Marine goes to trial a decade after vanishing in Iraq

Associated Press

Camp LeJeune, N.C. — The trial was set to begin Monday at Camp Lejeune for a Marine who vanished in Iraq a decade ago and then wound up in Lebanon.

Defense attorneys maintain Cpl. Wassef Hassoun was kidnapped in 2004 by insurgents and later became tangled up in Lebanese courts. But prosecutors allege Hassoun fled his post because he was unhappy with his deployment and how U.S. troops treated Iraqis.

A September report from the military equivalent of a grand jury hearing acknowledges prosecutors could have a hard time tracking down witnesses from a decade ago.

The case began when Hassoun disappeared from a base in Fallujah in June 2004. Days later, he appeared blindfolded and with a sword poised above his head in a photo purportedly taken by insurgents. An extremist group claimed to be holding him captive.

Not long after that, Hassoun turned up unharmed at the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, saying he’d been kidnapped. But officials were suspicious, and he was brought back to Camp Lejeune while the military considered charging him with desertion and counts related to a pistol and Humvee he’s accused of taking.

Hassoun’s case occupies some of the same murky territory as that of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, a soldier who left his post in Afghanistan and was held by the Taliban for five years. The Army is considering what, if any charges or punishment Bergdahl should face.

A lawyer for Hassoun, Haytham Faraj, questions why his client’s case is heading to trial when many unauthorized absences are handled administratively.

“To me it doesn’t seem very fair,” Faraj said in a recent telephone interview.

An expert on military law agreed that most servicemen accused of leaving their post receive administrative punishment. But Philip Cave, a retired Navy lawyer now in private practice, said Hassoun’s multiple absences — including one shortly before he faced a court hearing — may explain why his case is being handled with a trial.

Hassoun, a native of Lebanon and naturalized American citizen, enlisted in the Marine Corps in January 2002 and served as an Arabic translator.