CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. (AP) -- A Marine charged with desertion after he disappeared from his unit in Iraq and later claimed to be kidnapped said Tuesday he wants a civilian attorney in addition to his military lawyers.
Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun entered a courtroom here for a pretrial investigatory hearing with his two military attorneys. But he told the officer overseeing the Article 32 hearing that he also wanted to hire an outside lawyer.
The investigating officer, Col. David Wunder, responded that he would give Hassoun time to find a civilian attorney to join the defense team.
The hearing for Hassoun, was designated to last two days this week, but ended within 15 minutes -- his military defense lawyers objected to prosecutors calling a lone witness without his additional attorney.
The hearing was tentatively set to resume Jan. 13, but Wunder said he could delay it another week if Hassoun needs more time to hire another attorney.
Hassoun was charged last week following a five-month investigation into his June disappearance from a U.S. military camp near Fallujah, Iraq. Hassoun, of West Jordan, Utah, is accused of taking unauthorized leave from the unit where he served as an Arabic interpreter.
Hassoun, a member of the 4th Marine Expeditionary Brigade, also is charged with loss of government property and theft of a military firearm for allegedly leaving the Marine camp while still in possession of his 9 mm service pistol, as well as theft and wrongful appropriation of a government vehicle.
The desertion count carries a five-year maximum prison sentence and the other counts carry 10-year maximums. If convicted, Hassoun also could be dishonorably discharged and ordered to forfeit his pay and allowances.
If the commanding general of the brigade, Brig. Gen Mastin Robeson, determines Hassoun deserted during wartime, he could face life imprisonment. Robeson has said he does not plan to pursue Hassoun's case as a capital case, which could carry a death penalty, brigade spokesman Maj. Matt Morgan said.
The hearing is similar to a civilian grand jury and a military investigating officer will recommend to a commander whether a court-martial will be held.
Hassoun last was seen in Iraq on June 19. He did not report for duty the next day and was listed as missing.
On June 27, the Arabic news network Al-Jazeera broadcast the photo of Hassoun looking as if he was a hostage, blindfolded and with a sword behind his head. A group called the National Islamic Resistance/1920 Revolution Brigade claimed to be holding him and was threatening to decapitate him unless detainees in "U.S.-led occupation prisons" were released, Al-Jazeera said.
Hassoun contacted American officials in Beirut, Lebanon, on July 8, and he was taken to the American Embassy there.
Many witnesses at the hearing will be keeping their identity from the public. No photographs are allowed in or outside the courtroom and some witnesses are expected to use only their rank and first name.
(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)