- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 13, 2002

The Pentagon called on Iraq yesterday to reveal what it knows about the fate of a missing U.S. Navy pilot shot down near Baghdad in 1991.
Spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said the Pentagon does not know whether Navy Lt. Cmdr. Michael Scott Speicher is a prisoner in Iraq but is working hard to find out what happened to him.
Cmdr. Speicher's F-18 jet went down west of Baghdad in 1991 and he was declared killed in action. The Pentagon reversed his status in January 2001 to missing in action (MIA) based on "information analysis over the last several years," Mrs. Clarke said.
A defense official said yesterday new information about Cmdr. Speicher came in late January from an Iraqi defector who supplied details on a captive American pilot to Dutch intelligence. The defector said that an American pilot was being held at a specific location in Iraq and was only seen by senior Iraqi officials.
Asked if the Pentagon believes Cmdr. Speicher is alive, Mrs. Clarke said: "We believe he's MIA. That means you don't know.
"The only thing I can add to the conversation is, Iraq could be more helpful, if it wanted to, in determining the fate," she said.
Iraq has said it does not know what happened to the pilot.
Disclosure of the new intelligence information about Cmdr. Speicher coincides with recent efforts by the Bush administration to highlight Iraq as one of three "axis of evil" states, along with Iran and North Korea.
Vice President Richard B. Cheney is currently in the Middle East and his discussions with allied and Arab leaders are expected to include the topic of Iraq and the war on terrorism.
A March 2001 U.S. intelligence report on the case said: "Iraq can account for Lt. Cmdr. Speicher, but … Baghdad is concealing information about his fate."
The report said that "we assess that Cmdr. Speicher was either captured alive or his remains were recovered and brought to Baghdad."
The Defense Intelligence Agency notified Congress on Feb. 4 about the new information about Cmdr. Speicher passed on by the Dutch intelligence service. The information has not been confirmed independently.
Sen. Pat Roberts, Kansas Republican, in a letter has asked Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to change Cmdr. Speicher's missing status to prisoner of war (POW).
Mrs. Clarke did not answer directly when asked whether the Pentagon will change Cmdr. Speicher's status to POW.
Air Force Brig. Gen. John Rosa, deputy director of operations for the Joint Staff, said yesterday the military's investigation into Cmdr. Speicher's fate is a priority.
"This is a front-burner issue for us," Gen. Rosa said, in commenting on a report in yesterday's editions of The Washington Times. "We take this very seriously."
A briefing was held last night for Sen. Robert C. Smith, New Hampshire Republican, who has been following the case closely for several years.
A State Department spokesman said on Monday that Iraq's government was questioned about Cmdr. Speicher during a meeting in Geneva on Friday. The Iraqi diplomats did not answer the U.S. query.
Retired Army Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, commander of U.S. forces during the Gulf war, said the fate of Cmdr. Speicher was never raised in negotiations with the Iraqis at the end of the war.
"I was assured 100 percent that everyone was fully accounted for and that there was no MIA situation," Gen. Schwarzkopf told the Virginian-Pilot. "That was a major consideration in my mind, just based on the MIA situation in Vietnam."

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