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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- A West Jordan Marine charged with deserting his Iraq unit had increasing difficulty balancing his military duty with his Muslim faith, The Salt Lake Tribune reported Friday in a copyright story based on documents from a military investigation.
Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun disappeared from Camp Fallujah in June 2004, mysteriously turning up later in Lebanon a month later. Set for a military trial for desertion last January, Hassoun disappeared again and has not been found.
Documents from the investigation obtained by The Salt Lake Tribune say that in the days before his disappearance from Camp Fallujah, Hassoun had asked Iraqis working on the base if they could help him slip through the camp's gate. Hassoun also asked a translator to hide him in his home, the newspaper reported.
"Once we saw he took his prayer rug, we knew he was gone," one Marine told investigators.
The reports include interviews with others in Hassoun's unit, who paint him as troubled, distant from others in the unit, and "anti-U.S." Some questioned his alliances and said Hassoun often listened to Arabic propaganda, including speeches "calling for jihad against the enemy."
Hassoun's brother, Mohamad, dismissed the interviews as hearsay and told the newspaper the military's investigation was prejudiced "from the get-go."
Investigators also found Hassoun took a $350 advance on his pay and borrowed another $200 from a fellow Marine and was seen burning personal papers prior to his disappearance.
"All these stupid statements are hearsay," said Mohamad Hassoun. "They have not one shred of evidence that proves he wasn't taken off the base."
He also said it is ridiculous to suggest a missing prayer rug is proof that Wassef Ali Hassoun had a premeditated plan of desertion.
Philip Cave, an attorney and former Navy judge advocate general from Virginia who sought to represent Hassoun, said the scope of the report is beyond that of other investigations. He believes the military made an extensive effort "because of the notoriety and embarrassment (Hassoun) caused the Marine Corps."
While in Iraq, Hassoun was assigned as a translator in Human Intelligence Exploitation Team-9, conducting interrogations of prisoners and interviews with civilians to collect information to prevent attacks or break up rings of insurgents.
After failing to show up for guard duty one day, Hassoun was seen aboard a base bus in the company of several Iraqis.
One week later, a photo of a blindfolded Hassoun with a sword suspended over his head showed up on the Arabic news network Al-Jazeera. Investigation documents say that many in Hassoun's unit believed the footage was fake and said they felt "betrayed."
But there was also concern that Hassoun might be sharing sensitive intelligence information.
"I thought if Hassoun really is in the hands of the Mooj (short for Mujahideen, a name given to Muslim fighters), it wasn't an accident. Now he's set us up," one Marine said.
In July 2004, Hassoun surfaced in Beirut and was returned to the United States, visiting his family in West Jordan.
The military charged Hassoun with desertion and theft in December and a hearing to determine if he should face court-martial was postponed. On Jan. 5, Hassoun failed to show up for trial at Camp Lejeune, N.C., where he had been stationed.
Hassoun's mug shot and the alias "Jafar," which the military alleges Hassoun used, are posted on a military "Most Wanted" list. A Camp Lejeune spokesman, however, has said no active effort is being made to track Hassoun.
(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)