Sunday, October 19, 2008

By PAULINE JELINEK – 4 days ago

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Navy is once again reviewing the long-running case of Capt. Michael "Scott" Speicher, the fighter pilot shot down during the first Gulf war and listed as "missing/captured," U.S. officials said Wednesday.

Navy Secretary Donald Winter ordered the new review after receiving a report from the Defense Intelligence Agency, which tracks prisoners of war and service members missing in action, said Lt. Sean Robertson, a Navy spokesman.

Robertson declined to say what the recent report concluded. But another U.S. official said it found "no new evidence that (Speicher) is alive." He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record about intelligence.

The finding could mean Speicher might finally be declared killed in action, though the official also noted that exhaustive efforts have failed to find any remains of the Navy pilot.

The Navy has changed its position on Speicher's status a number of time over the years since January 1991 when Speicher's F/A-18 fighter was shot down over the Iraqi desert on the opening night of the Gulf War.

Hours after his plane went down, the Pentagon publicly declared him killed in action. Ten years later, the Navy changed his status to missing in action, citing an absence of evidence that he 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.

Another review was done in 2005 with information gleaned after Baghdad fell to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, allowing U.S. officials to search inside Iraq. The review board recommended in that 2005 review that the Pentagon should work with the State Department, the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and the Iraqi government to "increase the level of attention and effort inside Iraq" to resolve the question of Speicher's fate.

The latest DIA report, done this year, reflects further exhaustive efforts on the case, the U.S. official said.

"There has never truly been any hard evidence that he was alive," the official said Wednesday. "But there was enough doubt that (people) questioned the determination that he'd been killed."

Winter's new directive means a three-person review board can convene as early as January, Robertson said. After it makes a recommendation on Speicher's status, his family would have a month to comment.

A family spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a phone call seeking comment.

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