Passport

Search continues for missing Gulf War pilot

When Michael “Scott” Speicher’s F/A-18 Hornet was shot down over Baghdad in the wee hours of America’s first war in Iraq, on Jan. 17, 1991, no one imagined that the story of his disappearance would end in a Washington, DC, boardroom. Fortunately, it hasn’t. The Navy pilot, father of two, and native of my own ...

589546_090114_speicher5.jpg

When Michael "Scott" Speicher's F/A-18 Hornet was shot down over Baghdad in the wee hours of America's first war in Iraq, on Jan. 17, 1991, no one imagined that the story of his disappearance would end in a Washington, DC, boardroom. Fortunately, it hasn't.

The Navy pilot, father of two, and native of my own Jacksonville, Florida, was the first American lost in the first Gulf War. The night his plane crashed, the Pentagon and then Defense Secretary Dick Cheney declared him killed in action. It was a decision that Speicher's family and friends have fought for years. Because his remains were never found, many experts have been led to believe that he was captured, not killed, that fateful night. Evidence surfaced--including his initials scratched into an Iraqi prison wall--that forced the Defense Department in 2001 to declare him "Missing in Action" instead. When the more recent U.S. war and takeover of Iraq failed to explain definitively what happened to Speicher, the Pentagon prepared to close the case. His family vehemently opposed that move.

Last week, the ongoing saga over his whereabouts took a dramatic turn, when a Naval review board decided that Speicher's case should remain open and more evidence should be collected. Now, the decision will be left up to the secretary of the Navy, who will have the final decision on the case before he leaves office in less than a month.

When Michael “Scott” Speicher’s F/A-18 Hornet was shot down over Baghdad in the wee hours of America’s first war in Iraq, on Jan. 17, 1991, no one imagined that the story of his disappearance would end in a Washington, DC, boardroom. Fortunately, it hasn’t.

The Navy pilot, father of two, and native of my own Jacksonville, Florida, was the first American lost in the first Gulf War. The night his plane crashed, the Pentagon and then Defense Secretary Dick Cheney declared him killed in action. It was a decision that Speicher’s family and friends have fought for years. Because his remains were never found, many experts have been led to believe that he was captured, not killed, that fateful night. Evidence surfaced–including his initials scratched into an Iraqi prison wall–that forced the Defense Department in 2001 to declare him “Missing in Action” instead. When the more recent U.S. war and takeover of Iraq failed to explain definitively what happened to Speicher, the Pentagon prepared to close the case. His family vehemently opposed that move.

Last week, the ongoing saga over his whereabouts took a dramatic turn, when a Naval review board decided that Speicher’s case should remain open and more evidence should be collected. Now, the decision will be left up to the secretary of the Navy, who will have the final decision on the case before he leaves office in less than a month.

It’s an interesting case for many reasons, most important of which is that it could serve as a test case on how not to handle the recovery of missing military members during and after a time of war. We here at Passport will be watching.

Photo: Getty Images 

Kate Palmer is deputy managing editor at Foreign Policy.

More from Foreign Policy

The Taliban delegation leaves the hotel after meeting with representatives of Russia, China, the United States, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Qatar in Moscow on March 19.

China and the Taliban Begin Their Romance

Beijing has its eyes set on using Afghanistan as a strategic corridor once U.S. troops are out of the way.

An Afghan security member pours gasoline over a pile of seized drugs and alcoholic drinks

The Taliban Are Breaking Bad

Meth is even more profitable than heroin—and is turbocharging the insurgency.

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya addresses the U.N. Security Council from her office in Vilnius, Lithuania, on Sept. 4, 2020.

Belarus’s Unlikely New Leader

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya didn’t set out to challenge a brutal dictatorship.

Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid

What the Taliban Takeover Means for India

Kabul’s swift collapse leaves New Delhi with significant security concerns.