It was one of the most dramatic moments to occur in a congressional hearing room. On March 20, 2004, Richard Clarke, who had been the top counterterrorism adviser for President Bill Clinton and then President George W. Bush, testified before the independent, bipartisan 9/11 Commission. The audience included many relatives of those who had lost their lives in the horrific attacks of September 11. Clarke directly addressed these family members and did what is rarely done in Washington: he apologized. “Your government failed you,” he said, “those entrusted with protecting you failed you, and I failed you.” He added, “We tried hard, but that doesn’t matter, because we failed.” Two-and-a-half years after the attacks—and no one from the Bush White House had apologized and taken responsibility in this manner. (George W. Bush and Dick Cheney had even opposed establishing the 9/11 commission). This highly-charged moment was an unusual act of assuming responsibility. Months later, the commission would release a haunting and powerful report detailing the multiple US government failures that led to 9/11. It became a national bestseller and set a high-water mark in government accountability.
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