A Marine who vanished from his military base in Iraq in 2004 and was twice charged with desertion spent the last eight years in Lebanon because the government there would not allow him to return to the United States, his attorney said Thursday.
Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun, 34, appeared at a hearing at Camp Lejeune, N.C., on Thursday, more than 10 years after he vanished from his military base outside Fallujah. At the time, he was believed to have been kidnapped by insurgents — a video of him captured and blindfolded was released a week later, and Islamist militant websites later reported that he had been beheaded.
Hassoun resurfaced at the U.S. Embassy in Lebanon a month later, in July 2004, and insisted that he had not deserted his unit. The Marine Corps charged him with desertion in December 2004, and Hassoun vanished again the following month, failing to to return to Camp Lejeune after taking leave to see his family in Utah, authorities said.
Hassoun’s attorney presented an explanation for his second disappearance Thursday. Hassoun truly was kidnapped when he disappeared from the war zone in 2004, said the lawyer, Haytham Faraj. When he took leave in late December 2004, he actually went to visit family in Lebanon, but stayed too long, Faraj said. The Marine Corps charged him with desertion again and labeled him as a fugitive, prompting an Interpol warrant for his arrest, Hassoun’s lawyer said. The Lebanese government told Hassoun that he was not allowed to leave the country, Faraj said.
“He wasn’t on house arrest, but they took his passport away and told him not to travel,” Faraj told Checkpoint.
Faraj said he has about 100 documents that back his story, but many of them are in Arabic and need translation. The hearing Thursday was adjourned for a week to allow that to occur, according to media reports from Camp Lejeune.
The Marine Corps announced in July that Hassoun had been recovered from the Middle East by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, but did not provide specifics on how or where. Faraj told Checkpoint that investigators believe Hassoun deserted his unit in Iraq and flew to Lebanon from Baghdad International Airport. That isn’t true, Faraj said. Hassoun’s passport shows he never left through the airport, reinforcing the assertion that he was abducted, his lawyer maintains.