Similar to Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s recent legal dilemma (link), Marine Cpl. Wassef Hassoun may, too, face a military trial on charges of desertion.
Hassoun, 34, first made headlines in June of 2004 after he went missing in western Iraq. One week after his mysterious disappearance from the Marine base in Fallujah, a photo surfaced of insurgents holding a sword above Hassoun’s blindfolded head.
Shortly thereafter, Hassoun made his way to the U.S. Embassy in Lebanon, claiming he had been kidnapped by Islamic extremists and held for 19 days. A group calling itself the National Islamic Resistance/1920 Revolution Brigade later claimed all responsibility for his capture.
Skeptical of the story, the U.S. military arranged for Hassoun to be flown back to the U.S., where he was permitted to visit relatives in Utah until December 2004, when he disappeared once more. Following this second inexplicable disappearance, Hassoun’s commanders officially labeled him a ‘deserter’.
According to the prosecution in the instant proceeding, Hassoun’s whereabouts were unknown for a total of eight years – from the time of his second disappearance in 2004 to 2013, when Hassoun finally contacted U.S. officials. Hassoun’s defense corroborates the latter allegation; he admits he reached out to U.S. officials in a message that read, “I need to get back to the U.S. The Lebanese have been holding me.”
The prosecution’s case rests on the theory that a disenchanted Hassoun fled Iraq in 2004 and escaped to Lebanon. Their theory is bolstered by witnesses’ statements alleging that Hassoun was unhappy with his deployment as well as U.S. treatment of Iraqis. Prosecutors allege that Hassoun was seen packing a bag and withdrawing a large sum of money shortly before fleeing his unit.
"What we do have is circumstantial evidence, and that evidence is overwhelming," said prosecutor Capt. Christopher Nassar.
Some circumstantial evidence relates to Hassoun’s ties with Lebanon. Born in Lebanon, Hassoun married a Lebanese woman in 2004, with whom he has fathered one son. Fluent in Arabic, Hassoun was serving as an Arabic translator around the time of his 2004 disappearance.
Hassoun vehemently denies all desertion allegations, arguing instead that he was legitimately kidnapped and only escaped from his captors by using specific skills honed during his service as a Marine and translator. Most recently, he has further defended himself by arguing there exist newly discovered documents that prove his innocence.
In light of the purported discovery, hearing officer Lt. Col. Scott W. Martin has adjourned Hassoun’s hearing proceeding so that defense attorneys can translate Lebanese documents that may support Hassoun’s case. Martin has granted Hassoun’s defense team until August 27, 2014 to properly translate the documents and prepare them for use in the hearing. No new court date has been set.