Cpl. Wassef Hassoun, Marine Cpl. accused of desertion, back in US custody

Cpl. Wassef Hassoun turned himself in and was flown Sunday from an undisclosed location in the Middle East to Virginia. 

By , Associated Press

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    USMC Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun prepares himself as he waits to make a statement to a large crowd of media outside the gates to USMC Base Quantico, Va., in 2004. Nearly 10 years ago Hassoun was declared a deserter after allegedly faking his own kidnapping in Iraq, then reappeared and was to face charges. But he disappeared again in 2005, has now turned himself in to US authorities.
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A US Marine corporal who was declared a deserter nearly 10 years ago after disappearing in Iraq under mysterious circumstances is back in military custody and will face charges.

Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun, 34, turned himself in and was flown Sunday from an undisclosed location in the Middle East to Virginia. He is to be moved Monday to his original home base of Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, according to a spokesman at Marine Corps headquarters at the Pentagon, Capt. Eric Flanagan.

Maj. Gen. Raymond Fox, commander of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force at Lejeune, will decide within days how to adjudicate the case, which could mean a court martial, Flanagan said.

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A written statement Sunday by Marine Corps headquarters said the Naval Criminal Investigative Service "worked with" Hassounto turn himself in, return to the United States and face charges under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. It provided no details about where Hassoun was when he made these arrangements.

Hassoun disappeared from his unit in Iraq's western desert in June 2004. The following month he turned up unharmed in Beirut, Lebanon, and blamed his disappearance on Islamic extremist kidnappers. He was returned to Lejeune and was about to face the military equivalent of a grand jury hearing when he disappeared again.

Flanagan said the Hassoun case is unrelated to the matter of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who disappeared from his post in eastern Afghanistan in June 2009 under unexplained circumstances. Members of Bergdahl's unit have said he walked away on his own and should face desertion charges.

The Bergdahl case triggered a flood of controversy in part because of questions about the deal the US struck with the Taliban to gain his release May 31. He was released after five years in captivity, in exchange for freeing five senior Taliban commanders from the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Bergdahl has not commented publicly on the circumstances of his disappearance and the Army has made no charges against him.

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.

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.

A short time later Hassoun was been placed on a Navy list of "most wanted" fugitives. A mug shot of him appeared on a Navy criminal justice website, which claimed the missing corporal used the alias "Jafar."

In a February 2005 interview with The Associated Press in Salt Lake City, Hassoun's brother, Mohamad, said Wassef AliHassoun was a victim of anti-Muslim bias in the US military. The Marine Corps denied this.

The brother also said the pressure of facing desertion charges was partly to blame for Hassoun's decision to flee while in Utah.

"Instead of them giving him medals and making him feel good about his service and what he was doing for his country, they gave him an Article 32," Hassoun said of the military court proceedings that his brother was to have faced in January 2005.

Family members have said they last saw him on Dec. 29, 2004.

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