- The Washington Times - Monday, March 25, 2002

Iraq yesterday invited a U.S. delegation to come to that country to investigate the fate of Lt. Cmdr. Michael Scott Speicher, a Navy pilot who was shot down over Iraq on the first night of the Persian Gulf war in January 1991.
Baghdad says Cmdr. Speicher is dead, but The Washington Times reported March 11 that U.S. intelligence agencies have obtained new information suggesting he is alive and is being held captive in Iraq. In the past, the regime of Saddam Hussein has ignored requests for an explanation as to the pilot's fate after the crash.
"To prove our good will … and to refute repeated American allegations against Iraq, we express readiness of concerned Iraqi parties to receive an American team to visit Iraq and probe into the issue," the Iraqi Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Vice President Richard B. Chen-ey, when asked about Iraq's offer on CBS' "Face the Nation," said he was unaware of it.
When pressed on whether the United States would send a delegation to Iraq, he said: "I'd have to take a look … and see whether or not this is a serious proposition or whether Saddam Hussein is simply trying to change the subject."
The Iraqi ministry that made the offer stipulated that the investigation would have "to be accompanied by an American media team for coverage and documentation under the supervision of the International Committee of the Red Cross."
The ministry also said the delegation must include Scott Ritter, the former head of the U.N. weapons inspection team in Iraq, who is now a vocal critic of U.S. policy toward Saddam.
Two key U.S. senators, interviewed yesterday on CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer," offered bipartisan support for taking Iraq up on its new offer.
"I really think it is a good idea for us to step forward with the Iraqis and see if there is any information that can come out that can settle this issue," said Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat and a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
Sen. Chuck Hagel, Nebraska Republican and a Vietnam veteran, agreed and added that the doubts about the pilot's fate need to be resolved soon.
"We need to obviously pull all the threads here. We should meet with the appropriate officials in Iraq, with the Red Cross, to see if we can find out if there is more information," he said.
"But we shouldn't let this hang out there and hang out there. We go in, we take a look, see if there is anything there that would give us any sense of a possibility of him still being alive. Then I think we need to, one way or another, shut this case. His wife his former wife, his family all now have to relive this."
The Pentagon initially said Cmdr. Speicher was killed in action when his plane was shot down. But last year, it changed his classification to missing in action. President Bush, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Sen. Bob Graham, chairman of the intelligence committee, have all said it's possible the pilot is still alive.
On CBS yesterday, Mr. Cheney, who was defense secretary during the Gulf war, said that the facts justifying the initial "killed in action" listing have not been undermined, and that U.S. officials have no solid evidence Cmdr. Speicher is still alive.
"For several years, based on the report of his wing man, the view was that he had been killed in action, seen an explosion and so forth.
"Years later, there was in the desert in Iraq the finding of his uniform, some of the parts of his plane and no body. And so, in recent years, he has been classified as missing in action. We don't have any more information or evidence, at least I don't," he said.


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