Marine Who Vanished in Iraq in 2004 Goes on Trial

Wassef Ali Hassoun claimed he was taken hostage
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Feb 9, 2015 9:34 AM CST
Marine Who Vanished in Iraq in 2004 Goes on Trial
In this July 19, 2004 file photo, Marine Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun makes a statement outside Quantico Marine Base in Quantico, Va.   (AP Photo/Steve Helber, File)

The trial is set to begin today at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina 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 US troops treated Iraqis. 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 US Embassy in Beirut, saying he'd been kidnapped. But officials were suspicious, and he was brought back to Camp Lejeune; he later disappeared while visiting family in Utah in 2005 and didn't resurface until last year.

Hassoun's case occupies some of the same murky territory as that of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl; the Army is still considering what punishment Bergdahl might face. A lawyer for Hassoun 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," he says. But an expert on military law says Hassoun's multiple absences—including one shortly before he faced a court hearing—may explain why his case is being handled with a trial. Recently declassified evidence from 2004 suggests that Hassoun's family in Lebanon was genuinely distraught and negotiated his release from his kidnappers. "Someone at a high-enough level with the proper clearances knew that this man had been abducted, and yet they brought charges forward anyway," says his lawyer. (More Wassef Ali Hassoun stories.)

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