Marine recovered from Middle East to face desertion charges (again)


Marine Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun prepares to make a statement to reporters at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., shortly after he was said to have been taken prisoner in Iraq by insurgents in 2004. (Dylan Moore/Associated Press)

The wild ride of Marine Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun could include a court-martial sometime soon.

Hassoun, 34, will face charges of desertion, destruction of government property and larceny, Lt. Col. Cliff Gilmore, a Marine spokesman at Camp Lejeune, N.C., said Thursday. Hassoun will remain in the brig at Camp Lejeune pending the outcome of his case, Gilmore said. He is being held because he has been identified as a flight risk.

Hassoun – featured here on Checkpoint last month — is accused of deserting his unit twice in the last decade, including once when he allegedly took a military vehicle and a 9mm pistol and left his base outside Fallujah, Iraq, on June 19, 2004. At the time, he was believed to have been kidnapped by insurgents.

A video of Hassoun was distributed a week later that month showing him captured and blindfolded, prompting the Pentagon to announce that he had been captured. At one point, he was reported on Islamist militant Web sites to have been beheaded.


This June 27, 2004, file image from a video broadcast by the Al-Jazeera network shows a man identified as Marine Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun. He was later charged with desertion and accused with faking his own kidnapping and disappearing from his base in Iraq. (AP Photo/ Al-Jazeera via APTN)

The claims turned out to be bogus. Hassoun re-emerged at the U.S. Embassy in Beirut in July 2004, and then held a news conference at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., saying that he was not a deserter and had been kidnapped.

“I did not desert my post,” he said at the time. “I was captured and held against my will by anti-coalition forces for 19 days. This was a very difficult and challenging time for me.”

Before Hassoun went to the U.S. Embassy, his family was involved in a firefight near their home in northern Lebanon in which two people were killed. Hassoun’s relatives traded gunfire with another family who taunted them over his ties to the United States, perhaps motivating him to return to the United States.

Hassoun was charged with desertion in December 2004, and vanished again the following month, in January 2005, after taking leave to see family in Utah, authorities said. Little was heard about him again until 2011, when his family contacted a publicist in Los Angeles to seek a $1 million book and movie deal, according to an Associated Press account at the time. The publicist told the AP that Hassoun’s brother said the missing Marine was living in Lebanon with family.

It isn’t clear if Hassoun left his post in Iraq to visit family in Lebanon in 2004, or what caused him to turn himself in last month. Marine officials said then that he was taken into custody after the Naval Criminal Investigative Service “worked with Cpl. Hassoun to turn himself in and return to the United States” to face charges, according to a statement released by the Marine Corps.

The Marine Corps said last month that Hassoun was taken into custody in the Middle East, but did not identify in which country.

Dan Lamothe covers national security for The Washington Post and anchors its military blog, Checkpoint.
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