time."
But those who defend the event see nothing wrong - and everything right - with walking to support U.S. troops on a day that marks a deadly terrorist attack on American soil.
"Some of the critics are seeing a connection where none is intended," said Victoria Clarke, a former Pentagon spokeswoman who is taking her children to the march. "People are perfectly within their rights to oppose the policy of war, but this is about supporting the troops."
Even some who oppose the war in Iraq applaud the Freedom Walk, seeing it as an opportunity to support the troops, not necessarily their mission in Iraq.
Jimmy Massey, co-founder of Iraq Veterans Against the War, said his organization "supports that kind of thing."