In the early morning hours of Jan. 17, 1991, the first day of the Gulf War triggered by Iraqís invasion of Kuwait, Lt. Cmdr. Michael Scott Speicherís F/A-18 Hornet was shot down, apparently by an air-to-air missile from an Iraqi MiG-25.
Speicher was the first American casualty of the war. Now, the U.S. government believes, he is probably alive and being held captive somewhere in Iraq. He should be the object of a widespread search as the U.S. tightens its grip on Saddam Husseinís regime.
Speicherís story is both amazing and disturbing.
Other pilots saw the explosion as his plane was hit. He initially was listed by the military as killed in action/body not recovered. After the war, the U.S. asked Iraq to provide information about Speicherís fate. From the beginning, there were questions.
Iraq turned over human remains it said were Speicherís, but DNA tests showed they were those of someone else.
A U.S. investigation team that was allowed into Iraq brought back photos of the crash site and other information that also raised questions.
As the years passed, clues kept popping up indicating that Speicher might have ejected and survived the crash of his plane. The evidence was pulled together in this unclassified intelligence assessment.
U.S. officials stepped up pressure on Iraq, which claimed Speicher was dead, to provide conclusive information of his fate, but essentially were stonewalled.
Then in 1999, an Iraqi defector said he had taken an injured American to Baghdad about six weeks after the Gulf War began. He identified a photograph of Speicher as that man.
In January 2001, the Navy changed Speicherís status from killed to missing in action, citing a lack of evidence that he had actually died. Similarly, there was no conclusive evidence that he was alive either.
However, last year British intelligence passed on to the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency information from a source who had been in Iraq and had seen an American who was being held there. He said only two Iraqis were allowed to see the man, the head of Iraqi intelligence and Uday Hussein, Saddamís son.
Based on this and the other information that had accumulated over the years, the Navy last fall revised Speicherís status as missing/captured Ė in other words, a prisoner of war. Secretary of the Navy Gordon England said that, "While the information available to me now does not prove definitively that Captain Speicher (Note: he has been promoted twice since he was shot down) is alive, and in Iraqi custody, I am personally convinced the Iraqis seized him sometime after his plane went down."
Speicher had married his college sweetheart before becoming a pilot. She remarried while he was listed as killed and has refused all comment.
This is the short version of Speicherís story, which was told at length in a series of articles in the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot.
If youíre interested in issues regarding Speicher or Americans missing or captured in other wars, one of the best sites is maintained by Dolores Apodaca-Alfond of Bellevue.
The many, many faces of Saddam Hussein
After U.S. cruise missiles and stealth planes blasted that "target of opportunity" in southern Baghdad early Thursday morning, Saddam Hussein quickly appeared on Iraqi TV to prove he was OK. Or did he?
Saddam has body doubles who have undergone surgery to make them look like him. Theyíve also learned his mannerisms. Itís all part of Saddamís paranoia about being bumped off by his own countrymen (killing about 1 million people can lead to grudges), if not by the U.S. American officials said they were studying the tape of Saddam to determine if it really was him. That could all be part of the psychological warfare that underlies the real fighting. But maybe not. He looked, somehow a little ... goofy.
Thanks to a guy named Sam Sloan, we can now all play Whoís the Real Saddamon his slightly, um, eccentric web site. See if you can figure it out.
But seriously, how can we tell?
Hereís how the CIA does its assessments of Saddam sightings and Osama bin Laden tapes.
Time for some humor
Thereís nothing funny about war. Or about terrorism. But thereís always something funny to be said about bureaucracy.
Wired News has rounded up some satire, most of it directed at some not-so-helpful homeland security information dished out by the government.
Be forewarned: if you dig deeply enough, some content is rated R.
Enough funny stuff, letís get back to WMDs
Those, of course, are weapons of mass destruction. Just before the war broke out, the Washington Post reports, U.S. agents confronted a number of Iraqi spooks and scientists who were working outside Iraq and gave them a stark choice: Fess up or face some unpleasant consequences when "regime change" is complete. Some, apparently, did fess.