Sept. 11 Families Ask Bush, Congress to Squash Plans for Ground Zero Museum

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A Sept. 11 family group urged the White House and Congress Wednesday to squelch plans by New York's governor and mayor for a ground zero museum that, the families say, will inject political arguments into what should be a solemn memorial.

As Gov. George Pataki and Mayor Michael Bloomberg trumpeted a new design for the Freedom Tower to rise in place of the fallen World Trade Center, a group of families accused the two leaders of cheapening the site's meaning.

In recent weeks, a growing number of Sept. 11 families have publicly railed against a planned International Freedom Center at ground zero. Separate from the below-ground memorial, planners say the museum will offer inspiring stories of mankind's progress toward liberty.

Detractors charge the IFC is being hijacked by left-wing advisers who blame the United States for the world's wrongs.

Mary Fetchet, a Connecticut mom who became an activist when her 24-year-old son died in the trade center, wept as she described what future children from around the world should see when they visit ground zero.

''It should just be pure of heart. It should be a place where our families can go to reflect,'' she said.

The families are asking for congressional hearings into how taxpayer money will be used to fund the museum and said they want President Bush's support in the debate.

''President Bush came to ground zero shortly after 9/11,'' said Jack Lynch, whose firefighter son Michael died responding to the 2001 terror attacks.

''He stood up with a firefighter there on the fire truck and he made a commitment to us. He didn't talk about the war at that time, but our commitment was that he would make sure that we would be taken care of,'' said Lynch.

''He should now stand up and say this memorial cannot be hijacked, cannot be diluted,'' Lynch said.

A White House spokesman had no immediate comment.

The families said they were turning to federal officials for help because city and state leaders have resisted their calls to remove cultural institutions from the plans.

Gov. Pataki on Wednesday again gave his assurances that the museum's content will be respectful.

''I understand their concerns and I think I've made it very plain that I share their concerns. Were not going to allow any facility, any entity at the memorial site to in any way engage in any activity or speech or displays that are going to denigrate the heroes we lost on September 11th, denigrate America, denigrate the concept of freedom,'' Pataki said.

But the families upset about the museum say the governor's answer amounts to censorship. Far better, they argue, would be to simply remove such artistic debates from the 16-acre site.

The group plans to visit other Sept. 11 memorials around the country, including one in Anthony, Kansas, to gather public support for their position and show how other cities and towns have built monuments without acrimony.

''We think that New York could learn an awful lot from Anthony, Kansas,'' said Edie Lutnick, whose brother Gary died on Sept. 11.

The families blame the governor and mayor because they appoint board members to the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., which is directing the ground zero rebuilding effort.

LMDC director Roland Betts, a fraternity brother and close friend of George W. Bush, has defended the museum, saying planners always intended to incorporate the arts into the rebuilt site.

IFC chairman Tom Bernstein said in a statement Wednesday, ''We are confident the International Freedom Center can and will be an integral part of the living memorial, helping tell the story of 9/11 while honoring mankind's march toward freedom and highlighting America's role as a beacon for freedom throughout the world.''