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Archive for Tuesday, January 7, 2003

Roberts seeks Iraqi intelligence on Gulf War pilot

Downed plane remains mystery; Saddam claims missing soldier died

January 7, 2003

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— Two senators are asking Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein for more information about Gulf War pilot Michael Scott Speicher, whom the U.S. Navy declared captured a decade after listing him as dead.

Speicher's F/A-18 was shot down on the opening night of the Gulf War in 1991. The military originally said Speicher died but changed his status last fall, given the absence of evidence he was killed in the crash.

"It's not only for Scott; it's for every person who wears the uniform," said Sen. Pat Roberts, the new Senate Intelligence Committee chairman. "This is the culmination of the longest effort to raise the absolute belief in the value of individual life, because we left somebody behind."

The Navy changed the pilot's status last fall under pressure from Roberts, R-Kan., Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and other lawmakers. The senators said Monday they want to meet with Iraq's ambassador to the United Nations, Mohammed Al-Douri, to talk about Speicher.

They first got involved in part because Speicher's family lived in the Kansas City area and moved to Florida when he was a teenager.

In a letter Monday, Roberts asked Saddam for the meeting and for help "in effecting humanitarian release of our lost pilot if he remains alive, or obtaining conclusive information regarding his fate if he does not."

Roberts concluded that Speicher must be alive after getting a series of classified briefings on the case.

Nelson said time is running out to learn Speicher's fate, as the Pentagon presses ahead with a massive military buildup in the Gulf. President Bush said Monday that Saddam does not appear to be complying with U.N. demands that he disarm, "but he's got time."

"If we get into a hot war with Iraq, all bets would be off on getting any kind of information or, if he is alive, of getting him out," Nelson said.

A spokesman for the U.N. representative did not immediately return a phone call seeking a comment on the senators' request for a meeting. Iraq claims Speicher was killed but has not turned over remains.

The senators maintain that Pentagon officials did not adequately investigate Speicher's fate and stalled in changing his status even after new intelligence surfaced.

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