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Unplugged: Lost Vet's Disappearance a "Terrible Mistake"

The discovery of Navy Captain Michael "Scott" Speicher's remains in Iraq is a relief but also provides a sobering lesson, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) said today on "Washington Unplugged."

Speicher was a Gulf War pilot whose F-18 crashed in the Iraqi desert in 1991. After 18 years, the Pentagon on Sunday confirmed his remains were finally found, after an Iraqi citizen who witnessed the plane crash led American troops to the spot where members of the Bedouin tribe buried Speicher's body. The Iraqi said the pilot died in the crash.

Nelson played a strong role in continuing the search for Speicher, a resident of Jacksonville, Fla., even though he was initially declared a casualty of war.

It was a "terrible mistake" for the Defense Department to declare Speicher a casualty before conducting a search and rescue mission, Nelson said -- a mistake the military will not make again.

"We did not go and get a downed pilot," he said. "That is the big lesson here."

With no evidence proving whether or not Speicher survived, stories surfaced that gave the pilot's family false hopes for closure, Nelson said. For instance, he said, some said they remembered transporting Speicher to the hospital, while an Iraqi refugee now in the United States said he remembered making contact with a pilot that could have been Speicher. Nelson even traveled to a prison in Iraq to examine firsthand a set of the initials "M.S.S." that were carved into the wall.

"All of these turned out to be false leads," Nelson said. "You can imagine the emotional roller coaster this has been for the family over the last 18 years."

Nelson has requested for the military to give Speicher's family a complete brief of the discovery, with all the forensic evidence.

"The family needs to put all of those lingering doubts to rest," he said.

Also on Washington Unplugged today, CBS News' Chief Political Consultant Marc Ambinder explained the White House strategy behind its health care reform messaging. You can watch the full episode above.