Lt. Commander Michael Scott Speicher vanished over the skies of Iraq at
0333hrs local time on January 17th 1991. He was part of the 32-strong FA-18
fighter bomber group that took off at 0130hrs from the USS Saratoga which, at
that time, was sailing in the Red Sea. He was part of the first raid on the
first night. Speicher was a competent pilot, in fact, evidently one of the best
on the ship. His mission was to suppress Iraqi air defences to the west of
Baghdad. The night was dull and overcast, the barrage of anti-aircraft fire was
incessant. It was, for sure, a dangerous mission. Eight minutes from the target,
a fellow pilot, Bob Stumpf saw a massive flash. He assumed that the explosion
was a missile but didn't believe any planes had been hit. At the same time as
Stumpf witnessed the blast, Dave Renaud, who had been the closest pilot to
Speicher, reportedly saw explosions five miles away in Speicher's direction. He
even drew a circle on the map where he'd seen the fireball. It is believed that
Scott Speicher was downed by an Iraqi MiG-25.
Within hours of this unpleasant incident, Secretary of Defence Richard Cheney
announced that Lt. Commander Michael Scott Speicher of the United States Navy
had been killed in action. Any reasonable observer might think this a somewhat
hasty judgement to arrive at particularly as there was no evidence to suggest
this other than a flash in the sky and no radio contact for 12 hours.
To this day, there is one man who hasn't stopped the relentless hunt for what
truly happened to Speicher - his best friend. In the period after the Gulf War,
Buddy Harris had begun to accept that his once best friend, who he met in 1980
at Aviation Officer Candidate School in Florida, was dead. He even married his
widow Joan and the couple had two children together. However, three years later
in 1994, new evidence materialised which has gained growing credence. Harris
believes this evidence and at the expense of his marriage has vowed to unveil
the mask of secrecy which has shrouded the death of a friend and a colleague.
In 1994 Speicher's FA-18 jet was relocated. Qatari agents took photographs of
the aircraft and a piece of radar equipment was retrieved and handed to the
American Embassy in Doha, the Qatari capital. The results of tests carried out
on the stricken jet stunned the Pentagon. Not only did serial numbers match,
confirming that the plane was indeed Speicher's but also, there was convincing
evidence implying that Speicher had, after all, ejected.
In 1995 spy satellite images were revealed which pictured the FA-18's canopy
miles away from where the aircraft had landed virtually intact. More compelling
was what looked like an S.O.S that had been drawn into the sand. This final
piece of persuasive evidence was proof to Harris that Speicher had not, contrary
to the Pentagon, been killed.
Contrast this evidence to Dick Cheney's premature assessment of the night
where he declared the downed pilot as deceased. Before the air campaign was
initiated a set of protocols were decided by the Pentagon on the prerequisites
for initiating a search-and-rescue operation for downed pilots. It was agreed
that no such operation would be commenced if radio contact was not established.
By the time Cheney had declared Speicher as dead, there had been no word from
the Lieutenant for 12 hours. Henceforth, no operation of this kind was launched.
Herein lay the problem. The versatile, revered FA-18 had recently had a radio
upgrade to the system that pilots use before they bail out. It is believed that
the redesigned radio would not have been able to withstand a direct missile hit
and therefore Speicher would not have been able to inform others of his
situation. In 1999, Speicher's widow, Joanne Speicher Harris, filed a
lawsuit against the radio's
The S.O.S message drawn out in the sand can be explained quite simply.
Speicher may have done this instead of using his TACBE (Tactical Beacon) so as
not to rouse the attention of the Iraqi Army. These beacons are marvellous
inventions, sending out a signal which unfortunately can be detected by both
sides giving a rather precise location.
During the Gulf War, US Commander-in-Chief General Norman Schwarzkopf stated
that if he had been shot down on that night everything would have been done to
rescue him. We now know that nothing was done at all. Similarly on March 7th
1991, Pentagon Spokesman Pete Williams assured the American people that they
would continue the search for any missing servicemen.
Disturbingly, after the Gulf War the Baghdad delivered a sinister canister to
the United States. In this canister contained one and a half pounds of human
flesh which they claimed belonged to Speicher. A DNA test, however, revealed
that it wasn't him at all. Was Iraq trying to hide something or was it just a
After the satellite photographs were revealed in 1994, General John
Shalikashvili, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, listened to a
passionate plea which called for a Special Forces covert mission into Iraq to
retrieve the aircraft wreck before it could become ruined by the destructive and
menacing hands of Iraqi Secret Intelligence. The plea was snubbed; Shalikashvili
actually said, rather insensitively said that he didn't wish to risk the lives
of countless other servicemen looking for "old bones".
What happened on that fateful winter's night in Iraq? Why the mantle of
secrecy that appears to have enveloped this case on both sides? Is Scott
Speicher alive and has he been languishing in some God forsaken hellish Baghdad
prison for the last 11 years completely at the mercy of Saddam Hussein and his
infamous Imperial Guard? Perhaps more worryingly, why the apparently spurious
conjectures from Cheney and the Pentagon?
In 1996 a US Navy review renewed Speicher's K.I.A (Killed in Action) status.
A senate intelligence committee, however, opened up the case again and delved
deeper into this vastly perplexing enigma. Ten days before he left office,
President Clinton confronted this barrier of ambiguity by reclassifying Speicher
from K.I.A to M.I.A (Missing in Action). Today, a small band of congressmen are
rallying for this to be again changed, this time to Prison of War status.
report, detailed by the Washington
Times on Monday indicates that US Intelligence, together with Britain's MI6,
have unearthed yet more evidence to reinforce the possibility that Speicher is
in fact alive. Today, President Bush is holding the downed pilot's case in high
that he, "...Wouldn't put it past him, given the fact that he gassed his own
Recent attention to this case, however, could be more harm than good for
Speicher if he is, as it happens, alive. The Iraqi's will have no doubt moved
him from wherever he was before in apprehension of any attempt by the United
States to snatch him back. Tim Connolly, a former US Army Ranger and one of the
first to hear of the pilot being lost, fears the latest attention will have
hampered efforts to find him. In a statement he revealed, "The immediate result
is that the pilot will have been moved, and his life may be in greater danger,"
He went on to say,
"The chances of Scott Speicher being held where he was being held two days
ago are virtually zero, so we're back to square one in terms of developing
intelligence on his whereabouts.
"In the Rangers we had a saying. When people go man to man we called it a
`pecker check'. (In male America, from the locker room to the army shower tent,
your pecker is your penis.) My fear is that the fate of this pilot is going to
become this President's pecker check with Saddam Hussein, and unfortunately
Scott Speicher will get lost in the middle."
Connolly is under no illusions over whether Speicher is alive, "I believe
he's alive. I've believed he's been alive since 1991. I see no evidence that
he's dead, and I've seen a great deal of evidence that he survived ejection and
was mobile and able to move, consistent with his prearranged escape plan."
It's certainly an interesting case. If anything, it shows how the American
government has let down the people that happily risked their lives under the
impression that they were doing good. It also exemplifies the chicanery and
folly of international politics. Many people are now beginning to reject
emphatically the notion that Speicher is dead instead opting to see solid
evidence from the government to prove the contrary. From Mogadishu to Vietnam,
the government's stand represents strongly a sense of excessive caution. On the
other, more ominous hand, it represents a huge conspiracy of lies and cover-up.
Regardless, it is a definite symbol of government betrayal - and completely
mocks the old adage, "No Man is Left Behind."