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Marine 'hostage' charged with desertion

Cpl. Hassoun also accused of larceny

From Mike Mount

Hassoun has denied being a deserter and staging his own kidnapping.
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U.S. government charges Marine with desertion.
Marine Corps

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A U.S. Marine who disappeared in Iraq -- and then showed up in a purported hostage video before later appearing as a free man in Lebanon -- has been charged with desertion, Pentagon officials said Thursday.

Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun will also be charged by the Marine Corps with larceny and wrongful disposition of military property in connection with his service-issued 9 mm handgun that disappeared with him and never turned up, officials said.

When Hassoun last spoke with military investigators in September and was read his rights, he refused to divulge details of the events surrounding his disappearance.

The 24-year-old from West Jordan, Utah, will not be held in custody, because he is not considered a flight risk, officials said.

The next step for Hassoun is an Article 32 hearing, the military's equivalent to a grand jury hearing. Unlike a grand jury hearing, he will be allowed to have an attorney present.

The hearing will be at his home base of Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. No date has been set for the hearing.

If found guilty of desertion, the Arabic interpreter could receive a dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of pay and allowances, and five years' confinement for each specification.

Maximum punishment for each specification of larceny and for the wrongful disposition charge is a dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of pay and allowances and 10 years' confinement.

Passport found in Falluja

Hassoun is currently assigned to the 4th Marine Expeditionary Brigade as a motor vehicle operator. He is considered non-deployable until the charges are resolved.

Military investigators reopened the Hassoun case last month after several personal items -- including his military ID and civilian passport -- were found in Falluja, the city from which he disappeared in June.

"The circumstances of his alleged capture and subsequent return to military control are still being investigated," the Marines said in a statement.

Hassoun reappeared July 7 in Lebanon, where he was born and has relatives.

What happened to Hassoun is a mystery to military investigators.

After the initial report that Hassoun was missing, military officials assumed he had walked away from camp. He was listed as a deserter.

His status was changed to captured after the release of a videotape that showed him blindfolded with a sword suspended above his head. A few days later, a posting to three Islamist Web sites claimed Hassoun had been beheaded.

Hassoun denied being a deserter and staging his own kidnapping.

A Marine Corps official said representatives of the Naval Criminal Investigative Services did not interview Hassoun until after he completed his 30-day home leave, following his repatriation back to the United States. Its report was submitted to Hassoun's command November 30.

The investigation includes "hundreds of statements from U.S. service members and foreign nationals as well as ... evidence across two continents," the statement said.

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