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Donna Miles, American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 10, 2009 –
Calling Navy Capt. Michael “Scott” Speicher “an American hero,” Navy Secretary Donald C. Winter today announced his decision to change the status of the first Operation Desert Storm casualty from "missing/captured" to "missing in action.”
Winter made the determination after a thorough review of information about the case, including a Defense Intelligence Agency assessment and comments from the Speicher family, defense officials said.
His determination overruled recommendations of a Navy status review board, which Winter said in a message explaining his decision were based on faulty logic and false premises.
Speicher was an F/A-18 Hornet pilot stationed aboard the carrier USS Saratoga when his aircraft was shot down by enemy fire over western Iraq on Jan. 17, 1991. His mission was part of the first manned strike of the air war over Iraq.
The Defense Department declared Speicher "killed-in-action/body-not-recovered" in May 1991. However, conflicting reports and intelligence information led then-Navy Secretary Richard Danzig to change his status to “missing in action” on Jan. 11, 2001.
That status was changed again in late 2002 to “missing-captured” based on sighting reports in Iraq that have since been discredited.
The intelligence community concluded in October that Speicher is deceased, although his remains were never found. Based on that assessment, Winter convened a status review board to consider changing his status to MIA.
The board recommended retaining the “missing/captured” status. But in a statement issued today, Winter explained why he overruled it.
“My review of the board proceedings and the compelling evidence presented by the intelligence community causes me great concern about the board’s recommendation,” he said. He cited the board’s “failure to employ a logical, analytical process to their evaluation of the evidence in the intelligence assessment.”
The board’s recommendation begins with the premise that Speicher was alive after ejecting from his aircraft over Iraq, Winter said. The board findings were based on a statistical analysis of peacetime F/A-18 ejections, and didn’t consider the factors associated with ejecting in a combat environment, he said.
“They also chose to ignore the lack of any parachute sighting, emergency beacon transmission or survival radio transmissions,” he continued.
Citing failure to find Speicher despite the current U.S. presence in Iraq, and the discrediting of previous claims of seeing him in captivity, Winter concluded, “There is currently no credible evidence that Captain Speicher is ‘captured.’”
“For Captain Speicher to be in captivity today, one would have to accept a massive conspiracy of silence and perfectly executed deception that has lasted for over 18 years and that continues today,” Winter said. “Consequently, I cannot support the recommendation of the status review board.”
Winter said he believes another status review board should review the case, and recommended that the Navy reconsider the matter within the next 12 months.
“The Navy appreciates the challenges Captain Speicher’s family has faced these past 18 years,” Winter concluded. “Captain Speicher is an American hero, and bringing him home to his family and his country will remain a top priority for the Navy and the nation.”
Camp Speicher, a former Iraqi air base in Tikrit, honors Speicher’s memory. In addition, his alma mater, Florida State University, named its tennis center for Speicher, an avid player.