- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 9, 2003

Evidence is finally being found that can help investigators determine if Navy Capt. Scott Speicher, who was shot down over Iraq in 1991, is in fact alive and where he is now, according to a senator who just returned from Iraq.

“New evidence has been produced … that is classified, but that gives me reason to be optimistic for the first time in several weeks that I have been pessimistic. That doesn’t say that he’s alive, but that says that we’re beginning to get evidence that, in fact, we might be able to find out,” said Sen. Bill Nelson, Florida Democrat.

Mr. Nelson told fellow members of the Armed Services Committee yesterday that a process is now in place for processing information about Capt. Speicher.

The naval aviator was initially listed as the first casualty of the first Gulf war, having been shot down during fighting on Jan. 17, 1991, but his status was later changed to missing-captured.

A military team on the ground in Iraq has been charged with determining Capt. Speicher’s fate. But there had been little to go on since April, when the initials MSS — possibly for “Michael Scott Speicher” — were found on the wall of the Hakmiyah prison in Baghdad.

Mr. Nelson visited the cell and made a tracing of the initials, which were carved about 1/4 inch deep in the wall of the cell. Above those initials is carved “MJN.”

Mr. Nelson said forensics experts still haven’t concluded whether the initials were in fact carved by Capt. Speicher, and Mr. Nelson and Sen. Pat Roberts, Kansas Republican, both said the process has been too slow.

The promising new information that made Mr. Nelson optimistic is classified, he said, so wouldn’t talk about specifics.

Mr. Roberts said the new information is coming from people and documents, rather than “working at sites that have been looted and vacant for a long period of time.”

“The fact that it is mentioned in documentation and by people we can then go and see and get information from, if in fact we can locate them, is a very positive sign,” Mr. Roberts said.

“In addition several other reports that were very negative were not proven reliable,” he said.

Still, despite the new information, both senators said there hasn’t been enough new information for them to come to any conclusion on Capt. Speicher’s fate.

“I certainly hope we’re going to find him and bring him home, but we just don’t have any evidence yet,” Mr. Nelson said.

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