FLASH - Navy Changes Status of Gulf War Pilot from
"Missing In Action"
"What we need to do now is get answers from Baghdad. This pilot, if he's alive, has been there for 10 years, with nobody looking for him. That's just plain outrageous...." Senator Bob Smith (R-NH)
In a tersely worded Press Release, the Department of Defense announced that Navy Secretary Richard Danzig has changed the status of Lt. Cmdr. Michael Scott Speicher, from Killed in Action to Missing In Action.
Issued on January 11th, 2001, the Press Release reads: "Secretary of the Navy Richard Danzig has changed the status of Cmdr. Michael Scott Speicher from Killed in Action/Body Not Recovered (KIA/BNR)to Missing in Action (MIA). Speicher's F/A-18 aircraft was shot down by enemy fire in the first day of the air war over Iraq on Jan. 17, 1991. He was placed in an MIA status the next day. On May 22, 1991, following a Secretary of the Navy status review board that found "no credible evidence" to suggest he had survived the shootdown, his status was changed to KIA/BNR."
"In December 1995, working through the International Committee of the Red Cross, investigators from the Navy and Army's Central Identification Laboratory entered Iraq and conducted a thorough excavation of the crash site. In September 1996, based on a comprehensive review of evidence accumulated since the initial KIA/BNR
determination, the Secretary of the Navy reaffirmed the presumptive finding of death."
"Over the years since that determination was made, the Navy and the U.S. government have consistently sought new information and continued to analyze all available information to resolve Speicher's fate. This additional information and analysis, when added to the information considered in 1996, underscored the need for a new review. Based on the review, Danzig has concluded that Speicher's status should be "Missing in Action."
How Important Is The Reclassification of Lt. Cmdr. Speicher To The POW Issue - This is probably the most extraordinary event within the POW/MIA issue, in the last 15 - 20 years. To understand this, one must realize that in the eyes of the Defense Department and its POW/MIA Office (DPMO) there are no POW/MIAs. Servicemen who did not come home from World War II, Korea, the Cold War and Vietnam have all been declared dead and designated Killed in Action/Body Not Recovered (KIA/BNR). Just as Cmdr. Speicher was declared KIA/BNR.
This is the first time, to our knowledge, that a Service Secretary as changed a status from KIA/BNR to MIA. (Some will remember that the status of Korean War POW Roger Dumas was changed back to POW. However, that change was made, as a result of a lawsuit filed in Federal court. Even today some within DPMO still do not recognize that change.) We can only imagine the debate surrounding this extraordinary (we keep coming back to that word because it is the only word that applies) decision.
In changing Cmdr. Speicher's status, the military has set a precedent and shown status changes can be made. Not only has his status changed. According to CNN - the status change means a restoration of salary, including back payments. This further illustrates the highly unusual circumstances of this status change. However, as most POW/MIA families would agree, the most important aspect of this is the reversal of the KIA/BNR status and the designation of Missing in Action. This is not about money... it's about THE TRUTH.
What will happen if Iraq fails to truthfully account for Cmdr. Speicher? Will all the evidence that now makes him an MIA be, once again, disregarded and his status be changed back to KIA/BNR based solely on the passage of time. Our POW/MIAs from Korea, Cold War, and Vietnam have had their status changed, from POW and MIA to KIA/BNR without proof of death, based on nothing more that the passage of time, in spite of evidence of survival, and capture.
It is important we look at what is publically known about the events subsequent to January 17, 1991. We know that the crash site and wreckage was located, something that would have happened almost immediately had a Search and Rescue operation been initiated. We know that the canopy was found some distance away, indicating an ejection. We know that a man-made symbol possibly an Escape and Evade, was picked up by overhead satellite photography. We know a flight suit was found near the site, in relatively good condition. We know that no remains were found at the site. We know that there were at least two live sighting reports.
Last year, CBS 60 Minutes II reported: "American investigators say an Iraqi defector who had recently escaped to Jordan told them that in the first days of the war, he had driven an American pilot from the desert to Baghdad and the authorities. The pilot, he says, was alive, alert, and wearing a flight suit. The defector pointed Speicher out in a photo lineup, and passed two lie detector tests."
