MARKING Osama bin Laden’s death where the terrorist inflicted his greatest damage, President Barack Obama soberly laid a wreath yesterday at Ground Zero and declared to the city and the world, “When we say we will never forget, we mean what we say.”
The president closed his eyes and clasped his hands at the outdoor memorial where the twin towers of the World Trade Center once dominated the Manhattan skyline. He shook hands with 9/11 family members and others at the site where the skyscrapers were brought down by planes commandeered by bin Laden’s followers. Nearly 3,000 people were killed.
The president met privately at the memorial site with about 60 family members from various 9/11 organisations.
Earlier, the president visited the firefighters and police officers whose response to the terror attacks turned them into heroes and symbols of national resolve, but also cost them heavy casualties on that horrific day.
“This is a symbolic site of the extraordinary sacrifice that was made on that terrible day,” the president told firefighters yesterday. The firehouse in the theatre district lost 15 firefighters on September 11, 2001.
At the First Precinct police station in lower Manhattan, the first on the scene, Obama alluded to bin Laden’s killing and said of those who died, “We keep them in our hearts. We haven’t forgotten.”
There was heavy security, but New Yorkers still turned out by the hundreds to gather just southeast of the World Trade Center site and line the roads to watch the president’s motorcades.
The president’s visits with police and firefighters were upbeat, but overall the day did not have a celebratory feel. The mood at Ground Zero was sombre, even sad. As Obama bowed his head, a jetliner screamed by far overhead. Obama never mentioned bin Laden’s name in his brief remarks to firefighters and police.
“What happened on Sunday because of the courage of our military and the outstanding work of our intelligence sent a message around the world but also sent a message here back home,” he said at the firehouse.
Obama said he hoped the outcome brought the firefighters “some comfort”, thanked them for their work and said they had a president who has “got your back”.
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani joined Obama during the day.
At the Pentagon, meanwhile, Vice President Joe Biden led a similar wreath- laying ceremony at the site where another hijacked plane crashed into the nation’s military headquarters.
Obama’s visit to New York came as new details emerged of the raid on bin Laden’s Pakistan compound.
A senior defence official said yesterday that only one of the five people killed in the raid was armed and fired a shot — an account that differs from original administration portrayals of an intense firefight. The White House also now says bin Laden was unarmed.
Such details perhaps mattered little to New Yorkers who suffered most grievously in the attacks and are now deeply gratified to see bin Laden’s demise.
To those who keep on doubting, Obama said, “You will not see bin Laden walking on this earth again.”
The president sought to handle the moment without being seen as overly celebrating bin Laden’s death or aiming to boost his own standing.
Obama invited Bush to join him yesterday, but the former president declined.
Pictures tell a thousand lies
THE images are bloody, grotesque and convincing: Osama bin Laden lies dead, the left side of his head blasted away. But the pictures are fakes.
Doctored photos purporting to show bin Laden’s corpse rocketed around the world on television, online via social media and in print almost as soon as his death was announced.
The pictures have spread without regard for their origin or whether the images are real.
Newsrooms and the public have been left in the tough spot of deciding what to believe when software has made doctoring photographs easier than ever.
And the hunger for visual evidence of bin Laden’s death may only grow now that President Obama has said the government’s photos will remain classified.
“I don’t think society tolerates the invisible anymore,” said Fred Ritchin, a professor of photography at New York University, who has written about digital technology undermining trust in the veracity of photographs. “Everything has to be imaged.”
The photos on the Internet did not come from the operation that killed bin Laden, according to a senior defence official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the mission was classified.
Still, the appetite for images remains. In perhaps the most widely distributed photo, a bloodied bin Laden appears to be missing his left eye, and he is grimacing as if he died in pain.
The White House says bin Laden was shot above his left eye.
Picture: President Barack Obama observes a moment of silence after placing a wreath at the World Trade Center site
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