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 Pentagon is seen from the air over Washington, D.C., on Aug. 25, 2013.

The Pentagon’s Office Culture Is Stuck in 1968

The U.S. national security bureaucracy needs a severe upgrade.

The Azerbaijani army patrols the streets of Shusha on Sept. 25 under a sign that reads: "Dear Shusha, you are free. Dear Shusha, we are back. Dear Shusha, we will resurrect you. Shusha is ours."

From the Ruins of War, a Tourist Resort Emerges

Shusha was the key to the recent war between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Now Baku wants to turn the fabled fortress town into a resort.

Frances Pugh in 2019's Midsommar.

Scandinavia’s Horror Renaissance and the Global Appeal of ‘Fakelore’

“Midsommar” and “The Ritual” are steeped in Scandinavian folklore. Or are they?