Monday, April 4, 2005

Navy Secretary Gordon England has ordered a special panel to review the status of Navy Capt. Michael Scott Speicher, the pilot declared killed in combat in 1991 but later classified as captured during the Persian Gulf War.

Upon review of an intelligence community report regarding the case of Captain Speicher, Secretary of the Navy Gordon England directed the chief of naval personnel to convene a board to review the classification of Speicher’s status as missing/captured,? a Navy official said.

The intelligence report was sent to Congress yesterday. The report, which is classified, was produced by the Defense Intelligence Agency as an update on the case of the missing pilot.

The report provides an update for the offices of the secretaries of Defense and Navy concerning their actions between November 2002 and March 2005 to determine the fate of Captain Speicher, classified as missing/captured from the Gulf War,” a defense official said.

Officials familiar with the report say it provided no new information on the fate of the pilot, who was lost when his F-18 jet was shot down over Iraq on Jan. 17, 1991, the opening day of the Persian Gulf War.

Capt. Speicher initially was declared “killed in action, but subsequent information showed he ejected, leading to the missing classification. His status was upgraded to “missing/captured” in 2002. His body has never been recovered.

The report repeated conclusions that investigators failed to uncover any new information since 2002 indicating Capt. Speicher was captured alive after ejecting from his jet.

Sen. Bill Nelson, Florida Democrat, said the latest report was disappointing.

“I’m very disappointed that the Defense Department after two years doesn’t have any evidence on what happened to Captain Speicher,” said Mr. Nelson, who has pressed the case on behalf of the Speicher family in Florida.

Mr. Nelson said the Pentagon had formed a special search team to investigate the case but disbanded the team.

“That’s very disappointing because we ought to bring closure for the family,” Mr. Nelson said.

Mr. Nelson said he thinks that, by forming a review board, the Navy is preparing to change Capt. Speicher’s status from “missing/captured to missing.”

The latest report also notes the discovery of the initials “MSS” scratched into an Iraqi prison wall that might have indicated that Capt. Speicher was held there. The investigation was unable to determine whether Capt. Speicher scratched the initials, one official said.

Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Joseph J. McMenamin, military commander of the Iraq Survey Group, told a Senate hearing in October that no clues to Capt. Speicher’s fate were found by a special 15-member team in Iraq.

Some of the information from a former Iraqi Special Security Organization informant, indicating Capt. Speicher was alive, later was found to have been fabricated by the informant, according to a 2003 classified Pentagon report on the case.

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