Liberty, not hypocrisy must underpin Freedom Tower

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 06 July, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 July, 2004, 12:00am

Nearly three years after the September 11 attacks, the foundations have been laid for a new skyscraper at the World Trade Centre site in New York. The cornerstone was, fittingly, dedicated to the nearly 2,800 people who died when the twin towers collapsed.

The hijackings that ended with the tragedy in New York and two other plane crashes that day shocked the world with their precision and murderous intent. They also brought an end to global complacency about the threat posed by loosely organised but determined terror networks operating across national borders. The start of construction on the 70-storey Freedom Tower marks another milestone in the city's recovery. But almost everything else about it - from the high-security design to the defiant tone of the groundbreaking ceremony - reflects the complex realities of the post-September 11 world.

When the building is finished in just over four years it will be, however briefly, the tallest in the world. The twisted metal rising from its rooftop is meant to echo the shape of the torch atop the Statue of Liberty. Its height - 1776 feet - represents the year of America's independence. Government officials, project architects and the developer all insist that the skyscraper will stand for democracy, freedom and other vaunted American values. Nearby will be a memorial that includes reflecting pools built on top of the footprints created by the original twin towers. For the residents of New York, the site will have to serve a commercial, civic and symbolic purpose. The city and the country have every right to be proud of the heroism demonstrated during the attacks and the resilience that has followed. At the same time, the aspirational architecture of Freedom Tower and the surrounding memorials will ring hollow unless the ideals are translated into action.

The war on terrorism that followed September 11 has curtailed civil liberties within the US and created a fortress mentality at its borders. The unlawful detention of prisoners captured after the fall of the Taleban in Afghanistan has yet to end, while the Abu Ghraib scandal in Iraq has only stoked the flames of insurgency in the still-unstable country. The roots of these controversies can be found in the defiance of the values the new tower and America are said to stand for. Arguably, ending the hypocrisy would help make the US and its allies safer.

As the US Supreme Court justices noted in their recent ruling on the need to grant Guantanamo prisoners access to the courts, a state of war does not give authorities a blank cheque to trample on rights promised in the American constitution. Renewed commitment to the ideals - in deed and not just word - would be a fitting tribute to those who died in 2001. The dedication of the new World Trade Centre building reminds us that we have yet to solve the main post-September 11 challenge: how to have security without giving up cherished liberties.