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Bill allowing Global War on Terrorism Memorial on National Mall could set bad precedent

Stars & Stripes:

Bill allowing Global War on Terrorism Memorial on National Mall could set bad precedent, senator argues

BY NIKKI WENTLING • STARS AND STRIPES • SEPTEMBER 21, 2021 

WASHINGTON — An effort to pass legislation that would allow for the construction of a Global War on Terrorism Memorial on the National Mall was blocked Monday out of concern that its passage would be unfair and create a bad precedent for any future memorials.

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, asked on the Senate floor Monday evening that her colleagues approve the bill under unanimous consent, meaning the chamber could pass the legislation unless someone stood to object. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., blocked the vote.

The bill seeks to exempt the Global War on Terrorism Memorial from a 2003 law that prohibits any more development on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

“This legislation would override this provision,” Manchin said. “This precedent would reopen fights to locate other memorials on the National Mall, create conflict, and ultimately delay the construction of this memorial.”

Organizers behind the effort to establish the memorial are renewing their push for it to be located on the National Mall following the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan in August.

They held a news conference Tuesday in front of the U.S. Capitol, urging Congress to consider the bill.

“We’re at a significant moment in the history of the Global War on Terrorism,” said Marina Jackman, an Army veteran and the president of the Global War on Terrorism Memorial Foundation. “Service members and their families are asking themselves what their service means. Now more than ever, the service member and veteran community needs a place to gather, reflect and heal.”

Ernst, along with Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., introduced the Global War on Terrorism Memorial Location Act last year, but it failed to make it through Congress. They reintroduced the bill earlier this year and expressed frustration Tuesday about its slow progress in the Senate.

The Senate subcommittee on national parks, which is part of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, held a hearing on the issue in June. The bill has not yet been considered by the full committee.

Manchin, who is chairman of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, promised on the Senate floor Monday to schedule a hearing to discuss the bill.

“We’re holding him to that,” Ernst said Tuesday. “We’d love to see that progress made.”

She said she would continue to go to the Senate floor and call for unanimous consent on the bill until Manchin moves forward with the bill in his committee.

The Commemorative Works Act, which prohibits more development on the National Mall, was approved in 2003 because of the concern over a loss of open space. Between 1980 and 2000, seven new memorials were established in the area.

“Little did we know in 2003 that these wars would go on for decades,” Hassan said. “This is America’s longest war. The notion that a memorial to it wouldn’t be built on the National Mall is just mind-boggling.”

In the time since the law was passed, organizers behind the World War I Memorial and the National Desert Storm and Desert Shield War Memorial have sought locations on the National Mall. The World War I Memorial, which opened earlier this year, was instead placed in Pershing Park, east of the White House.

Construction has not yet begun on the Desert Storm and Desert Shield Memorial. It was approved for a location north of the Lincoln Memorial. Though it’s near the other war memorials on the National Mall, it’s outside of the border that’s restricted by the Commemorative Works Act.

“There have been several proposals to waive the prohibition for new memorials and museums, including the World War I and Desert Storm/Desert Shield memorials,” Manchin said. “Ultimately, these were located in other high-profile areas in compliance with the Commemorative Works Act.”

Jane Horton, whose husband was killed in Afghanistan, said she and other Gold Star family members would “accept no less than the National Mall” for the Global War on Terrorism Memorial. Horton spoke Tuesday about the urgency she and other families feel about the creation of a memorial that would honor their deceased loved ones.

Horton’s husband, Spc. Christopher Horton, deployed to Afghanistan with the Oklahoma National Guard in 2011. He was killed by small arms fire on Sept. 9, 2011.

“There is no better place, no more appropriate place, than the National Mall to honor them,” Horton said of her husband and other service members killed during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. “This is where school children will go and future generations will learn about those who gave their lives for our country. This is where we’ll teach the history of America’s longest war and an all-volunteer force.”

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