Marine goes to trial a decade after vanishing in Iraq

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Cpl. Wassef Hassoun
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Marine goes to trial a decade after vanishing in Iraq
FILE - In this July 19, 2004 file photo, Marine Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun makes a statement to the media outside Quantico Marine Base in Quantico, Va. Marine spokesman Lt. Col. Cliff Gilmore said Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2014, that a judge decided last week to deny Cpl. Hassoun's request for another Article 32 hearing, the military equivalent of a grand jury hearing. Gilmore said Hassoun's general court-martial is scheduled to begin at Camp Lejeune on Dec. 8 before the judge, Marine Maj. Nicholas Martz. (AP Photo/Steve Helber, File)
The U.S. Embassy in Aukar, a northern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon, is seen in this undated file photo. U.S. Marine Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun who was reported missing in Iraq more than two weeks ago is alive and at the U.S. Embassy in Lebanon, where American officials are meeting with him, authorities said on Thursday July 8, 2004.(AP Photo/file)
The U.S. Embassy in Aukar, a northern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon is seen in this undated photo. A U.S. Marine Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun who was reported missing in Iraq more than two weeks ago is alive and at the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, where American officials are meeting with him, authorities said on Thursday July 8, 2004.(AP Photo/file)
** RETRANSMITTED TO CORRECT LEFT TO RIGHT ** In this photo released by the U.S Marine Corp., Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun, right, walks with defense attorneys Maj. Phillip E. Stackhouse, left, and Capt. Brandon Bolling for the first day of the Article 32 pre-trial investigation, Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2004, at Camp LeJeune, N.C. Hassoun is charged with desertion after he disappeared from his unit in Iraq and later claimed to be kidnapped. Hassoun said Tuesday he wants a civilian attorney in addition to his military lawyers. (AP Photo/U.S Marine Corp./Staff Sgt. A.C. Mink)
** RETRANSMITTED TO CORRECT LEFT TO RIGHT ** In this photo released by the U.S Marine Corp., Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun, right, walks with defense attorneys Maj. Phillip E. Stackhouse, left, and Capt. Brandon Bolling for the first day of the Article 32 pre-trial investigation, Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2004, at Camp LeJeune, N.C. Hassoun is charged with desertion after he disappeared from his unit in Iraq and later claimed to be kidnapped. Hassoun said Tuesday he wants a civilian attorney in addition to his military lawyers. (AP Photo/U.S Marine Corp./Staff Sgt. A.C. Mink)
Marine Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun makes a statement to the press outside Quantico Marine Base in Quantico, Va., Monday July 19, 2004. Hassoun, who disappeared under mysterious circumstances while on duty in Iraq, insisted on Monday that he was captured by enemy forces. "I did not desert my post," Wassef Ali Haasoun told reporters outside Qauntico Marine Corps Base. "I was captured and held against my will by anti-coalition forces for 19 days."(AP Photo/Steve Helber)
In this photo released by the U.S Marine Corp., Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun, right, walks with defense attorney, Capt. Brandon Bolling, for the first day of the Article 32 pre-trial investigation Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2004, at Camp LeJeune, N.C. Hassoun is charged with desertion after he disappeared from his unit in Iraq and later claimed to be kidnapped. Hassoun said Tuesday he wants a civilian attorney in addition to his military lawyers. (AP Photo/U.S Marine Corp./Staff Sgt. A.C. Mink)
Marine Lt. Col., Dave Lapan, at podium, speaks to the press outside Quantico Marine Base in Quantico, Va., Monday July 19, 2004. Lapan discussed the repatriation of Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun who disappeared in Iraq and turned up in Lebanon three weeks later. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
U.S. Marine Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun, center, who disappeared in Iraq and turned up in Lebanon three weeks later, heads to a van after arriving at Quantico Marine base, Va., Thursday, July 15, 2004. Hassoun arrived from Germany, where he had undergone six days of evaluation in a U.S. military hospital. (AP Photo/USMC., LCpl Jason W. Fudge)
An ambulance allegedly carries Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun after arriving on a C17 aircraft at Ramstein U.S. airbase, southern Germany, Friday, July 9, 2004. The U.S. Marine who vanished in a reported kidnapping in Iraq and resurfaced in Beirut more than two weeks later will allegedly be brought to nearby Landstuhl medical center for a medical check. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)
An ambulance allegedly carries Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun after arriving on a C17 aircraft at Ramstein US airbase, southern Germany, Friday, July 9, 2004. The US Marine who vanished in a reported kidnapping in Iraq and resurfaced in Beirut more than two weeks later will allegedly be brought to nearby Landstuhl medical center for a medical check. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)
