Corporal Held by Militants Not a Deserter, Marines Say
By T. R. Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 30, 2004; Page A22
SALT LAKE CITY, June 29 -- Two days after Islamic militants released a video of Marine Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun in captivity with a curved sword held over his neck, the Marine Corps Tuesday officially changed its view of Hassoun and declared him to be a captive, not a deserter.
Hassoun's friends and relatives in the Salt Lake City suburbs had expressed consternation when the Pentagon had designated the vehicle operator to be on "unauthorized absence" after disappearing from his base in Iraq on June 20.
After complaints from the family and Utah officials, the Marine Corps Tuesday changed Hassoun's official status.
"While his absence initially prompted investigators to believe he was missing, the video shown on international television depicted the Marine being held against his will by masked captors," a Marine Corps statement said. "[I]n light of what we have observed on the terrorists' video, we have classified him as captured."
A spokesman for the family here -- Hassoun, 24, lives with three of his brothers in a prosperous subdivision southwest of Salt Lake City -- said the family's anguish about his fate was exacerbated by the official suggestion that he had deserted. The militants holding Hassoun said on their video that they had lured him away from his base and kidnapped him.
At a news conference Tuesday night, the spokesman, Tarik Nosseir, said, "The Marine Corps have officially notified the family that Wassef's status as a deserter has been revoked."
A Marine Corps spokeswoman, Capt. Amy Malugani, said, "The circumstances surrounding his absence are still being investigated."
The video said Hassoun is being held by a group calling itself the Islamic Retaliation Movement/Armed Resistance Wing. The group said the Marine would be beheaded unless all detainees held by the U.S. military in Iraq are freed. There are conflicting reports as to whether the captors have set a deadline for Hassoun's execution.
Hassoun, a native of Lebanon, moved to the United States six years ago, according to members of his mosque here. They said he is a U.S. citizen and joined the Marines two years ago.
When Hassoun was found missing from his base, military officials initially told the press that they considered him a deserter. Army Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the deputy operations chief in Baghdad, told reporters that Hassoun had gone "on an unauthorized absence," the Associated Press reported. "Based on his personal situation, there was reason to suspect that he was heading over to Lebanon." Hassoun's father is in Lebanon.
The small Muslim community here and representatives of other faiths have been holding daily prayer vigils to appeal for the corporal's release. "We ask you to continue to pray for his release," Nosseir said.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company