Published December 20, 2015
Republicans on Saturday welcomed the news of Marine Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi being released from a Mexico prison and the efforts by GOP congressmen to help broker a deal but questioned whether the Obama administration did enough.
“President Obama still isn’t using all of the tools and levers that we have as the world’s lone super power, whether it is as simple as getting Sgt. Tahmooressi released from custody to defending our interests or protecting our allies in the Middle East,” Arkansas GOP Rep. Tom Cotton told Fox News.
Cotton, who is now running for Senate, wrote Obama asking him to intervene.
A Mexican judge on Friday ordered Tahmooressi’s immediate release, after he spent seven months behind bars for crossing the border with loaded guns.
The judge said Tahmooressi should be freed because of his mental state. But he did not make a determination on the illegal-arms charges against the Afghanistan veteran diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, according to a Mexican official who had knowledge of the ruling but was not authorized to give his name.
California GOP Rep. Dana Rohrabacher told The Washington Times that Obama was “AWOL” throughout the process.
Rohrabacher said he, fellow California GOP Rep. Ed Royce, former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and Arizona GOP Matt Salmon fought for Tahmooressi’s release after President Obama did not.
“The president, who is also the commander in chief, didn’t do his job,” Rohrabacher told the newspaper. “There is a lack of concern for this man, for this American hero who served our country. As commander in chief he showed a total disdain and non-interest in an American hero who served us in Afghanistan and a total disregard for the fact that he was suffering.”
Tahmooressi has said he took a wrong turn on a California freeway that funneled him into a Tijuana port of entry with no way to turn back.
"It is with an overwhelming and humbling feeling of relief that we confirm that Andrew was released today after spending 214 days in Mexican Jail," his family said in a statement.
Former 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin called the announcement of Tahmooressi’s release “wonderful news.”
But Palin also said she was disappointed to hear reports that the White House “never did fight” for his freedom.
“If true, then President Obama once again broke that sacred commitment to never leave an American behind,” she said on her Facebook page. “If I'm wrong on this, I'll be more than happy to acknowledge the president's efforts to see an honored vet set free.”
Republican and Democratic politicians had held talks with Mexican authorities to urge his release. A U.S. congressional committee also held a public hearing to pressure Mexico to free him.
Royce, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said he was "elated" by the news and that Tahmooressi’s PTSD will be treated by specialists in the United States.
"As I said after visiting Andrew in the Mexican jail, he needs to come home to the United States to be with his mother, Jill, and the support network of friends I know to be standing by to help him,” Royce said.
Richardson, who grew up in Mexico and has negotiated on a range of international issues, said he met with Tahmooressi in jail in the border city of Tecate, and he had talked to Mexican officials to urge them to release him on humanitarian grounds.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., also applauded his release.
"As a mother, my heart is with Jill Tahmooressi tonight and I can only imagine the many emotions she must be experiencing, namely the relief in knowing her son is coming home and that they will soon be reunited.”
Mexican authorities, however, had made clear that they would not be influenced by politics and that the matter was in the hands of its courts.
The Mexico Embassy said the judge’s rule was the correct legal decision but disputed allegations that U.S. officials were blocked from seeing Tahmooressi.
“From the first moment of his arrest up until his release, U.S. consular officials had access to him,” the embassy said in a statement.
In Mexico, possession of weapons restricted for use by the Army is a federal crime, and the country has been tightening up its border checks to stop the flow of US weapons that have been used by drug cartels.
His attorney, Fernando Benitez, had pushed for the 26-year-old Florida man to be released because Mexico has no experience in treating combat-related PTSD, even in its own soldiers.
Benitez had argued that Tahmooressi carries loaded guns with him because his weapons, which were bought legally in the U.S., make him feel safer. He added that the veteran is often distracted, which could have contributed to him becoming lost.
Still, Mexican prosecutors maintained Tahmooressi broke the law.
Tahmooressi was carrying in his truck a rifle, shotgun, pistol and hundreds of rounds of ammunition.
After being jailed in Tijuana, Tahmooressi's mother said, he tried to kill himself by cutting his neck with a shard from a light bulb in his cell because the guards and inmates threatened to rape, torture and kill him and he feared she would be in danger.
He was transferred to another prison, where a pastor visited him regularly and the Mexican government says he was under medical observation.
But a psychiatrist hired by Mexican prosecutors to examine the Afghanistan veteran agreed with the defense that he should get PTSD treatment in the United States, noting in a Sept. 30 report that Tahmooressi, who now serves in the Marine reserve, feels like he is constantly in danger.
Tahmooressi did not admit wrongdoing, and he still maintains his innocence, his attorney said.
His mother has said her son's time in a Mexican jail has been worse than his two tours in Afghanistan.
Tahmooressi left Florida for San Diego in January to get help after dropping out of college, unable to concentrate or sleep, his mother said.
The case marks one of the first times Mexico made a ruling on PTSD — though the psychological wound is increasingly used in U.S. courts, especially in arguing for reduced sentences.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.