The National September 11 Memorial and Museum opened its doors today with a special exhibition of items "portraying the years-long hunt, the ultimate discovery and killing of Osama bin Laden," including the shirt a Navy SEAL wore in the raid, a brick from the bin Laden compound and a special coin given to a CIA officer who played a key role in finding him.
The museum described the key items in a release:
There are three primary components of the exhibit, including a military-style shirt worn by one of the U.S. Navy SEAL Team 6 members who took part in the 2011 raid of bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. The shirt has an American flag patch on the sleeve colored black and brown. The flag is backwards, as done on such military shirts in a symbolic gesture referencing the era when the flag-bearer led soldiers behind him on the charge to battle.
The exhibition is also comprised of a so-called challenge coin, which was donated by “Maya,” the alias for the CIA operative who pursued bin Laden, and a brick recovered from the compound where the al-Qaeda leader was killed...
The challenge coin was created to commemorate the successful operation that eliminated bin Laden. One side of the coin is marked “May 1, 2011,” the U.S. date when the operation occurred. The other side shows a red “X” mark. After9/11, President George W. Bush kept a list in his desk of key al-Qaeda operatives still at large. Whenever one was exposed, arrested or killed, he would make a red X through the assailant’s name.
The third item, a brick from the bin Laden compound, has been on display since the museum opened earlier this year.
The identity of the SEAL commando will remain anonymous out of concerns for his safety. According to the New York Post, the retired Navy special-operations officer is so fearful about having his identity exposed that he canceled a meeting with the families of 9/11 victims. The museum will also keep the donor of the coin anonymous, as well.
Some have argued that the bin Laden items have no place in the museum.
"The bin Laden stuff — the brick, the brown shirt, whatever else may follow — is out of place, short-circuiting the grief that rightly haunts these galleries," wrote Alexander Nazaryan at Newsweek. The good guys won, it says triumphantly. It took a while, but we got our revenge and may now rest easy. But that’s cheap closure, and it seems crass to parade the evidence of our victory in what should be a space for somber, silent thought and prayer."
But the museum is already prepared for that criticism. "The death of Osama bin Laden is a huge part of the history, and we have an absolute obligation to tell it," National Sept. 11 Memorial Museum President Joe Daniels said. The display "allows millions of visitors the chance to recognize the extraordinary bravery of the men and women who sacrifice so much for this country at home and abroad."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.