WEST JORDAN, UT - AUGUST 1: U.S. Marine, Wassef Hassoun (R) walks with his brother, Mohamad Hassoun, prior to reading a short statement to the media in front of the family house August 1, 2004 in West Jordan, Utah. Hassoun, who arrived back home yesterday, is the U.S. Marine who was reportadly taken hostage in Iraq. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)
QUANTICO, VA - JULY 19: U.S. Marine Corporal Wassef Ali Hassoun (R), who went missing in Iraq and turned up safe in Lebanon three weeks later, prepares to read a statement to the media July 19, 2004 outside the U.S. Marine Corps Base in Quantico, Virginia. Hassoun said he was captured and held against his will by anti-coalition forces for 19 days. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WEST JORDAN, UT - JULY 8: Mohamad Hassoun (L) brother of Wassef Hassoun and Terek Nosseir (R) spokesman for the family talks to reporters in front of the family house in West Jordan, Utah July 8, 2004. Hassoun is a US Marine in Iraq who was reportedly taken hostage but today is in US custody in Lebanon. (Photo by Reagan Frey/Getty Images)
TRIPOLI, LEBANON: Relatives of Lebanese-born US marine Wassef Ali Hassoun stands at the balcony of Hasson's family house in Tripoli, north of Beirut, 08 July 2004. The US embassy in Lebanon said it believed Hassoun missing in Iraq and once feared beheaded by Islamist captors was now back in Lebanon, although he kept out of sight. AFP PHOTO / Joseph BARRAK (Photo credit should read JOSEPH BARRAK/AFP/Getty Images)
WEST JORDAN, UT - JULY 5: Terek Nosseir, spokesman for the family of U.S. Marine Cpl. Wassef Hassoun, who was abducted last week by a militant group in Iraq, reads a statement to reporters July 5, 2004 in West Jordan, Utah. The fate of the 24-year Lebanese-born Marine remained unclear after a group calling itself the Ansar al-Sunna Army claimed Hassoun had been beheaded. The next day, a statement from the group denied they had killed Hassoun and said the claim that the Marine was dead did not come from the group. (Photo by Reagan Frey/Getty Images)
WEST JORDAN, UT - JULY 5: Terek Nosseir, spokesman for the family of U.S. Marine Cpl. Wassef Hassoun, who was abducted last week by a militant group in Iraq, reads a statement to reporters July 5, 2004 in West Jordan, Utah. The fate of the 24-year Lebanese-born Marine remained unclear after a group calling itself the Ansar al-Sunna Army claimed Hassoun had been beheaded. The next day, a statement from the group denied they had killed Hassoun and said the claim that the Marine was dead did not come from the group. (Photo by Reagan Frey/Getty Images)
WEST JORDAN, UH - JUNE 28: Shuaid-Ub Din (2nd R), the religious leader or Iman of the Islamic society of Greater Salt Lake, answers questions after a prayer vigil for U.S. Marine Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun June 28, 2004 in West Jordan, Utah. Cpl. Hassoun has been missing since June 20, 2004 and is being held hostage in Iraq by insurgence that have treatened to kill him. (Photo by Bruce Gardner/Getty Images)
TRIPOLI, LEBANON: (FILES)-Nada Hassoun the aunt of former Lebannese hostage US Marine Corporal Wassef Ali Hassoun, shows his picture to the press at ther home in the northern city of Tripoli 90 km away from Beirut 28 June 2004. Hassoun who went missing in Iraq and mysteriously resurfaced in Lebanon was expected 09 July 2004 in Germany where he was to be taken to a US army hospital. The marine left Lebanon and was due to be transferred to the Landstuhl medical facility near the western city of Frankfurt once he arrives, said Marie Shaw, a spokeswoman at the hospital. Hassoun disappeared last month while based with the marines outside the restive Iraqi town of Fallujah, west of Baghdad. A Lebanese-born Muslim, he had worked for the military as an Arabic interpreter. AFP PHOTO/RAMZI HAIDAR (Photo credit should read RAMZI HAIDAR/AFP/Getty Images)
TRIPOLI, LEBANON: Ali Mohammed Hassoun, the father of Lebanese-born US Marine Corparal Ali Wassef Hassoun, looks at a picture of his son who is believed to be held hostage in Iraq, at his house in Tripoli, 90km north of Beirut. The Qatar-based Al-Jazeera satellite channel broadcast a tape 27 June 2004 from a group calling itself the 'Islamic Retaliation Movement - Armed Resistance Wing,' which said it would behead the marine unless all detainees in US-led coalition prisons were freed. The tape showed a blindfolded, mustached man, dressed in camouflage garb, with a sword brandished over his head and close-ups of identification cards. The group claimed it abducted the missing marine after 'infiltrating a US military base in Iraq,' but gave no deadline for carrying out the threatened execution. The Lebanese family of the 24-year-old appealed for his release 28 June stressing that the soldier was an Arab and a Muslim. 'We are praying and hoping that he would be released soon. We are making an appeal through the media, he is a Muslim and an Arab,' Sami Hassoun, the marine's brother, told AFP from the family's home in Tripoli. 'US authorities did not contact us here, they contacted our family at our home in Utah and the US army is doing all it can,' he said. He said his brother had been 'a translator with the US army' which he had joined about two years ago when he also acquired US citizenship. AFP PHOTO/Ramzi HAIDAR (Photo credit should read RAMZI HAIDAR/AFP/Getty Images)
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CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. (AP) - 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.

