A Marine whose mysterious disappearance in Iraq was followed by claims he had been kidnapped and beheaded is exhausted but in "excellent" physical condition, and has yet to tell his story, doctors at a U.S. military hospital in Germany said Friday.
Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun, who turned up Thursday at the U.S. Embassy in Beirut nearly three weeks after he vanished, was flown from the Lebanese capital to Ramstein Air Base aboard a C-17 transport jet earlier Friday. He was immediately whisked to the nearby Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, where U.S. Navy doctor Cmdr. Peter Marco examined him.
"I found him in excellent physical condition," Marco told reporters at Landstuhl, though he said Hassoun lost about 20 pounds during his absence. "There are no physical bruises on his body."
Lt. Col. Sally Harvey, a clinical psychologist who met Hassoun in Lebanon and traveled with him to Germany, said Hassoun had yet to tell doctors what happened to him but would likely start talking Saturday.
"He has been sleeping only two to three hours a night for the past three weeks," although it was not yet clear why, Harvey said. "He is so exhausted it's pretty hard to see where he is."
Hassoun is a Lebanese-born Muslim who was working in Iraq as an Arabic translator. He is expected to stay at Landstuhl for a few days before traveling on to Camp Lejeune, N.C., said Maj. Tim Keefe, a spokesman for the Marine Corps in Germany.
While Hassoun was missing, conflicting reports emerged about his fate — first that he was kidnapped, then that he was beheaded, then that he was alive. Arab television on June 27 broadcast a videotape purportedly from Islamic militants showing him blindfolded with a sword held above his head.
In the latest twist to his story, there was speculation he might have deserted his base and been headed to Lebanon when he was abducted. The Navy was investigating whether the entire kidnapping might have been part of a hoax.
Hassoun is out of danger, but he is not out of trouble, reports CBS News National Security Correspondent David Martin.
Technically in time of war, desertion is punishable by death, but nobody's talking about that right now," said Martin at the Pentagon. "Everybody's just trying to figure out what the heck happened here."
Before he boarded the jet in Beirut, Hassoun embraced some people and shook hands with others. His mother, Halimeh, and wife, Rana, were at the airport to see him off, Hassoun's brother, Sami, told The Associated Press.
The circumstances of Hassoun's return to Lebanon from Iraq and how he ended up at the embassy were unclear. Hassoun "came voluntarily and remained at the embassy while embassy and Department of Defense officials worked out the arrangements for his departure," an embassy statement said.
When Hassoun vanished, the Marines said he was on "unauthorized leave" but changed his status to "captured" after the videotape of him blindfolded. On Friday, the Pentagon said his status had changed from "captured" to "returned to military control."
Sami Hassoun told AP that the family met the Marine at the U.S. Embassy late Thursday. "He appeared a bit uneasy and missed his family but was relieved to see us," he said.
Hassoun's capture was claimed by a group calling itself Islamic Response and came during the tense days before the U.S. transfer of sovereignty to an interim Iraqi government June 28, a period of increased abductions and killings of foreigners and attacks on U.S. forces.
A statement on an Islamic militant Web site Saturday claimed Hassoun had been beheaded; there had been similar slayings of an American businessman and a South Korean translator in Iraq and an American contractor in Saudi Arabia. But the next day, a statement on another Islamic Web site denied he had been killed.
A neighbor in Tripoli said Hassoun left Lebanon for Utah in 1999, joining his parents and brother. Educated in Lebanon at American schools, he joined the Marines in 2001. He married an American woman two years ago, but they divorced.
The neighbor and a distant cousin, Abdullah Hassoun, said the Marine married a cousin in Lebanon by proxy several months ago. His father signed the marriage contract for him, which Islam permits.