Personal responsibility for 9/11
QUESTION: To move to the 9/11 commission, you yourself have acknowledged that Osama bin Laden was not a central focus of the administration in the months before September 11. "I was not on point," you told the journalist Bob Woodward. "I didn't feel that sense of urgency."
Two and a half years later, do you feel any sense of personal responsibility for September 11?
BUSH: Let me put that quote to Woodward in context, because he had asked me if I was -- something about killing bin Laden. That's what the question was.
And I said, you know, compared to how I felt at the time, after the attack, I didn't have that -- and I also went on to say, "My blood wasn't boiling," I think is what the quote said.
I didn't see -- I mean, I didn't have that great sense of outrage that I felt on September the 11th. I was -- on that day, I was angry and sad. Angry that al Qaeda -- I thought at the time al Qaeda, found out shortly thereafter it was al Qaeda -- had unleashed this attack. Sad for those who lost their life.
I feel incredibly grieved when I meet with family members, and I do quite frequently. I grieve for, you know, the incredible loss of life that they feel, the emptiness they feel.
There are some things I wish we'd have done, when I look back. I mean, hindsight's easy. It's easy for a president to stand up and say, "Now that I know what happened, it would have been nice if there were certain things in place."
For example, a Homeland Security Department. And why -- I say that because that provides the ability for our agencies to coordinate better and to work together better than it was before.
I think the hearings will show that the Patriot Act is an important change in the law that will allow the FBI and the CIA to better share information together.
We were kind of stovepiped, I guess is a way to describe it. There was, you know, kind of departments that at times didn't communicate -- because of law, in the FBI's case.
And the other thing I look back on and realize is that we weren't on a war footing. The country was not on a war footing, and yet the enemy was at war with us. And it didn't take me long to put us on a war footing.
And we've been on a war [footing] ever since.
The lessons of 9/11 -- one lesson was we must deal with gathering threats, and that's part of the reason I dealt with Iraq the way I did.
The other lesson is, is that this country must go on the offense and stay on the offense. In order to secure the country, we must do everything in our power to find these killers and bring them to justice before they hurt us again. I'm afraid they want to hurt us again. They're still there.
They can be right one time; we've got to be right 100 percent of the time in order to protect the country. It's a mighty task.
But our government has changed since the 9/11 attacks. We're better equipped to respond. We're better at sharing intelligence. But we've still got a lot of work to do.
August 6, 2001, briefing >>