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Playing Politics With a Ghost
Posted on Aug 6, 2009
By Scott Ritter
Update: Scott Ritter has written a response to commenters below.
Finding the remains of Navy Lt. Cmdr. Scott Speicher in Iraq provides long overdue closure for his family and comrades, but it also exposes the tireless exploitation of Speicher’s disappearance in 1991 by Sen. Pat Roberts, a staunch Republican from Kansas, who used it to demonize the regime of Saddam Hussein and to justify the case for the invasion of Iraq.
Roberts likes to remind people that he was once a Marine. And, as the saying goes, “once a Marine, always a Marine.” The senator, who wears his time served as a badge of honor, was commissioned in the Marine Corps in 1958 following his graduation from Kansas State University and left the service in 1962 with the rank of captain. As someone who went through the caldron that is Marine Officer Candidate School and had my skills further honed through the six-month Officer Basic School, I know that obtaining the title “Officer of Marines” is no small accomplishment, and I commend Pat Roberts for possessing the physical, moral and intellectual traits necessary to have earned that distinction.
The Marine Corps wasn’t in Robert’s blood enough to motivate him to make it a career, however, and after fulfilling his four-year requirement, he left the service for employment in journalism and later as a politician. You wouldn’t know this if you were to pay a visit to his office in Washington, D.C., where he has built a veritable memorial to military service, with memorabilia and photographs proudly on display. One would have thought that the Marine Corps was Roberts’ life.
He certainly gives that impression, with his frequent use of the Marine Corps motto, “Semper Fidelis”—Always Faithful. He often uses it in speeches and loves to quote it when talking to other former Marines, as he did when addressing me when I testified before a joint session of the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committees in September 1998.
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I am sure Pat Roberts looks back on the four years he spent in the Marines with justifiable pride. I do not, and will not, mock his service. But as a fellow former Marine (I spent nearly 12 years as an officer in the active military and reserves, leaving with the rank of major), I do take umbrage with a man who wraps himself in the flag and tradition of the Marines for political purpose, especially when these symbols and mottos are used not to further the cause of legitimate national defense but rather to manipulate facts, distort truth and fabricate lies in support of partisan political gain, actions that place Marines and others who wear the uniform of the American military in harm’s way and disgrace the sacrifice of those who paid the ultimate price.
I have placed Roberts’ self-serving abuse of his Marine credentials in my cross hairs before, lambasting his role as the chairman of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee in covering up the Bush administration’s fraudulent use of intelligence to justify its WMD-based casus belli for invading Iraq (see my 2005 article “Semper Fraud, Senator Roberts”) and, prior to that, his role is exploiting the tragedy of Cmdr. Speicher to further the Bush administration’s case for war with Iraq (see “Missing in Iraq: The United States has not found Scott Speicher either,” my 2004 Harper’s magazine article).
My goal here is not to repeat what I have written before, but rather to point out that, especially in the case of Speicher, Roberts can no longer hide behind a defense of vague generalities and continued uncertainty: Scott Speicher’s remains were finally found in Iraq after Marines were led by local Bedouin to the place where his remains were buried, confirming the fact that he had died when shot down in the opening phase of Operation Desert Storm back in January 1991.
To anyone familiar with the tragic events of Scott Speicher, this fact squares with the genesis of this sad tale. Speicher was flying a combat mission over Iraq when his F/A-18 was shot down by an Iraqi fighter. U.S. Air Force airborne monitoring aircraft confirmed that Speicher’s plane was being tracked by the target acquisition radar of the Iraqi fighter, and that a missile had been launched against Speicher.
One of Speicher’s fellow pilots saw a large flash in the sky where Speicher’s plane was operating. U.S. radar lost contact with his aircraft, there was no “Mayday” call, no parachute sighting, no rescue beacon activation.
I was serving in the Joint Combat Intelligence Center of U.S. Central Command, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, at the time. Thanks to the miracle of modern electronics, we were able to monitor the activities over Iraq in real time. I can state unequivocally that at the time Speicher’s airplane disappeared from our monitoring screens, no one thought he had survived. His status was listed as “missing in action,” but this was only because we did not have a body. Less than two months after Desert Storm ended, in May 1991, Speicher’s status was changed to “killed in action—body not recovered,” reflecting the reality that, based upon all available data, he tragically had died in the line of duty.
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