The Washington Times

Jail yields clues in search for POWs

April 11, 2003
Section: NATION

Page: A11


Iraq's notorious Rasheed military prison in eastern Baghdad has produced new leads in the search for U.S. and other prisoners of war from the current conflict and the 1991 Persian Gulf war, defense officials said.

U.S. Special Forces personnel and CIA intelligence officials are working covertly inside Baghdad and other parts of Iraq to find seven U.S. prisoners of war, including five Army soldiers taken prisoner near Nasiriyah and shown on Arab television, officials said. Eight other soldiers are listed as missing.

The commando and intelligence teams also are seeking information on Navy Capt. Michael Scott Speicher, a pilot whose F-18 was shot down over Iraq in 1991, the officials said.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Wednesday that coalition forces "still must find and ensure the safe return of prisoners of war, those captured in this war as well as any still held from the last Gulf war: Americans and other nationals."

At least 600 Kuwaitis still are missing and believed to have been held prisoner in Iraq since Baghdad's 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

"We are very concerned about the prisoners of war," Army Maj. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, deputy director of operations for the Joint Staff, said yesterday.

"We do not have intelligence that I could share with you now. We're working very hard to get that."

Gen. McChrystal said now that U.S. forces are inside Baghdad and Saddam Hussein's government is collapsing, "the opportunity to get information about our prisoners goes way up."

"As the regime can no longer threaten, we believe more people are available for us to talk to, more people may feel free to give us information," Gen. McChrystal told reporters at the Pentagon. "So we're very hopeful about that."

He declined to discuss specifics.

However, a defense official said the Rasheed prison, which was taken over by U.S. Marines on Tuesday along with a military airfield, has produced new information about foreign nationals held in the prison.

"Rasheed traditionally has played an important role in holding foreign prisoners, including Gulf war pilots, Kuwaitis and Iranians," the defense official said.

Army Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks said in Qatar on Wednesday that U.S. military uniforms were found at the Rasheed prison but no prisoners or remains were discovered.

"Part of our operational design in going through Rasheed airfield was to secure it and also to proceed on to the Rasheed prison," he said.

A second defense official said the uniforms found at Rasheed were from Army personnel and that they had bloodstains and bullet holes.

The Pentagon has set up a joint team of intelligence and military officials who will conduct nationwide searches in Iraq for terrorists and weapons of mass destruction, said Lt. Cmdr. James Brooks, a spokesman for the Defense Intelligence Agency.

The intelligence teams will "do a countrywide discovery, exploitation and interrogation effort to identify and disrupt terrorist operations, and to identify, examine and eliminate [weapons of mass destruction]," he said.