Marine Corps Cpl. Wassef Ali 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. (Dylan Moore/AP)
A Marines suspected of deserting his unit on two occasions has had charges preferred by military authorities.
Officials are investigating whether to formally charge Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun, 34, under the Uniform Code of Military Justice with desertion, destruction of government property, and larceny, officials with II Marine Expeditionary Force, out of Camp Lejeune, N.C. said Thursday morning.
Officials said the charges had been preferred against Hassoun, an interim step to formal charges. In the military justice system, formal charges are only finalized following an Article 32, or preliminary investigative hearing. It’s not clear yet when a determination will be made to move forward with Hassoun’s Article 32 hearing.
A spokesman for II MEF, Lt. Col. Cliff Gilmore, said Hassoun had retained civilian and military defense attorneys, but did not release their names.
If finalized, the charge of desertion is especially serious. Unlike the charge of absence without leave, which carries a maximum penalty of dishonorable discharge and confinement for 18 months, desertion from a war zone is one of the few military crimes that is punishable by death. A range of lesser punishments, including confinement for two to five years, are also possible.
Hassoun first disappeared from his unit, Human Exploitation Team-9, where he was working as an interpreter during a 2004 deployment to Iraq. At the time, Hassoun’s family claimed he was abducted—a claim that appeared to be corroborated when the Al -Jazeera news network broadcast a photo of Hassoun blindfolded, with a man holding a sword behind his head.
But Hassoun contacted U.S. officials in Beirut, Lebanon nearly a month after his disappearance, and was recovered by the Marine Corps at the American Embassy in Beirut. After he was returned to Camp Lejeune and the Marines completed an investigation, Hassoun was charged with loss of government property and stealing a military weapon, having left base with his 9 mm pistol and a Humvee.
Hassoun disappeared a second time in December 2004. He had been granted permission to visit relatives in Utah on leave, and did not return.
His whereabouts were unclear until last month, when he turned himself in to U.S. officials.
The AP reported that the Marine Corps and Naval Criminal Investigative Service worked with Hassoun to have him agree to turn himself in and face charges.
"Cpl. Hassoun will remain in custody at the [Camp Lejeune] Regional Brig pending the outcome of further investigation and decisions about his charges,” II MEF spokesman Lt. Col. Cliff Gilmore said in a statement.