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Senator Wants Missing Pilot Called POW

By PAULINE JELINEK The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) - At first the Navy said Lt. Cmdr Michael S. Speicher was killed in the Gulf War, then that he was missing.

Now, Republican Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas wants the fighter pilot's status changed again - to prisoner of war - on the possibility he was captured by Iraq and is still alive.

Iraq's government has called the idea a "silly lie," and Pentagon officials said Monday they've seen nothing to warrant a change in Speichers status.

"I get very angry about that," said Roberts, who wrote the Pentagon asking for a change in Speicher's status. "The bottom line is there's no evidence he was killed."

The Pentagon says Speicher, 33, of Jacksonville Fla., was shot down when his F/A- 1 8 Hornet was struck by a missile on Jan. 17, 1991, the Irst night of the war to drive Iraq from Kuwait.

Another pilot said he saw the fireball and did not see Speicher eject. When the crash site was excavated in 1995, no human remains were found among the aircraft's debris.

An investigation found that the plane had hit the desert floor in a spin and that Speicher had at least started the sequence of actions needed to eject, the Pentagon says.

Speicher - the first American lost in the war and the only one still unaccounted for - was declared killed in action several months later. But the Navy redesignated him missing in action last year on the basis of what officials said were intelligence reports from several different sources.

The reports were received over several years but the sightings were in 1991 and 1992, officials said at the time. The veracity of the reports was uncertain but credible enough to lead American government officials to think Speicher probably survived the crash.

When Speichers status was changed to missing, the State Department asked Iraq through the International Committee of the Red Cross and other channels for information on Speicher.

Quoting anonymous sources, The Washington Times reported Monday that the CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency now have new information. It regards someone who had been in Iraq and said he learned an American pilot was being held captive, the newspaper said, adding the information was received several months ago.

Lt. Cmdr. Jim Brooks, DIA spokesman, would say only that officials "get reports all the time."

"We investigate every report. We have folks that work this case on a full4ime basis," Brooks said.

Several other officials suggested privately that if Iraq were holding the pilot President Saddam Hussein would have tried to use the case to his benefit long ago.

A briefing two weeks ago revealed nothing new to Senate Intelligence Committee members, Roberts said, but another briefing is coming up this week or next.

Roberts' interest in the case is that Speicher spent his early years in the Kansas City area. A critic of the Pentagon system for accounting for men and women in uniform, Roberts said that although the military has improved in recent years it was slow to investigate sightings and other reports at the time Speicher was first missing.

Roberts said POW status for Speicher would reassure military personnel that their government would stand by them and send "a symbolic message not only to Iraq but to other adversaries current and future."

"By stating to the world that we indeed believe that Cmdr. Speicher survived - at lest for some period of time - in Iraqi custody we would acknowledge his unique and honored service as an American Gulf War POW," Roberts told Rumsfeld in his letter.

"I have discussed this with President Bush and have been assured it is very high on his agenda," Roberts said in an interview.


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