RALEIGH, North Carolina - A U.S. Marine who vanished a decade ago in Iraq has been sentenced to two years in prison for leaving his post and then fleeing to Lebanon after a brief return to the U.S.
As part of the sentence handed down Monday, Cpl. Wassef Hassoun will have a reduction in rank, loss of pay and a dishonorable discharge. He was given two years and five days' confinement.
Earlier in the day, the judge at Camp Lejeune, Marine Maj. Nicholas Martz, had found Hassoun guilty of desertion for his disappearances in 2004 and 2005. He was also convicted of losing his service pistol.
Prosecutors argued during trial that Hassoun made preparations to flee his base in Fallujah in 2004 and told others that he planned to leave. They displayed quotes during opening statements attributed to Hassoun: "I'll leave and go to Lebanon. I'm not kidding."
They said he was unhappy with how U.S. servicemen treated Iraqis during interrogations and that he was upset that training and a second deployment to Iraq kept him from being with a woman with whom he'd entered an arranged marriage.
Defense attorneys maintain that Hassoun was kidnapped by insurgents in 2004. They argued that the case against the Muslim serviceman began with a "rush to judgment" by Navy investigators after suspicious comrades told investigators about comments Hassoun made about the conflict between his native Lebanon and Israel.
Days after his 2004 disappearance in Iraq, Hassoun appeared blindfolded and with a sword held above his head in an image purportedly taken by insurgents. An extremist group claimed to be holding him captive.
But Hassoun soon turned up unharmed at the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, saying he'd been kidnapped. Officials were suspicious, and he was returned to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina in 2004 while the military considered charging him.
After his return, Hassoun was allowed to visit family in Utah but disappeared a second time in early 2005. Hassoun traveled to Lebanon but was detained by that country's authorities after Interpol issued a bulletin related to his deserter status, the defense said. The defense says court proceedings in Lebanon lasted until 2013, and Hassoun turned himself in to U.S. authorities after the government there lifted travel restrictions.