RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A judge has declined a request for a new hearing on evidence against a U.S. Marine accused of deserting his unit a decade ago in Iraq and later winding up in Lebanon, a military spokesman said Wednesday.
The judge decided last week to deny Cpl. Wassef Hassoun's request for another Article 32 hearing, the military equivalent of a grand jury hearing. Marine spokesman Lt. Col. Cliff Gilmore said Hassoun's general court-martial is scheduled to begin at Camp Lejeune on Dec. 8 before the judge, Marine Maj. Nicholas Martz.
Hassoun's attorney Haytham Faraj said he's appealing the denial of the new hearing. Faraj's request last month for a new Article 32 argued that more witnesses should have testified at the previous hearing and that unsworn statements improperly influenced the decision to proceed with a trial.
"I have a client in jail and I want this to move ahead, but I'm also not willing to give up any fundamental rights," he said in a phone interview.
A report from the Article 32 hearing earlier this year acknowledged the military could have a difficult time proving its largely circumstantial case because the events happened so long ago and many witnesses were Iraqis. Still, a Marine general decided to proceed with the trial on charges of desertion, larceny and destruction of government property.
The case began in June 2004, when Hassoun disappeared from a base in Fallujah, Iraq. About a week later, he appeared blindfolded with sword poised above his head in a photo purportedly taken by insurgents.
Hassoun, a naturalized American citizen who was born and grew up in Lebanon, turned up days later at the U.S. Embassy in that country, saying he was kidnapped by extremists.
The military doubted his story, and he was brought back to the U.S. while charges were considered. He was allowed to visit relatives in Utah in December 2004 when he vanished again.
Faraj, who maintains the kidnapping story is true, has said that Hassoun traveled to Lebanon in early 2005 and was soon arrested by Lebanese authorities. Faraj argues that court proceedings in Lebanon were triggered by the desertion accusations and prevented him from leaving for eight years.
Marine prosecutors say Hassoun's whereabouts were unknown for eight years. He was returned to the U.S. in 2014 after he contacted officials here.
Military prosecutors argue Hassoun was unhappy with his deployment and left the Marines in 2004. They cited witnesses who said Hassoun didn't like how the U.S. was interrogating Iraqis and that he said he wouldn't shoot back at Iraqis.