Lt. Col. William Higgins was likely the person shown being hanged in a videotape released last week by a Shiite group in Lebanon, the FBI announced Monday.
FBI officials did not state when they thought Higgins might have been killed.
White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater on Tuesday would not go beyond the FBI’s statement.
The Washington Post on Tuesday quoted a senior administration official as saying that there is “strong circumstantial evidence” that Higgins had been killed long before the videotape was released July 31.
The official said the “working assumption” is that he was killed sometime after the shooting down of an Iranian airliner over the Persian Gulf in July 1988.
ABC News this week reported that forensic experts suspect Higgins was killed shortly after his kidnapping in February 1988.
They arrived at that conclusion because the body in the videotape appeared to be clean-shaven, dressed in winter clothes and not emaciated, as many hostages tend to look after months in captivity.
The timing of Higgins’ death is significant, because it could disprove his kidnapper’s claims that he was hanged in retaliation for Israel’s capture of their leader, Sheikh Abdul Karim Obeid.
Israel has been criticized by some American officials, including Senate Minority Leader Robert Dole, for endangering the lives of American hostages by seizing Obeid from his home in southern Lebanon on July 28.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.