Friday, September 9, 2005

The Navy announced yesterday it still thinks Persian Gulf War pilot Capt. Michael “Scott” Speicher could be alive and thus will not change his status from “missing/captured” to “killed in action.”

Navy Secretary Gordon R. England agreed with a special inquiry board that “there is no credible evidence to suggest that Capt. Speicher is dead.”

The finding contradicts a U.S. intelligence report last year that determined there was no evidence Capt. Speicher survived a 1991 crash after his F/A-18 Hornet was hit by an Iraqi missile.

In a four-page report released yesterday, the Navy inquiry board stated that the ousted government of Saddam Hussein produced items from Capt. Speicher’s downed aircraft and his flight suit years after the F/A-18 was shot down.

That evidence “leads us to conclude that elements of the former Iraqi regime know the whereabouts of Capt. Speicher.”

The report said a joint U.S. intelligence community POW/MIA analytical group should continue to investigate the case and “resolve unanswered questions” contained in a March intelligence report on the matter. The report is classified and was not made public.

The inquiry board’s report noted that while there was no credible evidence suggesting the missing pilot was dead, there also was no credible evidence to suggest he is alive.

It also stated that U.S. government officials had not reviewed records from the former Iraqi government on the case.

The board said the Pentagon should work with the State Department, the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and the new Iraqi government to determine Capt. Speicher’s whereabouts.

A Navy official said the report was based on a broad review of intelligence reports and information. As a result, “there’s no new evidence to suggest that Navy should change his status as missing/captured,” the official said.

After the ouster of Saddam’s government, a large-scale search was undertaken by the Iraqi Survey Group (ISG), which also looked for weapons of mass destruction.

The search did not produce new information about Capt. Speicher’s whereabouts.

A U.S. official said Saddam was questioned about the pilot in December 2003 and denied knowing about his fate.

The pilot’s plane was shot down by a surface-to-air missile while flying southwest of Baghdad on the first night of Operation Desert Storm on Jan. 17, 1991.

A 2003 Defense Intelligence Agency report, first disclosed last year by The Washington Times, stated that the military had searched “every known location” linked to reports of Capt. Speicher and found “no significant evidence” the pilot was held captive.

The one exception was the initials “MSS” found carved in a prison wall at Hakimiyah, Iraq, that it was speculated could have been scratched by Capt. Speicher while he was held there.

A defense official said a probe of the initials was inconclusive because intelligence agencies did not recover DNA or fingerprints linking the carving to Capt. Speicher. Handwriting analysis also was unable to determine if they were written by the missing pilot, the official said.

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