Tantalizing Discovery in Scott Speicher Mystery

This is a partial transcript of The Big Story With John Gibson, April 24, 2003, that has been edited for clarity. Click here to order the complete transcript.

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JOHN GIBSON, HOST:  A tantalizing discovery in Iraq where investigators are searching for the only American missing from the first Gulf War. Etched onto the wall of a Baghdad prison, they found the initials MSS. The same as navy pilot Michael Scott Speicher.

Retired Navy Captain Robert Stumpf was flying with Speicher on the night Speicher went down. Captain Stumpf joins us from Pensacola, Florida. So, what do you make of those initials? Is that just merely tantalizing or do you think it means something?

CAPT. ROBERT STUMPF, U.S. NAVY (RET):  Well, those are certainly Scott's initials and they were found in a prison, as I understand it, where we had some intelligence that he may have been held. So the story is beginning to unfold. So it may be meaningful.

GIBSON:  But what do you make of this situation, there are seven American POWs who were recovered, plus Jessica Lynch. They found the bodies of dead Americans. They found Tariq Aziz. And still haven't found Scott Speicher.

STUMPF:  Well, this Speicher story has been involved and full of intrigue since the beginning. And you have to realize that it's been 12 years since he was shot down. And during that time, his status, his whereabouts have been completely hidden from the international community and from the United States. And Saddam obviously had a hand in doing so. So there's a lot of intrigue involved, and there's a lot that could have happened to Scott before this latest conflict began. So he could be anywhere.

GIBSON:  Well, we all hold out hope that he's alive and is being held by somebody and sooner or later, that somebody is going to get caught. But what do you think the prospects of that are considering the regime has just abandoned its post everywhere?

STUMPF:  Oh, I think the prospects of finding out Scott's fate are very good. I think as we get more and more of these high Iraqi leaders, the intelligence, their intelligence value will begin to put the puzzle together, and we will find a clearer picture about what happened to Scott.

GIBSON:  Just so everybody's clear on this, why do you think there's a good chance he's still alive?

STUMPF:  When his aircraft wreckage was investigated in 1995, it was concluded quite positively that there was a successful ejection. The F-18 that he was flying has a very good survival rate for an ejection under the conditions under which he ejected. And, therefore, there was strong evidence he was alive on the ground. If that were the case, one of three fates awaited him — one, he could have been captured. Two he could have evaded, or, three, he could have been rescued. And, obviously, he wasn't rescued. So that would lead us to think he was captured. In addition, there was further evidence, that we have eyewitnesses that reportedly have seen him since that time.

GIBSON:  You know, Captain, the fact that the coalition forces have captured so many regime leaders, including Tariq Aziz, offers hope, maybe they know something. But on the other hand, you read this Newsweek story this week in which the Iraqi secret police are portrayed as a bunch of freelancers, who essentially have been cut loose by their own government, had to make the money their own way, torturing people for money, just almost as if they had a private enterprise in torture and extortion. That is not such good news in terms of tracking down Speicher, is it?

STUMPF:  No, it's not good news. What Scott's fate may be is open to question, obviously. But I think that these regimes keep good records. And eventually we're going to find out what happened to Scott. Of course, the best outcome of all is that he's alive and he will come home. But, in any event, we're going to find out what happened to him and that is going to give us closure on this issue.

GIBSON:  Captain Stumpf, thank you very much. And, of course, good luck in the efforts to find Scott Speicher.

STUMPF:  Thank you, John, pleasure.

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