NEW YORK – The Pentagon will celebrate the nation’s freedom on the fourth anniversary of Sept. 11 under super-tight security.
As many as 10,000 people are expected to march today in Washington for a patriotic Freedom Walk that is raising eyebrows for its unprecedented Defense Department backing as well as its security lockdown.
Anyone who did not sign up for the event by Friday will not be allowed to enter the fenced-in route from the Pentagon to the National Mall. And those who try to join the march without registering and refuse to leave will face arrest by the U.S. Park Police, officials said.
TV crews have been banned from mingling with the marchers, though print reporters will be allowed inside the perimeter of 4-foot-high fencing, said Pentagon spokesman Glenn Flood.
“What we’re trying to prevent is camera crews running alongside the marchers. We don’t think that would be appropriate,” Flood said.
The tight security is necessary to ensure the safety of VIPs, including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, he said.
But such restrictions for the Sept. 11 memorial and patriotic rally for troops overseas puzzled some observers.
“I don’t know how we can let such a simple thing get so complicated,” said John Pike, a noted Washington defense analyst who runs GlobalSecurity.org.
“I do understand they have previously established cordons for public gatherings. But it just doesn’t feel right. It feels un-American,” said Pike, who believes the threat of a suicide bomber is prompting the lockdown. Backpacks and bags are allowed but will be subject to searches, organizers said.
Critics also took issue with the Pentagon’s backing of the event.
“There’s no question that this pro-war rally is intended to improperly link the 9/11 attacks with the war in Iraq,” said Bill Dobbs, spokesman for United for Peace and Justice, which is organizing an anti-war rally in Washington on Sept. 24.
“It’s more evidence that Bush’s war in Iraq is in deep trouble with the American public,” Dobbs said.
Officials at the Pentagon had trouble containing their fury at the criticism.
“Those critics weren’t sitting here in this building when I was and 184 of my colleagues were killed,” said spokesman Bryan Whitman. “I can appreciate that Americans all across the country will decide what is the most appropriate way to remember this day. We feel this is the appropriate and fitting way to remember those who died right here in this building and also to bring awareness to the future site of the memorial.”
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.”
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