March 12, 2002
Senator suspects pilot alive in Iraq
By Bill Gertz
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
A member of the Senate Intelligence Committee
said yesterday he suspects a Navy pilot shot down over Iraq in 1991 is alive and
being held captive as the State Department said Baghdad has ignored U.S.
requests for information about the pilot's fate.
Sen. Pat Roberts, Kansas Republican, said in
an interview that he has asked Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to classify
Navy Lt. Cmdr. Michael Scott Speicher as a prisoner of war, instead of missing
in action. The Pentagon changed Cmdr. Speicher's status last year from killed to
missing in action.
"The bottom line is there is no evidence he
was killed when his aircraft was shot down in 1991," Mr. Roberts said. "On the
contrary, there are numerous reports that indicate he could be alive." State
Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the Iraqi government has not replied
to U.S. diplomatic appeals asking for information about the fate of Cmdr.
A formal diplomatic note was sent to Baghdad
in January 2001 asking for information about the pilot. The issue also was
raised in diplomatic meetings with Iraqi officials in Geneva, Mr. Boucher said.
On Friday at a meeting of diplomats in Geneva
known as the Tripartite Commission, U.S. Ambassador to Kuwait Richard Jones told
Iraqi officials: "Iraq continues to shirk its responsibility to answer the many
unresolved questions about Cmdr. Speichers fate."
Sen. Robert C. Smith, New Hampshire
Republican and member of the Armed Services Committee, said he has been tracking
reports on the Speicher case for more than five years.
"Unfortunately, we have not yet accounted for
Commander Speicher, but I will continue to work with the administration to
determine his fate," Mr. Smith said through a spokesman. "We must vigorously
pursue every lead for the sake of Commander Speicher and his family. We owe him
Pentagon officials are expected to brief
Congress on the case as early as today. The administration and congressional
officials were responding to a report in yesterday's editions of The Washington
Times that said new intelligence information was uncovered in the last several
months indicating Cmdr. Speicher is being held prisoner in Iraq.
Cmdr. Speicher was declared killed in action
in 1991, but his status was changed last year to missing in action. It was an
unprecedented action and put the Pentagon in the position of possibly having let
behind an American at the end of the Gulf war.
A spokesman for the Iraqi mission to the
United Nations could not be reached for comment.
Mr. Roberts, in a Feb. 14 letter to Mr.
Rumsfeld, stated that a recent U.S. intelligence community assessment of the
case concluded that Cdmr. Speicher "probably survived the loss of his aircraft
and if he survived, he almost certainly was captured by the Iraqis."
"This strongly suggests the more appropriate
designator or status of POW," Mr. Roberts stated in the letter. "I believe the
status of POW sends a symbolic message not only to the Iraqis, but to other
adversaries, current and future and most importantly to the men and women of the
U.S. armed forces and the American people."
Mr. Roberts said in the interview he
discussed the Speicher case with President Bush three weeks ago, and that the
president assured him the case is "very high on his agenda."
The possibility of an American POW in Baghdad
also is complicating U.S. efforts to expand the war on terrorism to Iraq, U.S.
officials said. Mr. Roberts said the Pentagon has put together a special team of
officials to investigate the case.
The senator also noted that various
intelligence reports about an American pilot held in Iraq "tend to add up."
Asked if he believes Cmdr. Speicher is alive, Mr. Roberts said: "I can't say
conclusively that he's there, but that's not the point. They cant say
conclusively he's not alive, and the presumption is they must aggressively
pursue every avenue of this case."
Intelligence officials said reports that
Cmdr. Speicher is alive in Iraq have been surfacing since 1991, when two Iraqi
nationals told the CIA that Iraq was holding an American pilot. The CIA
dismissed the information as coming from unreliable sources.
In 1995, Cmdr. Speichers F - 18 aircraft was
found and an investigation team went to the site and determined that the pilot
ejected before it crashed. Iraq also provided Cmdr. Speichers flight suit at
Then in 1999, an Iraqi defector reported
driving an American pilot to Baghdad six weeks after the war started. That
report eventually led to the reclassification of Cmdr. Speicher as missing in
Several months ago, the Defense Intelligence
Agency and CIA obtained new information from a foreign intelligence service
stating that a person who had been in Iraq had learned that an American pilot
was held by the Iraqis. The source said the pilot's only visitors were Saddam's
son Uday and the chief of Iraqi intelligence.
Some intelligence officials yesterday sought
to play down the new intelligence information by claiming that Iraqi leader
Saddam Hussein would not have kept secret the fact that an American pilot was
captured and would have used the pilot for propaganda purposes.
Other intelligence officials said Saddam is
just as likely to have kept secret its possession of a U.S. prisoner of war.
These officials note that Saddam's government held one Iranian pilot as a
prisoner of war for 17 years, all the while denying it held any Iranian
prisoners of war.
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