JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Citing unspecified reports, a U.S. senator said Friday that an American pilot missing since the 1991 Gulf War may have been seen alive and in the custody of Iraqi authorities in the past month.
Sen. Bill Nelson mentioned the reports while releasing an unclassified summary on the fate of Capt. Scott Speicher, who was shot down over Iraq on the first night of the Gulf War and has been unaccounted for ever since. Nelson did not elaborate on the recent reports.
"I believe he is still alive," Nelson said. "The question is: Can we find him and bring him home alive?"
Speicher's FA-18 Hornet was shot down over Iraq on Jan. 17, 1991, and the Pentagon declared him killed in action. A decade later it changed his status to prisoner of war after an Iraqi defector and others reported that an American was being held in Saddam Hussein's prison system. Speicher is the only case still unaccounted for from the war.
The Pentagon is required to report to Congress on Speicher every 90 days under the National Defense Authorization Act, which was enacted in December.
The unclassified summary Nelson released is the first to be filed and details some of the evidence that led military officials to conclude Speicher likely survived the shootdown. The report mentions Baghdad's false suggestion that remains returned in 1991 were Speicher's and officials' claims that the aircraft wreckage was tampered with before a 1995 crash site excavation.
Still, the unclassified version, dated March 3, provides no conclusive information about Speicher's fate and does not address the recent information about a possible sighting.
"We assess Capt. Speicher was either captured alive or his remains were recovered and taken to Baghdad." In either case, the Iraqi government has concealed information about his fate, the report said.
Cindy Laquidara, a spokesman for Speicher's family, refused comment on the latest reports. She met privately with Nelson on behalf of the family.