Mayor Michael Hancock for the CELL

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock gives the opening remarks for the 9/11 commemoration put on virtually by the Counterintelligence Education Learning Lab in Denver on Sept. 10, 2020.

During another national crisis, or three, Coloradans will observe the 19th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks Friday, but on Thursday night, some of the state's top leaders did the duty.

"On Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists not only attacked our airliners and buildings, they attacked our way of life and the very freedoms we hold dear," Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said, looking into a camera. "Yet, our nation's response in the aftermath showed our resolve and our values of democracy, equality and liberty.

"Tonight, we remember the many innocent lives that were taken that day. They will never be forgotten and will remain in our hearts forever."

That morning nearly two decades ago, that moment recalled by every American, claimed the lives of 2,977 people and more than 6,000 others when 19 terrorists simultaneously hijacked four planes, two that flew into the World Trade Center, one into the Pentagon and a third that crashed into a field in Pennsylvania, because of heroic passengers.

Thursday evening, Hancock and Colorado Gov. Jared Polis opened the observance that was moved online this year, owing to the coronavirus global pandemic, put on by the Denver-based Counterterrorism Education Learning Lab.

Polis spoke of the unprecedented times America is in again, referring to the coronavirus pandemic that has roiled the nation's way of life for the last six months.

"Living through these unprecedented times reminds me of the resilience Coloradans and our country demonstrated following the terrorist attacks of 9/11," Polis said. 

He said the terrorist attacks on American soil was a moment "when our world changed forever."

"This commemoration is more about than just a remembrance to fallen," the governor said. "It's also a tribute to the living and all that we've learned about our collective humanity and security."

The program weighed the impact of the presidential election on national security.

Speaking on the topic were U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel, a Democrat from New York who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee; former Rep. Ed Royce, a Republican from California who is the previous chairman of the committee; and Tom Sanderson, co-founder of the Transnational Threats Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.

Engel lambasted President Trump repeatedly for inconsistent foreign policy, while Royce avoided criticizing the president directly, but said Russia was hurting its own position by incurring the long-term bipartisan wrath. He called the country a declining power, and that he would not be surprised if Vladimir Putin placed bounties on American soldiers in Afghanistan.

"The steps which Putin is taking are driving a reaction on the part of U.S. policymakers that is very much to the detriment of the long-term economic power in Russia," Royce said, avoiding answering why Trump had not taken a firmer hand with Putin.

Last year, Engel helped pass permanent reauthorization for the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund to help first-responders and families still suffering from illnesses related to the attacks. U.S. Rep. Ken Buck of Windsor was one of 12 Republicans who voted against the bill, citing concerns about its cost and duration.

The funding was signed into law by President Trump on July 29, 2019. All of Colorado's Democrats in the delegation signed on as co-sponsors.

The original $7.4 billion fund was nearly depleted, as administrators cut benefit payments by up to 70% before Congress added about $10.2 billion in additional compensation payments over 10 years, including more than $4 billion for then-pending claims.

The CELL is a nonpartisan nonprofit that provides an extensive exhibit and quarterly forums with well-known experts, senior government officials and foreign dignitaries who discuss issues surrounding counterterrorism and global security in a dangerous, changing world. 

The lab is located in downtown Denver on the southeast corner of the Civic Center Cultural Complex at 99 West 12th Ave., across from the Denver Art Museum. The organization is led by founders Larry and Courtney Mizel in 2004, and the museum opened in 2008.

Learn more about the CELL by clicking here.

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