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Playing Politics With a Ghost
Posted on Aug 6, 2009
By Scott Ritter
Initial reporting (to which I was privy) listed Speicher as a probable KIA. Then-Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney announced this as fact, declaring Speicher as the first American casualty of the war. We were at war, and Speicher was one of our warriors. This war had larger objectives that precluded diverting significant resources to search for a phantom. Had there been a parachute sighting, a radio contact or any other piece of data to suggest that Speicher had survived the shoot-down, then I can guarantee that Jesse Johnson would have dedicated whatever resources necessary to achieve his rescue.
In the end, Johnson’s instincts as a commander were proved right—Speicher was killed, and the risks associated with a search-and-rescue mission had been too great. For those who continued to call for a rescue mission, the following question needs to be answered: How many more would you have had die to recover a dead man? Let the professionals do their jobs. I respected Johnson’s decision back in 1991, and I respect it today, just as I respect Gen. Shalikashvili’s call in 1994 not to send U.S. Special Operations Forces into Iraq on a covert mission to search a three-year-old crash site.
Scott Speicher was killed in action over Iraq in January 1991. Since his body was not found, one could make a viable case for changing his status to “missing in action.” But he should never have been classified as being a prisoner of war. To do so was nothing more than a politically motivated ruse by a U.S. senator, Pat Roberts, who allowed his partisanship in favor of waging war on Iraq to cloud his judgment and betray his responsibilities as one whom the American people, including Speicher’s family, trusted to serve us in a position of extraordinary responsibility.
Roberts has a lot to answer for with regard to his conduct in the Speicher affair. So do all the other politicians who used Speicher as a vehicle to sell their war agenda. Roberts in particular has not behaved responsibly. As a former Marine, I believe he has disgraced his standing as a U.S. senator and besmirched his reputation as one who claims he is still bound by the code of Semper Fidelis—Always Faithful. On the matter of Speicher, Pat Roberts was faithful to no one but his own petty partisan politics and personal ambition. And while his constituents in Kansas may not, history will judge him accordingly.
But this is not how I want to conclude this essay. There is a far more important issue at hand—honoring one of America’s fallen warriors. After 18 years of uncertainty, Speicher—Navy aviator, husband and father—is finally coming home. I say this as an American citizen, a former Marine officer, and a fellow veteran of Operation Desert Storm: Rest in peace, Scott Speicher. Your service to your nation, and your sacrifice, will never be forgotten.
Scott Ritter is a former Marine intelligence officer, chief U.N. weapons inspector and the author of numerous books.
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