Published on Tuesday, August 31, 2004 by the San Francisco Chronicle
Some Victims' Families Say GOP Unfairly Capitalizing on 9/11
Ground Zero a Touchy Subject During Convention
by Zachary Coile
Jack Grandcolas would not mind if President Bush stood at ground
zero two weeks from now -- on the third anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001 --
for a solemn remembrance of the nearly 3,000 people, including his wife,
Lauren, who lost their lives in the terror attacks.
But the Marin County resident does not want to see the president anywhere near the World Trade Center site when Bush arrives in New York later this week for the Republican convention.
"If he's going to pay tribute, he should go on Sept. 11 and not during the convention," said Grandcolas, whose wife was a passenger on United Airlines Flight 93, the hijacked jet that crashed in a Pennsylvania field. "To go down to ground zero on a day other than Sept. 11 ... smacks of making political use of very sacred ground."
The Bush campaign -- most likely for this very reason -- has announced no plans for the president to visit the World Trade Center site, which is about 3 miles from the convention at Madison Square Garden.
But the selection of New York as the host city for the Republican convention remains controversial, especially to some friends and relatives of the Sept. 11 victims who don't want to see their personal tragedy used as the centerpiece of a political campaign.
It's not the first time many of the families have objected to a perceived effort by the president to use the attacks to justify his policies.
When a Bush campaign commercial this past spring used images of the wreckage of the twin towers and a firefighter's body being removed from the site, relatives of Sept. 11 victims demanded the footage be removed.
"I thought that was distasteful," Grandcolas said. "I don't care which side does it, it's not right."
A New York Times survey of 339 family members and close friends of Sept. 11 victims, released Sunday, found that about half believed the Republicans should have held their convention elsewhere. More than a quarter said the party picked New York to "capitalize on Sept. 11," while a similar number said the main goal was to promote the city and "show it's safe." A clear majority in the survey said it was not acceptable for either party to use images of Sept. 11 in commercials.
The convention's organizers have denied any attempt to capitalize on the emotion of Sept. 11. The host committee decided not to offer the nearly 5,000 Republican delegates a tour of ground zero -- even though it has become one of New York's top destinations for tourists. A convention spokesman explained it was a "very sensitive" issue.
But references to Sept. 11 are dominating the convention. Monday night's events began with a presentation of colors by the New York Police Department, which lost 23 officers in the attacks. Nearly every featured speaker -- from former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani to former New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik -- mentioned the attacks. And Vice President Dick Cheney, touring Ellis Island on Sunday, pointed to the city's skyline -- now missing the trade center towers -- as he made the case for re-electing the president.
Former San Ramon resident Deena Burnett, who lost her husband, Tom, aboard Flight 93, told delegates Monday of receiving a cell phone call from the plane in which her husband spoke of a passenger rebellion and said, "We're going to do something."
While Burnett is a Republican who has spoken out in support of Bush's re- election, other Sept. 11 family members object to what they say is the implicit message of the convention -- that the deadly terror attacks have justified Bush's subsequent decisions, including invading Iraq.
John Titus, whose daughter, Alicia, a 28-year-old flight attendant from San Francisco, was killed when United Airlines Flight 175 crashed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center, said he fears his daughter's death is being used to support policies he opposes.
"The cycle of violence needs to stop," said Titus, a member of the group 9/11 Families Against the War, who joined in the major anti-Bush protest in New York on Sunday.
"In Iraq and Afghanistan, civilian casualties number about 20,000 people so far," he said. "Their families are going through the same pain and suffering that we've gone through with our daughter's death."
Talat Hamdani, a Pakistani immigrant and public school teacher in Queens who lost her 23-year-old son in the World Trade Center, fears TV viewers of the convention will not hear about what she sees as the flaws in Bush's response to Sept. 11. Her son, Mohammed Salman Hamdani, was a paramedic who was killed after rushing to the World Trade Center to treat the injured. But after the attacks, he was investigated by the FBI as a potential suspect, she said.
"My son was a casualty of 9/11 -- not because he was a Muslim or because he was from Pakistan, but because he was an American," Hamdani said. Hamdani, a vehement opponent of the Patriot Act, which provided law enforcement greater powers to fight terrorists, said she believes the administration is wrong to detain thousands of mostly Arab men without charging them with crimes.
"So many families have no knowledge of where their loved ones are," she said. "In the name of democracy, they are arresting innocent people."
© 2004 San Francisco Chronicle