Marine Corps Has the Stones to Do What the Army Won’t – Court Martial a Deserter
This week brought the end of a story that began a decade ago. Corporal Wassef Hassoun was convicted of desertion and kicked out of the Marine Corps.
Facing a maximum sentence of 7 and a half years, the judge, Marine Corps Major Nicholas Martz, sentenced Hassoun to a dishonorable discharge, two years and five days in the brig, reduction to the rank of private and forfeitures.
Wassef Ali Hassoun
While serving in Iraq, Marine Corps Corporal Wassef Ali Hassoun, a Lebanese American, was charged with desertion. He was accused of leaving his unit and engaging with others in a hoax that he had been captured by insurgents on June 19, 2004. Originally listed as a deserter, Hassoun was then thought to have been taken hostage by Iraqis that befriended him.
On June 27, 2004, Al Jazeera broadcast a video of a blindfolded Hassoun, with a masked man holding a sword over his head, saying that he had been captured.
On July 3, 2004, Al Jazeera reported that the terrorist group Jaish Ansar al-Sunna had released a statement declaring they had beheaded Hassoun, and their website confirmed this. On July 4, al-Sunna denied this, and on July 6, Al Jazeera reported receipt of a message that he’d been “taken to a safe location” after he promised to desert from the Marine Corps.
On July 8, the U.S. State Department reported that Hassoun had arrived at the U.S. embassy in Beirut and was in good health.
An investigation into the activities of Wassef Ali Hassoun concluded that he deserted the Marine Corps on June 21, 2004.
On December 9, 2004 DOD officials announced that Hassoun would be charged with desertion, larceny and wrongful disposition of military property in connection with his service-issued M9 pistol that disappeared with him and never turned up.
To further implicate himself, on January 4, 2005, he was again labelled a deserter after failing to return to his base, Camp Lejuene, NC, from authorized leave. Reportedly, he fled to Lebanon.
On June 29, 2014, Hassoun turned himself in to US authorities on the charges of desertion.
In remarkably similar circumstances, Army Sergeant Bowe Berghdahl walked away from his post Afghanistan on June 30, 2009. Reportedly held prisoner by Taliban fighters, questions regarding Bergdahl’s disappearance have sparked controversy.
According to The New York Times, a former senior military officer briefed on the investigation into Bergdahl’s disappearance said that on the night he went missing, Bergdahl left a note in his tent that said he was leaving to start a new life. It was also reported, but not confirmed, Bergdahl left a letter stating he wanted to renounce his citizenship.
On May 31, 2014, Bergdahl was released by his captors and recovered by members of the U.S. Army’s Delta Force. In a White House rose garden announcement, flanked by Bergdahl’s parents President Obama announced the release of Bergdahl in exchange for 5 Taliban prisoners held at the Guantanamo Detention Center.
Sergeant Bergdahl returned to duty at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, TX on July 13, 2014. In December 2014 the Army referred Bergdahl’s case to a four-star general for a possible court-martial.
The Army claims to soon have a decision concerning Sgt. Bergdahl. On Wednesday, Army Secretary John McHugh said,
“I would think that we could reasonably expect to see something in the relatively near future. The range extends from on one end of the spectrum — from no further action to the other end of the spectrum, potential court-martial.”
“It has been a lengthy investigation, and I think if you look at both the time involved from Sgt. Bergdahl’s disappearance to his recovery to this point in time in large measure, that’s understandable.”
In military terminology, desertion is the abandonment of a duty or post without permission (a pass, liberty or leave) and is done with the intention of not returning. In contrast, Unauthorized Absence (UA) or Absence Without Leave ( AWOL) refers to a temporary absence.
The 2012 edition of the United States Manual for Courts Martial states that:
Any person found guilty of desertion or attempt to desert shall be punished, if the offense is committed in time of war, by death or such other punishment as a court-martial may direct, but if the desertion or attempt to desert occurs at any other time, by such punishment, other than death, as a court-martial may direct.
Eight months after Private Hassoun turned himself in to U.S. authorities his case has been investigated, a courts martial convened and following adjudication Hassoun has been sentenced with punishment to begin immediately.
It has been 9 months since Bergdahl was released. To date, the Army has not completed and released the results of their investigation. If Bergdahl is charged with desertion, it will likely be another 6 plus months before any adjudication decision.
To a combat Marine or soldier, there is no greater crime than desertion. The deserter endangers every fellow serviceman. Punishment for desertion must be swift and severe.
Further delay regarding Bergdahl’s disposition is harmful to all who serve.
Army officials need to grow a pair, dismiss White House interference, and do what is right for the service.
This article was first published on Feb 28, 2015.