George W. Bush on the 9/11 attacks, 2001

President George W. Bush addresses joint session of Congress, September 20, 2001 (George W. Bush Library)President George W. Bush delivered this address to a joint session of Congress on September 20, 2001, little more than a week after the September 11 terrorist attacks. The nation was reeling. New York City below Canal Street was still off limits to pedestrians, and the New York Stock Exchange had only just reopened. In his speech, the President dispelled rumors and shed light on the perpetrators of the attacks. Since the terrorists responsible had not acted as agents of any one nation, Bush focused on calling out the complicity of countries harboring and supporting terror cells.

Speaking directly to the Taliban in Afghanistan, Bush presented a series of unconditional demands: "Deliver to United States authorities all the leaders of al Qaeda who hide in your land. Release all foreign nationals, including American citizens, you have unjustly imprisoned. Protect foreign journalists, diplomats, and aid workers in your country. Close immediately and permanently every terrorist training camp in Afghanistan, and hand over every terrorist, and every person in their support structure, to appropriate authorities. Give the United States full access to terrorist training camps, so we can make sure they are no longer operating." Bush used his speech to identify al Qaeda and its collaborators as the perpetrators of the attacks and the target of retaliation. He also asserted that al Qaeda was an enemy not just to the United States but to the entire free world. The war against al Qaeda, said Bush, would not be America’s alone: "This is the world’s fight. This is civilization’s fight."

A full transcript is available.


On September the 11th, enemies of freedom committed an act of war against our country. Americans have known wars, ­but for the past 136 years, they have been wars on foreign soil, except for one Sunday in 1941. Americans have known the casualties of war, but not at the center of a great city on a peaceful morning. Americans have known surprise attacks, ­­but never before on thousands of civilians. All of this was brought upon us in a single day, ­­and night fell on a different world, a world where freedom itself is under attack. Americans have many questions tonight. Americans are asking: Who attacked our country? The evidence we have gathered all points to a collection of loosely affiliated terrorist organizations known as al Qaeda. They are some of the murderers indicted for bombing American embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, and responsible for bombing the USS Cole. Al Qaeda is to terror what the mafia is to crime. But its goal is not making money; its goal is remaking the world ­­and imposing its radical beliefs on people everywhere.

We are not deceived by their pretenses to piety. We have seen their kind before. They are the heirs of all the murderous ideologies of the twentieth century. By sacrificing human life to serve their radical visions,­­ by abandoning every value except the will to power,­­ they follow in the path of fascism, Nazism, and totalitarianism. And they will follow that path all the way, to where it ends: in history’s unmarked grave of discarded lies. Americans are asking: How will we fight and win this war? We will direct every resource at our command,­­ every means of diplomacy, every tool of intelligence, every instrument of law enforcement, every financial influence, and every necessary weapon of war, to the disruption and to the defeat of the global terror network.

Now this war will not be like the war against Iraq a decade ago, with a decisive liberation of territory and a swift conclusion. It will not look like the air war above Kosovo two years ago, where no ground troops were used and not a single American was lost in combat. Our response involves far more than instant retaliation and isolated strikes. Americans should not expect one battle, but a lengthy campaign, unlike any other we have ever seen.

George W. Bush, Address to a Joint Session of Congress on the 9/11 Attacks, September 20, 2001.