Steve Rothman: Ground Zero ceremony ‘humbling and somber’

Steve Rothman: Ground Zero ceremony ‘humbling and somber’

Congressman says U.S. should weigh global security against impulse to rebuke Pakistan

Dignitaries at the May 5 Ground Zero wreath-laying ceremony with President Obama included, front row from left, Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-8), Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Rep. Steve Rothman (D-9), Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), and Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.). Michaelangelo Conte/courtesy The Jersey Journal

Rep. Steve Rothman (D-9) attended President Obama’s wreath-laying ceremony at Ground Zero last Thursday and shared his impressions with The Jewish Standard. Rothman also shared his thoughts about the president’s remarks on “60 Minutes” on Sunday regarding the possibility that elements within Pakistan knew of Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts and helped to protect him.

At Ground Zero, Rothman said, Obama “spent a great deal of time with the several families who were at the site, including spouses and children of the victims who were from New Jersey.”

Rothman, who represented New Jersey at the ceremony along with Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D), Sen. Robert Menendez (D), and Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-8), said the occasion, prompted by the killing of 9/11 terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden in an operation ordered by president, was “humbling and very somber.”

“In some ways,” he added, “it was gratifying that the circle had been closed on our nation’s promise to bring Osama bin Laden to justice, but in other ways, and not unexpectedly, it left the terrible pain of loss of those who died on September 11 undiminished.”

Rothman said he made a point to speak with the president, saying simply, “Job well done, Mr. President.”

Rothman said that Obama spoke privately with the wife of a New Jersey man who was killed in the September 11 attacks. Afterward, Rothman spoke with the same woman.

“I asked [her] … how she felt about the news of bin Laden’s death,” Rothman said. “She said it didn’t reduce the pain and difficulty of the loss of her husband either for her or her children, but that her children and several of the other victims’ children were afraid and had become anxious every time they saw a photograph of Osama bin Laden. Her children were standing next to her when she said this. As a New Jersey congressman there but more importantly as a father myself, I made it a point to say to the children that Osama bin Laden is gone and will never hurt anyone anymore.”

Rothman said he felt “humbled but proud” to represent New Jersey at the ceremony, recalling the last time he was at Ground Zero, following Sept. 11, 2001.

“I was no more than 15 feet from President Bush when he made that iconic statement standing on a pile of rubble with his arm around a New York City firefighter that we as a nation were down on one knee saying prayers for the victims and their families, but the perpetrators of this slaughter would hear us and be brought to justice,” Rothman said.

More than 700 New Jerseyans lost their lives on 9/11 as a result of the attacks ordered by Osama bin Laden. Nearly 150 of the victims were from Bergen County.

Regarding the president’s suggestion on “60 Minutes” that “there had to be some sort of support network for bin Laden inside of Pakistan,” as well as what appears to be a growing popular sentiment that the U.S. consider withholding aid to that country, Rothman, who serves on the House Appropriations Committee and on the subcommittee on defense appropriations, counseled caution.

“I agree with [the] analysis [Obama] gave on ’60 Minutes’ that it’s probable there were some in the Pakistani intelligence services and military who knew very well where Osama bin Laden was living,” Rothman said. “As to how high up the ranks that knowledge went, it is something both the U.S. and Pakistan are examining in a very serious way.”

He stressed the complexity of U.S. relations with Pakistan.

“There have been examples over the past several years where cooperation of Pakistan’s military and intelligence services has resulted in either their killing [members of] al-Qaida in Pakistan or in their permitting U.S. to do so,” Rothman said. “So the door of cooperation between the U.S. and Pakistan is either half-closed or half-open, depending on your point of view, but the U.S. can’t afford to slam that door shut, given our national security interests.”

Rothman also characterized the relationship between Pakistan, a nuclear power, and India, another nuclear power, as a powder keg that must factor into any analysis of action the United States might take toward Pakistan. So, too, must al-Qaida’s effort to work with Pakistan’s government, according to Rothman.

“Pakistan possesses nuclear weapons and nuclear weapons material that al-Qaida has attempted to capture,” he said. “Pakistan also has an unstable government with a divided military that has not come to terms with India, another nuclear weapons power.”

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