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Marine in kidnap video charged with desertion { December 10 2004 }

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Marine Who Went Missing Is Charged
A corporal who says he was kidnapped and held by Iraqi insurgents against his will faces counts of desertion and theft.
By Esther Schrader
Times Staff Writer

December 10, 2004

WASHINGTON A Marine corporal who disappeared in June from a military camp near Fallouja, Iraq, and later turned up with relatives in Lebanon claiming he had been kidnapped and held hostage was charged Thursday with desertion.

Wassef Ali Hassoun of West Jordan, Utah, also was charged with loss of government property and theft of a military firearm, accused of leaving the Marine camp with his service pistol, and with theft and wrongful appropriation of a government vehicle.

The charges follow a five-month investigation into his disappearance from the unit where he worked as an Arabic interpreter, a Marine spokesman said.

No date has been set for an Article 32 hearing, which is roughly equivalent to a grand jury hearing, said Maj. Matt Morgan, a spokesman with the 4th Marine Expeditionary Brigade at Camp Lejeune, N.C., where Hassoun now is assigned as a truck driver. He lives in barracks and is not in custody or confined, Morgan said.

The hearing will determine whether there is sufficient evidence to bring Hassoun before a court-martial. The desertion count carries a five-year maximum prison sentence. The other counts, including one of larceny for the illegal misappropriation of a Humvee, carry 10-year maximums. If convicted, Hassoun also could be demoted to private, dishonorably discharged and ordered to forfeit his pay and allowances, Morgan said.

Morgan would not elaborate on whether Hassoun had used a Humvee to leave the camp.

Hassoun disappeared June 19 and was listed as missing the next day after he failed to report for duty. Fellow Marines in Iraq said he was upset after witnessing the death of a comrade hit at close range by a large round, possibly a rocket-propelled grenade.

Eight days later, a video broadcast by the Arab satellite TV channel Al Jazeera showed Hassoun blindfolded, with a sword behind his head.

A group identifying itself as Islamic Response claimed to be holding him and threatened to behead him unless detainees in U.S. custody in Iraq were released.

The group said Hassoun was captured after having been lured from his base by a woman, and there were reports that Hassoun had promised to leave the U.S. military if spared.

On July 3, websites that previously had announced the slayings of other hostages reported that Hassoun had been beheaded by the Ansar al Sunna Army. Those claims were quickly denied by the radical group on its own website.

Five days later, Hassoun by then apparently in Tripoli, Lebanon, where his relatives live contacted U.S. Embassy officials in Beirut and arranged a meeting. He did not show up at the coffee shop where the meeting was to take place, but called back and met embassy officials later that day.

The Marines have not said whether they have answers to any of the questions surrounding Hassoun's disappearance. It remained unclear how he traveled the 500 miles from Fallouja to Tripoli. Speculation has been rife that his capture was an elaborate hoax.

In a statement July 19 after he returned to the United States, Hassoun said he did not desert his post and that he had been held by Iraqi insurgents against his will.

During fighting last month in Fallouja, U.S. troops recovered Hassoun's personal belongings in a box found in a commercial building. The property included an identification card, a uniform and a book.

In the Article 32 proceedings, which the Navy's judge advocate general's office describes as a pretrial investigation, Hassoun may be represented by defense counsel assigned by the military or by his own counsel. Morgan said Hassoun has made no request for private counsel.

He said it was unlikely that the proceedings would take place before early next year.

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