Today (Jan. 13th) the Associated Press reported: "U.S. intelligence agencies have received unverified reports over several years that an American believed to be Lt. Cmdr. Michael S. Speicher, the Navy pilot initially presumed to have died in a shootdown over Iraq in 1991, was seen alive as a prisoner after the war, according to U.S. officials familiar with details of his case...."
Bob Burns of the Associated Press reported: "A U.S. Navy pilot initially presumed to have died in a shootdown over Iraq during the Persian Gulf War in 1991 was seen alive in Iraqi custody afterward, according to unconfirmed reports reaching intelligence officials in recent years. The officials, speaking Friday on condition of anonymity, stressed that they knew of no evidence that Lt. Cmdr. Michael S. Speicher was still alive, although President Clinton said "we're going to do our best to find out if he is alive and, if he is, to get him out.''
"Clinton said he did not want to raise false hope. "We do not have hard evidence that he is alive,'' the
"....The U.S. officials said more than one informant had reported to U.S. intelligence agencies that an American thought to be Speicher was being held prisoner in Iraq after the war ended in March 1991. The reports were received over a period of several years but the sightings were in 1991 and 1992, the officials said. The veracity of the reports is uncertain, but they are credible enough to lead American government officials to think Speicher probably survived the Jan. 16, 1991, crash...."
"Clinton commented on the Speicher case Thursday, after the Navy announced that Navy Secretary Richard Danzig changed the Navy pilot's status from "killed in action'' to "missing in action,'' based on unspecified "additional information and analysis.'' "We have some information that leads us to believe that he might be alive and we hope and pray he is,'' Clinton said in an interview with CBS. "But we have already begun working to try to determine whether, in fact, he's alive; if he is, where he is and how we can get him out and we're going to do everything we can to get him out.''
"...The U.S. intelligence informants whose sightings correlate with Speicher did not refer to him by name, the officials said. They described an American, and in more than one case referred to an American military pilot or U.S. Navy pilot. Other aspects of the physical descriptions seemed to fit Speicher, the officials said...."
In an story, dated January 13th, Reuters reports: "Iraq on Saturday dismissed as a "lie" fresh U.S. claims that a fighter pilot shot down over Iraq in the 1991 Gulf War might still alive. "It is a new and cheap American lie," an Iraqi Ministry of Culture and Information spokesman said. "When the Iraqi Foreign Ministry reveals documents related to the subject, this lie will be an American scandal," the spokesman said in a statement carried by the official Iraqi News Agency." However, the spokesman did not say when documents on the pilot would be made public...."
If Iraq Makes These Documents Public - Will DOD and the POW/MIA Office believe them? After setting this extraordinary precedent will they then settle for Iraq's word, without hard proof, regarding the fate of Cmdr. Speicher? We hope not! No nations word should be accepted as proof of the death of an American Serviceman.
The Evidence - Known to have survived his incident, live sighting reports, no concrete evidence of death, yet hostile forces claim death. Oops, are we describing the Speicher incident or any one of the scores of losses from Korea, the Cold War and Vietnam?
Known To Have Survived His Incident - Speicher, Dumas, Deseutels, Shelton, Hrdlicka, McLean, McDonnell and scores of others from Korea, the Cold War and Vietnam.
Live Sighting Reports - Speicher, Dumas, Deseutels, Shelton, Hrdlicka, McLean, McDonnell and scores of others from Korea, the Cold War and Vietnam.
Designated POW - Dumas, Deseutels, Shelton, Hrdlicka, McLean and scores of others from Korea, the Cold War and Vietnam.
No Concrete Evidence Of Death, Yet Hostile Forces Claim Death - Speicher, Dumas, Deseutels, Shelton, Hrdlicka, McLean, McDonnell and scores of others from Korea, the Cold War and Vietnam.
The Difference - Michael Scott Speicher now has the legal protection the status of Missing in Action offers. While Dumas, Deseutels, Shelton, Hrdlicka, McLean, McDonnell and scores of others from Korea, the Cold War and Vietnam remain designated KIA/BNR without proof of death.
