- The Washington Times - Monday, March 18, 2002

Sen. John McCain yesterday expressed skepticism about reports that Iraq is holding Navy pilot Lt. Cmdr. Michael Scott Speicher 11 years after his plane was shot down during the Persian Gulf war.
Although the Arizona Republican said there was sufficient evidence to investigate the pilot's fate, he wondered in an interview on "Fox News Sunday" why Saddam Hussein still would be holding Cmdr. Speicher.
"The Iraqis did give us back all the other prisoners they held," Mr. McCain said. "Why would they hold one?"
Nevertheless, "there is enough evidence to bring this whole situation into question," said the senator, a Vietnam-era prisoner of war. The United States should "pursue every avenue we can to find out what happened … that's an American tradition."
Other senators on yesterday's political talk shows agreed that intelligence reports, revealed last week in The Washington Times, showed "it is possible" that Iraq is holding the flier. None expressed any doubts about Saddam's motives.
Sen. Richard C. Shelby, Alabama Republican, said on CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer" that while everyone is uncertain about the pilot's fate, he has no doubt that Saddam would be capable of secretly holding a man hostage for years for potential deal-making later.
"You don't know what a man with such a diabolical mind as Saddam Hussein is thinking about," said Mr. Shelby, vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
Both Mr. Shelby and Sen. Bob Graham, chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, said there are Middle Eastern precedents for holding a hostage for lengthy periods.
"He could be alive because we know from the history of the [Middle East] that people are held prisoners for years," Mr. Shelby said. "I've been told of some Israeli prisoners of war being held for, you know, chips for later, perhaps negotiation. This could be" another such case.
"But we need to find out. If he's alive, we need to rescue him. We need to find him. We need to bring him home. If he's not alive, we need to put that to rest. We need to know beyond any reasonable doubt. We need to know, and we don't know specifically today."
Mr. Graham said he agreed.
"And it also illustrates one of the many cultural differences between ourselves and the people of this region," the Florida Democrat said. "They think in very long terms, and they might be holding this man 11 years later on the expectation that there will be a point in time when they can use his imprisonment as a means of achieving some political objective."
Cmdr. Speicher's plane went down during the first night of Operation Desert Storm in early 1991.
The Pentagon initially said he was killed in action but last year changed his status to missing in action. Last week, President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said the pilot still could be alive in Iraq.
Mr. Graham agreed yesterday, saying, "It is possible, and there continue to be periodic reports of some sightings of Cmdr. Speicher.
"We've made a diplomatic request through the State Department to the Iraqi government. Thus far, [we] have not gotten a satisfactory response," the chairman said.
"The fact is, there continue to be reports from what would have some degree of credibility that he's still alive," he said.


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