Prosecutors cited witnesses who said Hassoun didn't like how the U.S. was interrogating Iraqis and that he said he wouldn't shoot back at Iraqis.

Intelligence documents declassified in recent months shed further light on the investigation of Hassoun's kidnapping claim. An NCIS report from August 2004 states that Hassoun's family in Lebanon seemed genuinely distraught after news of his kidnapping surfaced, contacting the U.S. Embassy in tears.

Another report said the family told investigators that a representative of the Hassoun clan, made up of Sunni Muslims, was able to negotiate with insurgents for Hassoun's release. News that he later returned to the U.S. Embassy in Beirut "sparked a wave of violence and retribution against the Hassoun clan" in Tripoli, Lebanon, a military investigator wrote at the time.

Faraj suggested this evidence was either ignored or withheld from prosecutors in 2004.

"Someone at a high-enough level with the proper clearances knew that this man had been abducted, and yet they brought charges forward anyway," Faraj said.

After he was brought back to Camp Lejeune in 2004, Hassoun was allowed to visit family in Utah. With a military court hearing looming, Hassoun disappeared a second time in early 2005. Prosecutors have said his whereabouts were unknown for years.

Hassoun traveled to Lebanon but was arrested by that country's authorities after Interpol issued a bulletin triggered by his deserter status, Faraj said.

Translated Lebanese government documents reference the U.S. charges against Hassoun. Several memos include Lebanese officials discussing whether to allow extradition to the U.S., and eventually a Lebanese justice ministry document from 2006 states there is "no extradition approval."

The documents submitted by the defense to the U.S. military court say Lebanese authorities took his passport and prevented him from traveling. The documents say Lebanese court proceedings against Hassoun lasted until 2013, and travel restrictions were later lifted.

After that, Faraj said Hassoun turned himself in to U.S. authorities. He was brought to Camp Lejeune over the summer.

A general decided to proceed with the trial.


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