America's leaders must "search their soul'' over whether they failed the country on Sept. 11, 2001, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld says. Accepting blame is something else altogether.
In the two and a half years since al-Qaida terrorists hijacked airplanes and killed nearly 3,000 Americans, there have been no announced firings, demotions or resignations at the CIA, FBI, immigration service, White House, State Department, Pentagon or any other federal agency.
"It's been a mystery to us ... how so many mistakes were made and nobody's held accountable,'' said Lorie Van Auken, widowed on Sept. 11 and now a member of a victims' family steering committee. "The buck stops nowhere.''
Former White House counterterror chief Richard Clarke two weeks ago drew tears and gratitude from families - and criticism from Republicans - when he publicly apologized. "Your government failed you. ... I failed you,'' said Clarke, who resigned in 2003.
Few expect a similar statement from Clarke's former boss and President Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, when she appears Thursday to testify before the Sept. 11 commission that is investigating government anti-terror efforts preceding the attacks.
Clarke, a counterterror adviser to the first President Bush and President Clinton as well as the current administration, is the only public official known to have publicly apologized for Sept. 11 failings. Republicans said he had no right to apologize for the government and was grandstanding to promote a new book criticizing Bush's handling of the counterterror war.
Still, the commission, due to report this summer on what went wrong, has already found plenty of government failure.
Flawed policy-making, bureaucratic breakdowns and poor communication among federal agencies helped make it possible for al-Qaida to flourish overseas, the commission has said in preliminary findings. The same flaws also made it possible for al-Qaida terrorists to get into America, take flying lessons, bypass airport and other security and hijack airliners, the commission has found.