A Cautious Man
August 03, 2009
 
A Good Man Is Hard To Find
Yesterday, the Department of Defense announced that they had identified the remains of Lieutenant Commander Michael "Scott" Speicher, a pilot whose plane was shot down on the first night of the first Iraq War in 1991. His body was recently found in a remote area, where he had been buried when he died in the crash of his plane that night.

The overall news coverage has neglected the fact that Lt. Cmdr. Speicher and his family were misused and exploited by the Bush Administration in 2002 and 2003, as part of their campaign for an invasion of Iraq in March of 2003. As we salute the bravery of Lt. Cmdr. Speicher, and extend condolences and thanks to his family for his sacrifice, we should also not forget that exploitation of his family by the Bushies. Specifically, shortly before the run-up to the war they claimed that he was probably still a prisoner in Iraq - probably a shocking development for his widow, who had since remarried.

The news story is at once sad, but also conveys the comfort (small though it may be) for his family that their questions had been answered:

Navy pilot Michael "Scott" Speicher was shot down over the Iraq desert on the first night of the Gulf War in 1991 and it was there he apparently was buried by Bedouins, the sand hiding him from the world's mightiest military all these years.

In a sorrowful resolution to the nearly two-decade-old question about his fate, the Pentagon disclosed Sunday it had received new information last month from an Iraqi citizen that led Marines to recover bones and skeletal fragments — enough for a positive identification.

His family issued a statement Sunday saying, "The news that Captain Speicher has died on Iraqi soil after ejecting from his aircraft has been difficult for the family, but his actions in combat, and the search for him, will forever remain in their hearts and minds."


The article also notes the twists and turns that his family's hopes had taken over the years, in particular in 2002:

Shot down over west-central Iraq on a combat mission in his FA-18 Hornet on Jan. 17, 1991, Speicher was declared killed by the Pentagon hours later. Defense Secretary Dick Cheney went on television and announced the U.S. had suffered its first casualty of the war.

But 10 years later, the Navy changed his status to missing in action, citing an absence of evidence that Speicher had died. In October 2002, the Navy switched his status to "missing/captured," although it has never said what evidence it had that he ever was in captivity. More reviews followed, without definitive answers.

[Emphasis added.] The Navy may have changed his status in October 2002, but that was after President George W. Bush had already described him as "unaccounted for". In a September 2, 2002 speech to the United Nations General Assembly, urging action against Saddam Hussein, Mr. Bush included the following in his list of "charges":

In 1991, the U.N. Security Council, through Resolutions 686 and 687, demanded that Iraq return all prisoners from Kuwait and other lands. Iraq's regime agreed. It broke its promise. Last year the Secretary General's high-level coordinator for this issue reported that Kuwait, Saudi, Indian, Syrian, Lebanese, Iranian, Egyptian, Bahraini, and Omani nationals remain unaccounted for -- more than 600 people. One American pilot is among them.

As Atrios noted at the time, back on October 11, 2002 -

Well, it's all right on schedule. Missing (once dead) U.S. pilot now considered missing and captured.

An AP story at the time demonstrates the close connection between this change in status, and the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

The U.S. Navy has changed the status of Gulf War pilot Scott Speicher from missing in action to missing-captured, Sen. Pat Roberts said Friday.

A defense official confirmed that Navy Secretary Gordon England had approved the change in status, which had been in the works for months.

Speicher, a Navy F-18 pilot who was shot down over Iraq on the opening night of the Gulf War in January 1991, initially was listed as killed in action, with no body recovered. But in January 2001, the Navy changed his status to missing in action, given an absence of evidence that he died in the crash.

Iraq says Speicher was killed in the crash.

Roberts, R-Kan., and other members of Congress have been pressing the Pentagon this year to change Speicher's status. Some in the Navy had worried that declaring Speicher captured would be seen as a political move as part of President Bush's drive to win support for possible military action against Saddam Hussein.

The change in status "sends a symbolic message to the Iraqis, to other adversaries and most important to the men and women of the armed forces that we will accept nothing less than full disclosure of circumstances surrounding the missing and captured," Roberts said.

Though not mentioning Speicher by name, Bush has referred in several recent speeches to a U.S. pilot still missing in Iraq.


Another contemporaneous news account shows the link between Iraq war planning and the change in Lt. Commander Speicher's status -

The status of missing Gulf War pilot Michael "Scott" Speicher was changed Friday from "missing in action" to "missing-captured," according to a Navy memorandum.

Navy Secretary Gordon England signed the order Friday in what has been a long anticipated move.

Earlier this year, Pentagon officials said that Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz wanted Speicher's status to be changed from MIA to missing-captured because the implication, according to one military officer, is that the change "will become another reason to bomb Iraq."

In his memorandum Friday, England said, "It is my firm belief that the government of Iraq knows what happened to Captain Speicher."

Speicher was shot down over Iraq in January 1991 during the early hours of the Gulf War and was listed as "missing in action" the following day.

Since that time there have been numerous reports about the fate of the pilot, but there has been no solid evidence to indicate what happened to him. His status was eventually changed to "killed in action." He was promoted to captain earlier this year.

In early 2003, another report was circulated to the effect that he might still be alive -

The United States in recent months has received another intelligence report suggesting U.S. Navy Capt. Scott Speicher is alive in Iraq, but intelligence sources emphasize they have not corroborated the information and have nothing to indicate it is accurate.

The report closely parallels that received in the past but has never been verified, sources said Friday. Intelligence generally has indicated Speicher is alive and has been moved among various locations in the 12 years he has been held in Iraq.

And on March 11, days before the order was given to invade Iraq, the Wall Street Journal "reported" the following:

POW Still in Iraq?
"U.S. intelligence agencies have obtained new information indicating Iraq is holding captive a U.S. Navy pilot shot down during the Persian Gulf war," the Washington Times' Bill Gertz reports. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Michael Scott Speicher was classified as killed in action when the Iraqis shot down his F-18 Hornet, but last year the Pentagon reclassified him as missing. Gertz says the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency have received information from British intelligence that "only two Iraqis were permitted to see the captive American pilot: the chief of Iraq's intelligence service, and Uday Hussein, son of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein."

As the war got underway, Senator Bill Nelson Florida stated the following on the floor of the United States Senate (Scroll down to page s4081 on this website containing excerpts from the Congressional Record) -

I have seen the early evidence, which has been made public, that a defector, who was corroborated--indeed, he passed a lie detector test, as well as being corroborated on other evidence--actually drove Speicher from near the crash site to a place near a hospital, and picked him out of a lineup of photographs.

I have seen more recent information from a variety of sources that leads me to believe that Scott Speicher is alive. That opinion, by the way, is shared by my colleague, Senator PAT ROBERTS of Kansas, now the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, who has been, along with former Senator Bob Smith, unrelenting--all of us--in the pursuit of a clarification on the status of Scott Speicher.

It is my opinion he is alive. So we have gone to our commanders, and they have assured us, we have gone to the civilian agencies, and they have assured us: Scott Speicher is at the top of their list of priorities as we are now going into Iraq, to go and find him.

And, oh, what a day that would be, if he is alive, and if America can correct the mistake that our DOD made and bring that American pilot home.

By the way, Lt. Cmdr. Speicher's widow had remarried by the time the Bush Administration had started changing his status and spreading rumors that they had intelligence proving that he was alive. As far as I am concerned, they needlessly victimized her and the rest of his family and friends, in order to stoke the fires in the run-up to the March 2003 invasion.

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