American soldier who deserted 10 years ago back in US
Marine Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun, who the army says deserted back in 2004, is back on US soil after turning himself in at an undisclosed location and being flown to Norfolk.
Hassoun's bizarre case is likely to bring him to a court martial, given the circumstances of his strange disappearance.
Hassoun disappeared from his unit in Iraq’s western desert in June 2004. The following month he turned up unharmed in Beirut, Lebanon, and blamed his disappearance on Islamic extremist kidnappers. He was returned to Lejeune and was about to face the military equivalent of a grand jury hearing when he disappeared again.
It is unclear where Hassoun, 34, has spent the past nine years after disappearing during a visit with relatives in West Jordan, Utah, in December 2004. Nor is it known why he chose to turn himself in now. He was born in Lebanon and is a naturalized American citizen.
He enlisted in the Marine Corps in January 2002 and was trained as a motor vehicle operator. At the time of his disappearance from a Marine camp in Fallujah in western Iraq in June 2004 he was serving as an Arabic translator. That was a particularly difficult year for the Marines in Iraq. In April they launched an offensive to retake Fallujah from Islamic extremists but were ordered to pull back, only to launch a second offensive in November that succeeded in regaining control of the city but at the expense of dozens of Marine lives.
Seven days after his June 2004 disappearance, a photo of a blindfolded Hassoun with a sword poised above his head turned up on Al-Jazeera television. A group called the National Islamic Resistance/1920 Revolution Brigade claimed to be holding him captive.
On July 8, 2004, Hassoun contacted American officials in Beirut, Lebanon, claiming to have been kidnapped. He was returned to the U.S. and eventually to Camp Lejeune. After a Navy investigation, the military charged Hassoun with desertion, loss of government property, theft of a military firearm for allegedly leaving the Fallujah camp with a 9 mm service pistol, and theft of a Humvee.
After charges were filed, Hassoun went home to Utah for a visit and promptly disappeared. He is said to have family in Jordan he could have been staying with, although he could have gone back to his hometown of Beirut as well. Regardless, it's clear the Navy thinks he faked his own kidnapping.
Whatever the reasons for his first disappearane, his flight from the US in 2005 was a clear attempt to escape military justice. He may already have made a deal that got him back home. But it is doubtful any such agreement doesn't carry with it substantial jail time.