President Obama placed a wreath at Ground Zero in lower Manhattan Thursday afternoon, in a quiet and solemn ceremony meant to bring some closure to the decade-long hunt for Usama bin Laden after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Throngs of onlookers cheered as the president and his motorcade left the scene, en route to a private meeting with the family members of the victims of bin Laden's deadliest act. The meeting caps a day of low-key activities by Obama meant to honor those who sacrificed, and mark the death of bin Laden just a few days ago.
The president earlier met with New York firefighters and police, calling Sept. 11, 2001, the high-water mark of courage for New York City's first responders. Before entering a private lunch with firefighters, Obama thanked them for their courage and said bin Laden's death sends an important message.
"When we say we never forget, we mean what we say," Obama said.
After meeting with police officers, the president attended the wreath-laying ceremony. He shook hands with uniformed officers on the scene and then joined one in placing the wreath on a wooden stand. He bowed his head for a moment of silence. Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani joined the president for some of the day's events.
The visit to Ground Zero undoubtedly stirred memories of George W. Bush's famed bullhorn speech to a wounded country amid the rubble in 2001. Bush, though, declined an invitation to join Obama, who took care to avoid the impression of an outright victory lap.
Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was in attendance at a separate ceremony at the Pentagon, where one of the four hijacked planes went down in 2001. Vice President Biden placed a wreath near the point of impact Thursday afternoon, as others looked on silently.
The visits may punctuate what has been an emotional and frenzied week. After disclosing a number of details about the raid on bin Laden's compound and preparation for the mission, the White House on Wednesday moved to lock down additional information. Obama, after days of internal deliberation, decided not to release any photos or video of bin Laden's dead body.
Though CIA Director Leon Panetta earlier said he assumed an image would be released, Obama decided against it, citing national security concerns.
"That's not who we are. You know, we don't trot out this stuff as trophies," he told CBS' "60 Minutes." "I think that given the graphic nature of these photos, it would create some national security risk."
The White House, after appearing to fumble a bit on its accounting of what exactly happened at bin Laden's compound Sunday, also said it would stop releasing blow-by-blow details of the operation.
"We have, as you know, since the moment this operation became public, been as helpful as we can be to provide as much information as we can," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said, when asked Wednesday for more details on the final moments before bin Laden's death.
"And in terms of the operational details, we have gotten to the point where we cannot cross lines because of the necessity for ... preserving the methods and operational techniques and capabilities of the kinds of forces that were used in this case."
He added: "I don't have any more information and I'm not going to discuss, beyond what I've said already, the operational details."
The decision not to release the photo prompted a mixed reaction from lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer said he shared the president's view that releasing the picture served no purpose.
Others expressed concern that conspiracy theories would continue to fester in the absence of photo proof.
"There are a lot of people out there that don't believe he is dead," Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., told Fox Business Network. "I can assure you, take my word for it, he is dead and he's gone. But we need to produce the body and show it."