Corporal Wassef Hassoun, a U.S. Marine, was sentenced to two years in prison on Monday. He also faces a reduction in rank, loss of pay and a dishonorable discharge.
Hassoun was sentenced for deserting in Iraq in 2004 and again in 2005 when he fled to Lebanon. Hassoun’s defense team claimed that he was captured by enemies in 2004. However, prosecutors proved that he had made preparations to leave Iraq.
In 2004, Hassoun disappeared from the military base in Fallujah. A photo quickly surfaced showing him blindfolded and apparently being threatened with a sword above his head.
However, Hassoun showed up at the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon unharmed. He claimed to have been kidnapped, but U.S. officials were suspicious and considered charging him with desertion then.
Hassoun’s defense team was unhappy with how his case was handled. Haytham Faraj, Hassoun’s lawyer, told The Associated Press that he did not understand why Hassoun’s case was handled with a trial. The military administration handles most unauthorized absence cases.
Hassoun is a naturalized American born in Lebanon. He served as an Arabic translator starting in 2002. However, many witnesses said he did not like how Americans treated Iraqi prisoners and refused to shoot back at Iraqis if Americans were under fire.
According to recently declassified reports, U.S. officials thought that Hassoun’s family was genuinely worried about his kidnapping. This would point to a legitimate kidnapping instead of a staged one.
Additionally, reports indicate that Hassoun’s family was able to negotiate with Sunni Muslim insurgents to release the prisoner. However, his return to the U.S. embassy sparked outrage from the insurgents.
Faraj claims that this information was ignored during the time after the kidnapping. He said, “Someone at a high-enough level with the proper clearances knew that this man had been abducted, and yet they brought charges forward anyway.”
Hassoun was allowed to visit family in 2004, but disappeared again during this time. He was missing for years until he was arrested in Lebanon. The Lebanese government discussed possible option on what to do with Hassoun. Eventually they confiscated his passport and forbade him from traveling.
In 2013, the travel ban was lifted and Hassoun turned himself in to U.S. authorities.
He was sentenced to two years and five days of jail time.