Periodically, over the past 10 years we have made inquiries with Iraq regarding the fate of Cmdr. Speicher, KIA/BNR. On January 11th, The New York Times reported "... defense officials said they had no information that Commander Speicher was still alive, and were merely using the new M.I.A. declaration to press Iraq for a full accounting of the pilot's whereabouts...." CNN reported on an unnamed official stating "... information provided by Iraq in the past had turned out to be wrong and said the classification was part of a renewed push to get Iraq to be more forthcoming...." These statements indicate the status change provides more leverage in dealing with Iraq.
It is always wise to work from a position of strength. Perhaps this is why we have made so little progress with the Vietnamese, Lao, North Koreans, Chinese and Russians. While we seek answers on our Gulf War MIA "using the new M.I.A. declaration to press Iraq for a full accounting of the pilot's whereabouts...." We can only ask Vietnam, Laos, North Korea, China and Russia about servicemen Killed in Action / Body Not Recovered. Men like Dumas, Deseutels, Shelton, Hrdlicka, McLean, McDonnell and scores of others from Korea, the Cold War and Vietnam, were declared dead in spite of the evidence and without proof of death.
Over the years, the United States government has consistently and without proof accepted the word of the government of Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, North Korea, China and the former Soviet Union, as to the deaths of American Servicemen. Quite simply their word isn't good enough! Nor, is Iraq's!
Sound Bites - From The Associated Press January 11th, 2001- By Robert Burns - (AP) --"Pentagon officials who spoke on condition of anonymity said Danzig acted because of substantial evidence that Speicher may not have died in the crash. The officials added, however, that the evidence does not suggest that Speicher is still alive. Iraq has never accounted for him...."
"...Upon announcing the loss of Speicher that night, Dick Cheney, defense secretary at the time, told a news conference he was dead...."
"Smith and Grams (Senator Bob Smith (R-NH) and former Senator Rod Grams (MN) have said before that Pentagon officials initially told them evidence had not been found to indicate that Speicher could have survived the crash. However, in May 1994 -- more than three years after Speicher went missing -- Pentagon officials indicated in a secret memorandum that a U.S. spy satellite had photographed a "manmade symbol'' at the crash site earlier that year. Some military officers said they interpreted the symbol as a sign that the Navy pilot might have survived the crash."
From CNN - "... A U.S. official familiar with the case said the United States has evidence that Speicher ejected from his aircraft and survived the ejection. "Beyond that, the evidence is circumstantial. We can't rule out that he was, at least at one time, alive in Iraq," the official said. The official said the administration has been pressing Iraqi officials for information for some time and "they are clearly concealing information. We don't have anything to say he is alive. But we can't say he is dead."
From CBS News - "...Speicher was listed as a combat death until Wednesday, when the Navy took the extraordinary step of changing his status from "killed in action, body not recovered" to "missing in action."
" The next day President Clinton told CBS Radio News that the U.S. government has information that "leads us to believe" that Speicher "might be alive." "We have some information that leads us to believe that he might be alive and we hope and pray that he is," the president told CBS News White House Correspondent Mark Knoller. "We've already begun working to determine whether, in fact, he's alive and if he is where he is and how we can get him out d we're going to do everything we can to get him out."
"The answer lies in Baghdad," Sen. Bob Smith, R-N.H., who has spearheaded a campaign to find the truth behind Speicher's disappearance, said Friday on CBS The Early Show. "What we need to do now is get answers from Baghdad. This pilot, if he's alive, has been there for 10 years, with nobody looking for him. That's just plain outrageous...."
Congratulations to - Senator Bob Smith (R-NH) and former Senator Rod Grams (sadly he was defeated in the last election) who fought, for over 5 years, for this status change. We know Senator Smith has endured harsh criticism for his stance on the POW/MIA issue. Yet, he has stood firm. Leading the charge or quietly working behind the scenes, he and his staff have always been there for us. This is but another example of Senator Smith's commitment to our missing servicemen.
Barry Hull, who was on the same mission as Michael Speicher said, on CBS News:
"My gut tells me he is probably dead, but there is no evidence that he's dead.
We owe it to him to find out what happened to him."
We own it to all of them - World War II - Korea - Cold War - Vietnam and the Gulf.