via Hearing set for US Marine accused of desertion; claimed extremists kidnapped him in Iraq | Fox News.
CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. – Military officials have scheduled a hearing this week for a Marine accused of faking his own kidnapping in Iraq as well as failing to return to his base after visiting relatives in Utah.
A statement from Camp Lejeune on Tuesday said the hearing for Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun is scheduled for Thursday. A Marine Corps spokesman says the results of the hearing will determine what action will be taken.
Hassoun disappeared twice from the military — first in June 2004 in a purported kidnapping by Islamic extremists, and in January 2005 when he failed to return to Camp Lejeune.
Hassoun turned himself in to military authorities in June and is in custody pending an investigation and decisions on the charges against him.
As was reported in July, Muslim who deserted Marine Corps back in U.S. custody:
It is unclear where Hassoun, 34, has spent the past nine years after disappearing during a visit with relatives in Utah in December 2004. Nor is it known why he chose to turn himself in now. He was born in Lebanon and is a naturalized American citizen.
He enlisted in the Marine Corps in January 2002 and was trained as a motor vehicle operator. At the time of his disappearance from a Marine camp in Fallujah in western Iraq in June 2004 he was serving as an Arabic translator. That was a particularly difficult year for the Marines in Iraq. In April they launched an offensive to retake Fallujah from Islamic extremists but were ordered to pull back, only to launch a second offensive in November that succeeded in regaining control of the city but at the expense of dozens of Marine lives.
Seven days after his June 2004 disappearance, a photo of a blindfolded Hassoun with a sword poised above his head turned up on Al-Jazeera television. A group called the National Islamic Resistance/1920 Revolution Brigade claimed to be holding him captive.
On July 8, 2004, Hassoun contacted American officials in Beirut, Lebanon, claiming to have been kidnapped. He was returned to the US and eventually to Camp Lejeune. After a Navy investigation, the military charged Hassoun with desertion, loss of government property, theft of a military firearm for allegedly leaving the Fallujah camp with a 9 mm service pistol, and theft of a Humvee.
Shortly after his return to the US, Hassoun said in a public statement that he had been captured by insurgents in Iraq and was still a loyal Marine.
In the initial months following his return to Lejeune, Hassoun was not held in confinement because charges had not yet been brought against him. He was considered non-deployable until the case was resolved, but he was allowed to make personal trips. Prior to his disappearance in December 2004 he had taken leave twice without incident after he returned from Lebanon.
p style=”padding-left:30px;”>A January 2005 hearing on the matter was canceled when Hassoun failed to return to Camp Lejeune from his Utah visit. His commanders then officially classified him as a deserter, authorizing civilian police to apprehend him.
Update: Court decision delayed on Marine’s Iraq vanishing
CAMP LEJEUNE — A defense attorney said Thursday that a Marine accused of deserting his unit a decade ago in Iraq was kept in Lebanon for eight years while he faced a military trial there.
The Marine officer presiding over the hearing for Cpl. Wassef Hassoun adjourned the proceeding for at least a week to allow defense attorneys to translate Lebanese documents they say support his case.
The hearing officer, Lt. Col. Scott W. Martin, will eventually recommend whether Hassoun should face a military trial on charges including desertion as part of the Article 32 process, the military equivalent of a grand jury. A Marine general will have the final say on whether to try Hassoun.
Martin has given the defense at least until Aug. 27 to translate the documents, and no new court date has been set.
Defense attorney Haytham Faraj says Hassoun, 34, was kept in Lebanon for years for court proceedings triggered by U.S. accusations that he had deserted. Faraj said documents show Hassoun was tried and convicted by a Lebanese military court on charges that mirror the U.S. desertion charges. He said the Lebanese government tried Hassoun at the behest of the U.S. but did not elaborate.
Military prosecutors say Hassoun’s whereabouts were unknown for years until he contacted U.S. officials in 2013.
Faraj said that as soon as the court proceedings in Lebanon ended, Hassoun contacted U.S. officials saying: “I need to get back to the U.S. The Lebanese have been holding me.”
The case began in June of 2004 when Hassoun disappeared from a base in Fallujah in western Iraq. About a week later, he appeared in a photo purportedly taken by insurgents. Hassoun was blindfolded and had a sword poised above his head.
Hassoun, who was born in Lebanon and is a naturalized American citizen, turned up days later at the U.S. Embassy in Lebanon and said he had been kidnapped by Islamic extremists and held for 19 days. A group called the National Islamic Resistance/1920 Revolution Brigade claimed responsibility for his capture.
“It strains logic that he would flee and then turn himself in to U.S. authorities weeks later,” Faraj said.
But the military doubted his story, and he was brought back to the U.S. He was allowed to visit relatives in Utah in December 2004 when he disappeared again. A hearing, called an Article 32 proceeding, was canceled in January 2005. His commanders then classified him as a deserter.
Faraj said little about the purported 2004 kidnapping other than Hassoun was able to get away from his captors by using unique skills he developed as a serviceman and translator familiar with local Iraqis.
Prosecutors argue that there is overwhelming circumstantial evidence that Hassoun was unhappy and left the Marines in Iraq and later fled to Lebanon in 2004. They gave the hearing officer statements by witnesses who said Hassoun was unhappy with his deployment and how the U.S. was interrogating Iraqis. Witnesses told investigators that Hassoun said he was unwilling to shoot back at Iraqis and would shoot over their heads instead.
Prosecutors say Hassoun inquired about procedures for leaving the base in Fallujah, packed a bag and withdrew hundreds of dollars shortly before his disappearance from his unit.
“What we do have is circumstantial evidence, and that evidence is overwhelming,” said Capt. Christopher Nassar, one of the prosecutors.
Military officials say that around the time of his 2004 disappearance, a marriage for Hassoun had been arranged with a woman in Lebanon. They are now married and have a son who has dual U.S. and Lebanese citizenship.
Nassar said that even if Hassoun were put on trial in Lebanon, it doesn’t alter the Marines’ jurisdiction over the desertion case.
Hassoun enlisted in the Marine Corps in January 2002 and was trained as a motor vehicle operator. He was serving as an Arabic translator at the time of his disappearance in June 2004.
Retired Maj. Gen. Walt Huffman, a Texas Tech University law professor who previously served as the Army’s top lawyer, said he finds it odd that a foreign government would try an American serviceman on charges of deserting the U.S. military.
For example, in Germany and Japan, where there are U.S. military bases, local authorities can try U.S. servicemen on certain criminal offenses, but they’d have no interest in pursuing military charges such as desertion.
“I find that very unusual,” he said.
In desertion cases, he said it can be difficult to prove the serviceman planned never to return.
- “The hardest thing is proving that they intended to stay away permanently,” he said.
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