WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama is participating in a wreath-laying ceremony at Ground Zero and meeting with 9/11 families and first responders on Thursday.
From the heart of the shocking terror strike on America, Obama will try to bury the memory of Osama bin Laden by honoring those who died in the fiery Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center. In private talks with families and a somber ceremony at ground zero, Obama is out to let New York have its own moment of justice.
Following the death of bin Laden, the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, Obama plans to mark the occasion by visiting the most famous site of bin Laden's destruction.
The president invited former President George W. Bush to accompany him, but Bush declined. The al-Qaida attack, which killed about 3,000 people, occurred in the early months of Bush's presidency in 2001.
Bush spokesman David Sherzer said earlier this week the former president appreciated the offer to attend but has chosen to remain out of the spotlight during his post-presidency. He added that Bush celebrates bin Laden's death as an "important victory in the war on terror."
The White House says Obama's trip will include a private meeting with family members of 9/11 victims, a meeting with first responders that will be open to some news coverage, and a wreath-laying at the 9/11 memorial.
On Thursday, the Obama administration announced that it would not release photos of a slain bin Laden so the world could see some proof of death. The president said he would not risk giving propaganda to extremists or gloat by publicizing grotesque photos of a terrorist leader shot in the head.
"It is important to make sure that very graphic photos of somebody who was shot in the head are not floating around as an incitement to additional violence or as a propaganda tool," says the president in an interview with "60 Minutes" scheduled to air this Sunday. "We don't need to spike the football and I think that given the graphic nature of these photos, it would create some national security risk. ... We don't trot out this stuff as trophies."
Obama's New York visit is intended to have a measured tone. White House spokesman Jay Carney called it a "cathartic moment for the American people." Obama does not even have scheduled remarks during his trip. Yet it is likely Obama will make comments during his time at the 9/11 memorial, where he will lay a wreath.
Obama will visit a bustling construction site that bears little resemblance to the pit that became ground zero in the months after Sept. 11, 2001. The emerging skyscraper informally known as Freedom Tower is more than 60 stories high now. Mammoth fountains and reflecting pools mark the footprints of the fallen twin towers.
Heightened security put in place in response to the killing of bin Laden will remain for Obama's visit. Police officials said there are no specific threats against the city but also say they assume bin Laden's "disciples" might try to avenge his death with a terror attack.
"The ceremony will provide some closure to a horrific event," said Harold Schaitberger, president of the International Association of Firefighters, who was invited by the White House to attend Obama's ground zero event.