Marine who went missing in Iraq is set for U.S. return
July 15, 2004
KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — A U.S. Marine seen on television as being held hostage by militants in Iraq before he turned up in Lebanon has been released from a military hospital in Germany.
Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun spent four days at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, undergoing what military physicians called repatriation and debriefing.
He was bound for Marine Corps Base Quantico in Virginia, where he would continue the repatriation process, Marine Corps spokesman Capt. Dan McSweeney said Wednesday.
“The main thing is to ensure his mental and physical well-being and allow him to continue to decompress,” McSweeney said.
Hassoun was scheduled to leave Ramstein Air Base on Wednesday afternoon in a C-5 Galaxy, but mechanical problems delayed the flight by at least a day, officials said.
When he travels, he’ll be accompanied by a Landstuhl psychologist and a Marine Corps public affairs officer, hospital spokeswoman Marie Shaw said. They were to fly to Dover, Del.
Depending on weather, he’ll either take a flight to Quantico or make the roughly 135-mile trip in a van or car, said Corps spokesman Capt. Jeffrey Landis.
Originally, the Corps plan to return Hassoun to his home base of Camp Lejeune, N.C.
But Quantico puts him closer to intelligence officials, investigators and the health officials at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., officials said.
Depending on the availability of rooms, officials at Quantico want to house Hassoun in the Bachelor Officer Quarters, where there is more living space, and is closer to the main gate and facilities at Quantico. If there is no room, he’ll be housed in the enlisted quarters, Landis said.
Hassoun, 24, arrived at the Landstuhl hospital late Friday night, exhausted but in good health. He had lost 20 pounds and hadn’t slept more than a few hours a night for three weeks, hospital physicians said.
The Marine disappeared June 20 from a camp near Fallujah, Iraq, where he worked as a truck driver and translator for the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, based at Camp Lejeune.
He was seen on Arab television June 27, blindfolded with someone holding a sword above his head. Conflicting reports of his capture and possible murder had circulated for days before Hassoun arrived July 8 in Lebanon, where his family lives. He met with U.S. Embassy officials in Beirut before the military flew him to Germany.
Initially, the military listed Hassoun as a deserter but then changed that to “captured,” after the videotape was aired.
McSweeney said the military’s Joint Personnel Recovery Agency, which specializes in treating people who have been held captive, recommended continuing the repatriation process. Until that is complete, no investigation into the “missing persons inquiry” would continue,” McSweeney said. The Naval Criminal Investigative Service will pursue that inquiry, he said.
Hassoun has not yet been questioned by the NCIS and will not be confined while at Quantico, McSweeney said.
Shaw, the Landstuhl spokeswoman, said the third repatriation phase is meant to continue to ease Hassoun back into normal life. The Marine issued a written statement before leaving the hospital, saying he was happy to go home and thankful for the support he received.
“I saw him this morning,” Shaw said. “He was in uniform. He was smiling more than he was before. He was a lot more relaxed because he had slept and eaten well.”
— Stripes reporter Sandra Jontz contributed to this report from the Pentagon.
Marine Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun issued this written statement before leaving Landstuhl Regional Medical Center on Wednesday:
“I am happy to have completed this phase of my repatriation. The people here at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center have treated me very well, but I am excited to be going home. All thanks and praise are due to God for my safety. I’m also very thankful for all the kind wishes, support and prayers for me and my family from my fellow Marines, all the people in the U.S., Lebanon, and around the world. I am in good health and spirits. I look forward to my return home to friends and family. Semper fidelis.”