Allen B. West

US Marine Wassef Ali Hassoun: Another Bergdahl-ish desertion story

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Unless you live under a rock, you know the name Bowe Bergdahl, and the fact that he was returned to U.S. custody. But have you heard anything about his case recently? I wonder when the Army will be bringing desertion charges against Bergdahl now that he’s back and secure? What is the issue with charges not being preferred? Ask Army Lieutenants Michael Behenna and Clint Lorance about how quickly the Army brought charges against them — when they killed the enemy.

However, there’s another case of desertion about which you might not have heard, this time involving a U.S. Marine. As reported by AP via Stars and Stripes, ” Corporal Wassef Ali Hassoun who was declared a deserter nearly 10 years ago after disappearing in Iraq and then returning to the U.S. claiming he had been kidnapped, only to disappear again, is back in U.S. custody, officials said Sunday. Hassoun 34, turned himself in and was being flown Sunday from an undisclosed location in the Middle East to Norfolk, Va. He is to be moved Monday to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, according to a spokesman, Capt. Eric Flanagan.”

The case of CPL Hassoun is truly perplexing. He was born in Lebanon and is a naturalized American citizen.

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AP reports “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. “

“Hassoun 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. 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.”

“Upon return to U.S. custody, Hassoun said in a public statement that he had been captured by insurgents in Iraq and was still a loyal Marine. “I did not desert my post,” he told reporters. “I was captured and held against my will by anti-coalition forces for 19 days. This was a very difficult and challenging time for me.”

To me, it’s quite peculiar that Hassoun was not taken as part of a combat operation but rather that he inappropriately “procured” a military vehicle and departed his assigned duty base — with a military firearm. And consider this, why would an Islamic terrorist organization take a U.S. Marine captive, one with a seemingly Arabic background and name, and not execute him? As Spock would say, “fascinating.”

But if innocent, then why did CPL Hassoun decide to flee?

AP reports that “after his return to Lejeune, Hassoun wasn’t held in confinement because charges hadn’t been brought against him. He was considered non-deployable until the case was resolved, but he was allowed to make personal trips. A January 2005 hearing on the matter was canceled when Hassoun failed to return to Camp Lejeune from his Utah visit. His commanders then officially classified him as a deserter, authorizing civilian police to apprehend him.”

A short time later, AP reports that Hassoun was placed on a Navy list of “most wanted” fugitives. AP says, “a mug shot of him appeared on a Navy criminal justice Web site, which claimed the missing corporal used the alias “Jafar.” In a February 2005 interview with the Associated Press in Salt Lake City, Hassoun’s brother, Mohamad, said Wassef Ali Hassoun was a victim of anti-Muslim bias in the U.S. military. The Marine Corps denied this.”

So, the question is, does U.S. Marine Corps Corporal Wassef Ali Hassoun believe there is now a favorable political climate and that’s why he voluntarily turned himself in? Does he believe undue command influence will preclude the original charges from being preferred against him?

The cases of Army PFC Bowe Bergdahl and Marine Corporal Wassef Ali Hassoun are very clear and distinct. These seem to be the only two combat troops who somehow found a way to not be on their assigned base of operations and duty, winding up in the hands of the enemy — but yet were unharmed. They got some ‘splaining to do, Lucy!

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