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Wednesday, July 07, 2004

The strange saga of Marine Cpl. Wassef Hassoun

Hassoun called his family today to tell them he is safe . . . in Lebanon
WEST JORDAN, Utah (CNN) -- Marine Cpl. Wassef Hassoun called his family Wednesday to tell them he is safe and in Lebanon, a source close to his family told CNN.

The source said Hassoun contacted the family in West Jordan, Utah, and Lebanon and told them that he had called the U.S. Embassy in Beirut and asked that he be picked up from an undisclosed location in Lebanon. The source said Hassoun sounded healthy and happy.

The source said the family was awaiting word from the embassy in Beirut to find out if it had custody of Hassoun.

There was no immediate confirmation from the Pentagon or the State Department.

Tuesday, Hassoun's brother Sami told CNN the family had received a clear sign that his brother is alive and has been released. He would not elaborate.

The 24-year-old American translator of Lebanese descent was reported missing in Iraq on June 20.

Arabic-language television station Al-Jazeera on June 27 aired a video showing Hassoun blindfolded with a sword suspended over his head. A narrator on the tape said the captive would be killed if the United States did not free jailed Iraqis.

On July 1, the Pentagon listed him as captured.

"He's alive and he's released and thank God for that," his brother Sami said Tuesday. "The sign came to us, we are sure of it."

On Monday, a group claiming to have kidnapped Wassef Hassoun said it had taken him to safety, Al-Jazeera reported.

He "has been sent to a safe place after he had announced his forgiveness and his determination not to go back to the U.S. forces," said the group -- which calls itself "Islamic Response," the security wing of the Islamic Resistance of Iraq -- in a statement faxed to Al-Jazeera and posted on the network's Web site.

Earlier reports on other Islamist Web sites said Hassoun had been beheaded.

Hassoun, who now lives in West Jordan [Utah], was trained as a truck driver, but worked as an Arabic translator. He was last seen June 19 and was reported missing when he failed to report for duty the next day.

I don't want to make any politically incorrect judgements before knowing what happened, but CNN does skip mention of the fact that not only is Cprl. Hassoun "of Lebanese descent," but he also happens to be Muslim. Nick Berg, an American Jew, was kidnapped and beheaded in Iraq. So was Paul Johnson, who I believe was Christian. Now here's an American Muslim who is kidnapped and released, ostensibly having promised not to return to the U.S. military.

Remember Sgt. Asan Akbar, who rolled a grenade into the tents of his commanding officers in Iraq, back in March, and proceeded to shoot the soldiers that ran out after the explosion? He killed two of his fellows and injured 14 others.

Depending on how the Hassoun story unfolds, this has the potential of adding up to something very uncomfortable for Americans. An article at Slate.MSN.com tells us that as many as 3,000 American soldiers converted to Islam during the first Gulf War, and somewhere betwwen 4000-15,000 Muslims may be serving the U.S. military today.

I don't think I'd even bring it up if it weren't terribly clear to me that if the situation were reversed, if American Jews were being asked to fight Israeli Jews [Gd forbid], you KNOW that there would be a major public controversy surrounding it. We Jews have been known to speak among ourselves as to whether we consider ourselves Jewish Americans . . . or American Jews. In a hypothetical squeeze, we would be expected to explain ourselves, and rationally so.

The way it is, we tiptoe around our Muslim American brothers, trying not to even consider the vaguest possibility of perhaps offending anyone in any way. But I'll you something, if this Cpl. doesn't get back to work as a translator for the Marine Corps, I'm going to want to know why not, and I'm not going to tiptoe or play nice.

If the guy's name was Lieberman, the questions and accusations would fly, just like they have with Uncle Joe. Google ["Joe Lieberman" + loyalty] and you'll get over 7,000 hits. Keep in mind that Israel is our ally.

More Google searches affirm the extent of my cynicism: ["Asan Akbar" + loyalty] yields 112 hits. Wassef Hassoun? 14. And most of those who have raised the question in this direction were promptly slammed with charges of incendiary biogotry and racism; see this thread for example.