This weekend we celebrate Memorial Day in honor of our American servicemen and women who have sacrificed their lives defending us both at home and abroad. Many of our troops enlist in the military upon adulthood and have served in wars before their classmates have even graduated from college. These men and women are true American heroes and we must protect them just as well as they protect us.
Unfortunately, despite President Obama’s Memorial Day proclamation that we shall “never forget” the sacrifices of our soldiers, he and Secretary of State John Kerry have forgotten about a living American hero in dire need rescue: U.S. Marine Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi.
Tahmooressi, only 25-years-old, is currently jailed in Tijuana, Mexico, after he accidentally drove across the border with three legally owned guns.
During the four years he served in the Marines, he did two tours in Afghanistan. While on the battlefield, he saved eight Marines from the Taliban, and in a separate incident he saved a Marine from bleeding to death after he stepped on an IED and lost his legs. Tahmooressi also suffered a concussion when his vehicle hit an IED.
On March 20, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs diagnosed Tahmooressi with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Though he is from Florida, Tahmooressi chose a facility in San Diego for treatment, and he moved there shortly after his diagnosis. He had friends in the area and began dating a girl he met at church.
On the night of March 31, he drove alone to meet some friends near the Mexican border. Because he was in transition, his truck was filled with his possessions, including a ladder strapped to his roof.
As midnight approached, Tahmooressi says he got lost due to border checkpoint closures, redirected traffic and lack of signage. Because he was unfamiliar with the area, he wound up at the El Chaparral inspection area at the Tijuana border.
He was granted entry into Mexico but was stopped by Mexican border agents when he tried to turn around and re-enter the U.S. He was cooperative with the agents and immediately disclosed that he had three legally owned firearms in his truck. Fearing the Mexican authorities would seize his guns, he called 911.
“My problem is I crossed the border by accident and I have three guns in my truck and they’re trying to take my guns from me,” he told the dispatcher.
“So you’re in Mexico…There’s nothing I can help you with, sir…You’re not on American soil anymore,” she responds.
He answered, “I don’t know if I’m really on …I’m not sure if I’ve crossed yet.”
Tahmooressi went on to say that there was not a “turn around point," and then the call ended.
No one disputes that Tahmooressi violated Mexican law by entering the country with firearms, and the U.S. respects Mexico’s right to autonomously prosecute suspected criminals.
But the U.S. and Mexico also share mutual goals and work together as partners to eradicate drug cartels. In fact, the U.S. recently assisted Mexico in capturing the notorious drug lord known as "El Chapo" Guzman, the kingpin of the Sinaloa drug cartel. We provided intelligence, boots on the ground and even a surveillance drone.
Unfortunately, the Mexican government has chosen to unreasonably prosecute an American. The only thing Tahmooressi is guilty of is making an honest mistake by unknowingly entering Mexico while in possession of his legally owned firearms.
The Mexican government has chosen to criminally charge a member of our military who has no criminal record, who was not in possession of drugs or other illegal contraband, who was not engaged in suspicious activity that suggested his alignment with a cartel and who suffers from a serious yet treatable mental disorder. Tahmooressi was diagnosed with PTSD after fighting in an international war on terror aimed not only at protecting Americans, but also Mexicans.
According to California Rep. Duncan Hunter’s deputy chief of staff, Joe Kasper, Mexican prosecutors initially discussed charging Tahmooressi with gun trafficking, despite a complete lack of evidence.
In defense of Mexico's prosecution of Tahmooressi for three charges of firearms possession, Alejandro Gonzalez Guilbot, head of Mexican customs in Tijuana, stated that Tahmooressi never claimed he was lost. This is nothing less than a lie. The 911 recording, obtained by Hunter, clearly proves that Tahmooressi was lost.
It should not go without mentioning that Guilbot, a lifelong public servant to Mexico, is under investigation by the Ministry of Public Service because of his lavish possessions, including a 2012 Rolls Royce Phantom valued at over $300,000, a BMW, a Lexus, many other luxury cars, a million-dollar home in a gated community in Houston and another property in Texas.
The Mexican government’s tactics also included telling Tahmooressi’s lawyer that he could not consent to an interview because there was no paper or pen in the entire jail. After an unreasonable delay, authorities eventually found writing materials.
In the United States, most states require a “preliminary hearing” 30 days after arrest if the defendant is in custody. In Mexico, however, the delay is considerably longer. Tahmooressi's evidentiary-type hearing is not scheduled until May 28, almost two months after his arrest.
Not only should Tahmooressi be released in the interest of reasonableness and justice, but also to show compassion for his mental health and safety.
Mexico has failed to treat Tahmooressi for his PTSD. In March, while in a Tijuana jail cell, he slit his throat and tried to escape because of he feared for his safety.
After he was treated, officials chained all four of his limbs to his hospital bed. Now back in jail, he remains chained to his bed by one leg.
Equally egregious is our own government’s lack of desire and priority to negotiate Tahmooressi’s release.
Hunter has worked tirelessly, and essentially single-handedly, to get the help of our top officials. He has written numerous letters to Secretary of State John Kerry and has yet to receive a response. Kerry was in Mexico earlier this week and "raised" the issue, but to what extent is unknown. Despite Tahmooressi's condition, the U.S. Consulate has not visited him since May 9, and it has told Hunter that it has not scheduled any future visits with him.
Hunter has asked Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to suspend all funding to Mexico for equipment transfers and training. In 2013, we trained over 3,000 Mexican troops. Between 2008-2011, the Department of Defense gave $428.7 million worth of equipment to Mexican security forces, including planes, Blackhawk helicopters, and scanners. Hunter has yet to receive a response from Hagel.
It is not in Mexico’s best interest to prosecute a man who indirectly fought to protect the lives of Mexicans while representing the United States in Afghanistan.
Tahmooressi was not the first person to mistakenly enter Mexico, and he will not be the last.
President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry, you must not allow the wrongful prosecution of an American hero. You must not allow Mexico to hold our solider hostage for an honest mistake. You must not allow a young man, who suffers from PTSD as a result of protecting you, your families and fellow Americans, to be chained to a bed and continue to go untreated.
Now is the time for you to demand Mexico release Andrew Tahmooressi or face serious consequences.
Time is of the essence.