SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - More than six years after a Marine corporal was charged with desertion for allegedly faking his own kidnapping in Iraq, his family is once again making rumblings about clearing his name.
The effort, however, wouldn't play out in military court. Instead, the Utah family of Wassef Ali Hassoun contacted a Los Angeles publicist in search of a $1 million book and movie deal.
"Our purpose from the book and the movie is to tell the public what really happened in year 2004 and clear Wassef's name once and for all," Hassoun's brother, Sami Hassoun, wrote in e-mails to Los Angeles publicist Michael Sands that were provided to The Associated Press.
Wassef Ali Hassoun, now 31, went missing twice from the military - first in June 2004 in the purported kidnapping at the hands of Islamic extremists, and again in January 2005, when he failed to return to Camp Lejeune, N.C., after a visit to West Jordan to see relatives.
He was charged twice with desertion, and his whereabouts remain unknown.
Last month, however, Sami Hassoun contacted Sands and asked if a book and movie deal the family had tried to negotiate in 2005 - then refused to sign - might be revived.
"They come back, reappear six years later as if they had amnesia," said Sands, a contractor who has worked with the Pentagon and various branches of the military. "This is a very compelling story, but there is a dark shadow over (Wassef) and he needs to come clean."
Sands said clearing the name of Wassef Ali Hassoun would require him to take responsibility for his actions by returning to the U.S. to face military sanctions.
But Sami Hassoun backed away when pressed to answer questions about happened to his brother in 2004, including what proof exists of the kidnapping and whether Wassef was abused by his captors, Sands said.
In one e-mail, Sami Hassoun said he has the answers but then asked Sands to "send the numbers to us so we can move forward," a reference to the book and movie deal.
Soon after, Sami Hassoun claimed he was pursuing other offers involving the project, according to the e-mails. He did not respond to multiple e-mails from the AP seeking comment.
Multiple messages left at the Utah homes of Hassoun's parents and his elder brother, Mohamad Hassoun, were not returned.
In interviews with the AP in 2005, Mohamed Hassoun maintained his brother had not done anything wrong except failing to return to Camp Lejeune.
Wassef Ali Hassoun was an Arabic translator who joined the Marines following the September 2001 terrorist attacks. His strange saga began June 20, 2004, when he failed to report for duty at Camp Fallujah in Iraq.
Seven days later, 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.
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 camp with a 9 mm service pistol, and theft of a Humvee.
A hearing on the matter was cancelled when Hassoun failed to return to Camp Lejeune.
A warrant issued in 2005 for Hassoun by the 4th Marine Expeditionary Brigade, II Marine Expeditionary Force, at Camp Lejeune remains active, said Maj. Carl Redding, a spokesman for the Marines. If he were to return to U.S. soil, Hassoun would be arrested and prosecuted.
It's not clear where Hassoun, who holds dual citizenship in Lebanon and the U.S., might be hiding.
In Feb. 2006, then-Secretary of State Condolezza Rice asked the Lebanese government to turn Hassoun over to the U.S., along with four other men. Lebanese officials refused.
In his communications with Sands, Sami Hassoun claims to be living in Dubai, and said he is communicating with his brother but does not disclose Wassef Ali Hassoun's location.
During negotiations with the family, Sands, who has never spoken with Wassef Ali Hassoun, and retired FBI agent and author Bob Hamer were invited to the Middle East to meet with Hassoun.
"We still want to go," Sands said. "I think it's still an incredible story about how all of this happened."
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