After eleven years of indifference to the fate of Gulf War missing-in-action, the sudden shift to concern by the government this week illustrates the depth of cynicism that the Bush administration will go to in order to justify a renewed war with Iraq. In new reports from the Washington Times, we are treated with the sudden news; “Pentagon asks Iraq about U.S. pilot,” noting that General John Rosa calls this a “front-burner” issue. After eleven years on a cold back-burner, eleven years after Lieutenant Commander Michael Scott Speicher was shot down one cold winter night over Iraq, one can only say that it is about time somebody cared.
When the United States and Iraq met for cease-fire talks in March 1991, Speicher’s name was kept off the list of POWs by the United States, despite the fact that there was no evidence he had been killed. Later, when veterans’ organizations, family members and fellow pilots pressed for answers from the government, the official line was simple – Speicher was dead. But now the new Bush administration has made it very clear that it is looking for reasons to invade Iraq and topple Saddam Hussein. Doesn’t anybody smell a rat?
Scott Speicher was shot down on January 17, 1991, the first night of the Gulf War. Despite then Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney’s statement at the time that the Speicher was dead, his fellow pilots who flew into the same battle believed otherwise. But even after the U.S. gained air superiority, no one was ever sent to look for Speicher. Immediately after the post-ceasefire prisoner exchange, according to a report in the Virginian-Pilot, one Kuwaiti Colonel reported that an American prisoner had been in captivity with him. But no one in the U.S. government was interested in that report. When the Iraqis later returned body parts they claimed to be Speicher’s, DNA evidence proved otherwise. In May 1991 Speicher was classified Killed in Action/Body Not Recovered, and the chapter was closed as far as the United States was concerned.
Other pilots and veterans organizations questioned this conclusion. Evidence uncovered in 1993 and 1994 indicated that Speicher survived being shot down – he had, in fact, ejected. Among other things, a 1995 on-site investigation found Speicher’s flight suit, which had been cut off of him. The National Gulf War Resource Center and other veterans’ organizations repeatedly pressed the Pentagon to reclassify Speicher as Missing in Action and attempt to find out what happened to him. Nothing was done until January 2001, when President Clinton finally ordered that Speicher be formally listed as missing-in-action. This largely symbolic act was ten years too late. Quite simply, no one in government was interested in his fate.
Why the sudden interest now? Several key members of the administration have been beating war drums against Iraq – especially since September 11. The issue here isn’t what Saddam Hussein is doing, so much as what he could do. The American public remains non-committal, however, and most of our allies are opposed to going to war against Saddam Hussein.
In 1990 the previous Bush administration went so far as to have the daughter of a Kuwaiti emir give false testimony to Congress, making up fictional stories about babies being thrown out of incubators in order to drum up public support for the war. In 2002, the current Bush administration cynically uses Scott Speicher to justify its own war plans.
Our country has a moral obligation to find the missing-in-action, including Commander Scott Speicher, and every step should be taken by the administration to do so. The Pentagon, however, misses the point. That moral obligation has always been there – not just when it is convenient for cynical politicians who never served a day in combat to justify sending more Americans in harms way. Lt. Commander Michael Scott Speicher deserves better.
Charles Sheehan-Miles, a gulf war combat veteran, is a former President of the National Gulf War Resource Center, Inc. He is the author of a newly released Gulf War novel, Prayer at Rumayla.He can be reached on the web: http://www.rumayla.com