Smiles as well as tears, beneath Manhattan's clear blue sky

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The Independent US

Even the weather played its part. On a spring day as perfect as that autumn morning almost 10 years ago, President Barack Obama went to Manhattan yesterday to mark the fulfilment of the promise made there by his predecessor: that sooner or later America would mete out justice to Osama bin Laden.

It wasn't full "closure" – nothing can ever entirely heal the wounds of the terrorist attacks that killed almost 3,000 people in New York, Washington and rural Pennsylvania. But this time there were not only tears on people's faces, but smiles of happiness that the main author of those attacks was dead.

The President's first stop was the Engine 54 firehouse on 8th Avenue and 48th Street, whose officers were among the first on the scene on September 11, 2001, and which lost 15 of its men when the Twin Towers collapsed. Then Mr Obama went to Police Precinct 1, close to the site of the old World Trade Centre, before arriving at Ground Zero itself to lay a wreath at the Survivors' Tree. Later he met privately with relatives of those who perished. Where once there was only smoking, jagged rubble, new buildings are rising. But nothing symbolises the continuity of life like the single pear tree that was burnt in the attacks but rescued, nursed back to health and returned to the site. The President stood in silence. Words were not necessary.

And in any case, he had said all that was required in a brief, low-key speech at the firehouse. "We can't bring back the friends that were lost. But what happened on Sunday sent a message around the world. When we say we never forget, we mean what we say."

Hunting down Bin Laden was a goal that transcended party rivalry, Mr Obama declared. "It didn't matter who was in charge, we were going to make sure that the perpetrators saw justice." Underlining the point was the figure of Rudolph Giuliani, then the city's Republican mayor, at the Democratic president's side. For a moment in hyper-partisan America, bi-partisanship prevailed. That too was undoubtedly Mr Obama's message during his hour-long meeting with relatives of the victims. But their feelings were mixed.

Brienne McNally lost her father in the attacks. Bin Laden's death, she said, "brings justice to the situation, but it also brings back the emotion from that day, when I knew my dad would never come back. It brings some closure, but I'll never get over it."

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