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America’s pain, and progress: 20 years later, the chairmen of the 9/11 Commission look back on their report and a fleeting moment of national unity

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Every American alive 20 years ago remembers where they were on Sept. 11. They remember the airplane hijackings, the attacks and the collapse of the twin towers. They remember the nearly 3,000 who perished that day. They remember the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, the long war, and now its end.

In response to 9/11, Congress authorized the creation of a commission to provide a “full and complete accounting of the circumstances surrounding the attacks.” The families of 9/11 were powerful advocates for the commission’s creation. Their persistence and dedication helped bring it to life.

We were honored to serve as the chair and vice-chair of the 9/11 Commission. Over 18 months, we reviewed more than 2.5 million pages of documents and conducted 1,200 interviews. We sought to be independent, impartial, thorough and non-partisan. Our efforts had strong support from Congress, the president and the American people. The families, too, were with us each step of the way, as partners and witnesses. We joined our commission colleagues, equal in number from both sides of the aisle, in issuing a bipartisan, unanimous report.

What we learned

We learned many lessons from our experience on the 9/11 Commission that we believe are still valid today.

We learned the importance of good process and a clear legislative mandate. Our charge was simple, the task hard: to find the facts of 9/11, and to make recommendations to make the country safer. In the swirl of politics, we stuck to this mantra: Get the facts, and make recommendations based on the facts.

We learned that there’s a thirst for accountability in this country. Americans expect their country to work and they’re disappointed when it does not. They react negatively to the bureaucratic tendency to say, “trust us.”

We pursued our inquiry in an open manner, not behind closed doors. Transparency helped the public gain confidence in our work.

We thought that key documents should be declassified for discussion. We wanted the........

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