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CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. (AP) -- A Marine charged with desertion after he disappeared from his unit in Iraq and contends he was abducted may seek a civilian lawyer along with his assigned military attorney, an officer said Monday.
A two-day pretrial investigatory hearing, called an Article 32 in the military justice system, is scheduled to start Tuesday at Camp Lejeune for Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun. The hearing is similar to a civilian grand jury and a military judge will recommend to a commander whether a court-martial will be held.
At least one witness is scheduled to testify, but the hearing might be delayed if Hassoun wants to hire a civilian lawyer.
"Defense counsel is prepared to go, but Hassoun apparently has some issue with (his) defense," said Maj. Matt Morgan, spokesman for the 4th Marine Expeditionary Brigade, a special unit formed for anti-terrorism deployments after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
"He has a reasonable amount of time to retain counsel," Morgan added.
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.
The Article 32 hearing will be overseen by Col. David Wunder, a career judge advocate with more that 20 years of experience in military law. Wunder was selected because he is not a member of Hassoun's command.
Hassoun 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 4th 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, Morgan said.
Hassoun was last 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.
(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)