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Playing Politics With a Ghost
Posted on Aug 6, 2009
By Scott Ritter
One man closely involved in helping shape the content and conclusions of this report was none other than Pat Roberts, the esteemed junior senator from Kansas, who sat on the Senate Select Intelligence Committee, and as such was privy to all of the new “intelligence” about Speicher. Roberts was “outraged” by what he was being told. In February 2002, Roberts, now installed as chair of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee, wrote a letter to President Bush demanding that Speicher’s status be changed again, this time from “MIA” to “MIA-Captured.”
Such drastic actions could not escape the notice of the American press, and in March 2002 The Washington Times, a well-known outlet for voices sympathetic to the neoconservatives, ran a series of articles that emphasized the possibility of Speicher being held prisoner by the Iraqis and that made liberal use of interviews provided by Sen. Roberts.
Iraq, in response to these leaks, stated that it was prepared to receive a U.S. delegation headed by Roberts, with one stipulation—that I be included as part of the delegation. Saddam Hussein had directed an Iraqi official who had been closely involved with the U.N. inspection effort to prepare a report on Scott Speicher. This official was well known to me, and in fact we had worked closely together during my time as a chief weapons inspector to resolve numerous sensitive issues. The Iraqis were prepared to accommodate the delegation to do whatever was necessary to resolve the Speicher case, including traveling to western Iraq and interviewing anyone we so desired. I was invited to Washington to meet with Sen. Roberts on this matter.
The senator, who had previously told the press that he thought it very possible that Speicher was alive and wondering why his nation had forsaken him, decided against taking the Iraqis up on their offer, fearing any such visit would be exploited for propaganda value by the Iraqis. (After the war I was able to meet with the Iraqi official, who told me that he had been prepared to take me and the delegation to every Bedouin village and encampment in the area to find out the fate of Scott Speicher. This presumably would have included those Bedouin who in July 2009 led U.S. Marines to Speicher’s burial site in western Iraq.)
Having refused to do “whatever it takes” to discover the fate of Speicher, Roberts proceeded to use the Chalabi-sourced “defector” reports as the justification for pressuring the White House into not only stating that Speicher was a prisoner—President Bush did this in his address to the U.N. in September 2000—but also formally changing Speicher’s status to reflect this belief: In October 2002 Speicher was officially redesignated as a prisoner of war.
Following the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, the issue of Scott Speicher quickly disappeared. Investigations carried out by the U.S. intelligence community determined that the “defector” reports that Roberts and the others had relied so heavily on in forming their judgments about Speicher’s fate were fabrications provided by individuals of dubious character. The files of Saddam Hussein’s intelligence and security services were scoured, yielding no information on Speicher being held captive (the United States did find the document prepared by my Iraqi contact in 2002, but immediately dismissed it as a fabrication since all it noted was that Iraq possessed no information about Speicher). By 2004 the U.S. intelligence community had determined that Speicher was not only not being held captive by Iraq, but that he had most probably died back in 1991. Regardless, the Bush administration continued to keep Speicher on the rolls as a prisoner of war, a status that will now change with the discovery of his remains.
There are those, including Scott Speicher’s family, who believe that his tragic story has resulted in improvements in the way in which the United States military will respond to downed airmen in the future. There are those among Speicher’s friends who parrot the charges levied by Roberts and others that “no rescue team was sent out to look for Speicher.” I would note that the majority of those who are leveling this charge never served in the military, let alone combat.
I had the honor of meeting and serving with Col. Jesse Johnson, the commander of Central Command’s Special Operations Forces during Desert Storm. I felt personal frustration in having a mission I had personally conceived and described to Johnson be aborted because in his professional opinion the risk-gain benefit didn’t add up.
Johnson, a decorated former Delta Force operator who participated in the failed rescue attempt of U.S. hostages in Iran back in 1980, has more combat experience in his right pinkie than those who criticize his call for not sending a team out to investigate the downing of Speicher. What would that team have accomplished? British SAS operatives were in the general area, and were being chased, killed and captured by Iraqi forces. Johnson had no information to go on in terms of where Speicher’s plane went down, whether Speicher had successfully ejected, or whether he was even alive.
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