From the New York Times, March 14, 2002:
President Bush said today that he ”wouldn’t put it past” President Saddam Hussein of Iraq to have secretly held an American pilot hostage for more than a decade.
Speaking at a news conference, Mr. Bush indicated that he did not know for certain the fate of Lt. Cmdr. Michael Scott Speicher, a Navy fighter pilot who was shot down over Iraq during the 1991 Persian Gulf war.
The Pentagon, which initially declared Commander Speicher killed in action, changed his status last year to ”missing in action” based on new evidence that he survived the crash of his F-18 jet.
Recent intelligence reports described to members of Congress have bolstered hopes that Commander Speicher might be alive.
”Let me just say this to you: I know that the man has had an M.I.A. status, and it reminds me once again about the nature of Saddam Hussein, if in fact he’s alive,” Mr. Bush said.
Mr. Bush said Iraq’s refusal to account for the pilot reinforced his view of Mr. Hussein. He professed disbelief ”that anybody would be so cold and heartless as to hold an American flier for all this period of time without notification to his family.” But, Mr. Bush said, he ”wouldn’t put it past him, given the fact that he gassed his own people.”
From the NYT, March 26, 2002:
The Bush administration voiced deep skepticism today over a reported offer from Iraq to discuss the status of an American pilot who was shot down there in 1991.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said today that Iraq’s supposed offer to discuss Lt. Cmdr. Michael Scott Speicher had been reported only through news media outlets and not through formal channels between the countries.
”I don’t believe very much that the regime of Saddam Hussein puts out,” Mr. Rumsfeld said. ”They’re masters at propaganda.”
He added, ”We’re not aware of any offer by the Iraqi government.”
From the NYT, Dec. 14, 1995:
A Pentagon team is on a secret mission to Iraq, searching the desert for the remains of the first American pilot downed in the Persian Gulf war in 1991.
The mission, undertaken with the approval of President Saddam Hussein, represents a small but potentially significant step in Iraq’s attempts to end its deep isolation. Since the end of the gulf war, Iraq has been an international pariah, subjected to strict economic sanctions.
Though the mission is under the leadership of the International Committee of the Red Cross, it represents the first official visit of American military officers to Iraq since the war’s end. American military and diplomatic officials acknowledged that the Iraqi Government had made a humanitarian gesture by allowing 11 American military officers to join 4 Red Cross officials on the search. â€¦
The Red Cross notified Iraq’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and on March 1 the Iraqi Government approved the request that a Red Cross team with Pentagon personnel be allowed to search the site. After months of haggling over details of the mission, final approval came last month. Defense Department officials said they believed the request was personally approved by President Hussein.
American officials offered a very slight tip of the hat to Iraq today.
A State Department official called Iraq’s decision “a positive humanitarian gesture.” But he added: “They did the right thing, but they did it for reasons of self-interest. If they think it’s the first building block in a grand edifice of better relations, they need to think again.“
Just as an aside, aren’t you glad the Clinton administration talked tough and kept this propaganda point alive?
From the NYT, today:
Navy officials announced early Sunday that Marines in Iraqâ€™s western Anbar Province had found remains that have been positively identified as those of an American fighter pilot shot down in the opening hours of the first Gulf War in 1991.
The Navy pilot, Capt. Michael Scott Speicher, was the only American missing in action from that war. Efforts to determine what happened to him after his F/A-18 Hornet was shot down by an Iraqi warplane on Jan. 17, 1991, had continued despite false rumors and scant information.
Conflicting reports from Iraq had, over the years, fueled speculation that the pilot, promoted to captain in the years he was missing, might have been taken into captivity either after parachuting from his jet or after a crash landing.
But the evidence in Iraq suggests he did not survive and was buried by Bedouins shortly after he was shot down.