Sgt. Tahmooressi comes home at last

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  • 08/21/2022

After seven months and change spend languishing in Mexican jails - where conditions were so bad that he tried to cut his own throat with a piece of broken glass from a light bulb, fearing rape and torture by guards and other inmates - Marine Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi is home at last.  Following his release from Mexico, he was flown back to his family home in Florida on Saturday.

Tahmooressi's saga is one of the strangest and most infuriating incidents in recent U.S.-Mexico relations; the Mexican government's insistence on holding him under hideous conditions for a minor infraction he claimed, quite plausibly, he made by mistake did not sit well with Americans mindful of how indulgent their country has been towards Mexico.  It came at a time the Mexicans were ushering a tidal wave of illegal immigrants from South America across their northern border, with no secret made of the Mexicans' burning desire to make those people America's problem.  The treatment of people who sail across the border on a northerly heading certainly seems to be different from what happens if you cross from the United States into Mexico, even if it's fairly obviously done by accident.

The Mexicans claim they went hard on Tahmooressi because they want to crack down on gun violence from drug cartels in their country - a laudable goal, but it's not easy to see how railroading one American with three guns in the back of his pickup truck was going to throw the fear of God into the cartels.  If the Mexican government is worried about guns from the United States crossing the border, they should have a long talk with retiring Attorney General Eric Holder, President Barack Obama, and those who carried out Operation Fast and Furious.  Many of those guns remain unaccounted for to this day; they tend to get recovered from scenes that feature a lot of yellow tape and chalk outlines.

Somehow Tahmooressi's plight became a partisan struggle, and something of a "Fox News and talk radio story" in the eyes of the mainstream media, because of the Obama Administration's downright bizarre refusal to help.  The President himself had nothing to say on the matter, despite repeated pleas for intervention from congressional Republicans.

Rep. Tom Cotton (R-AR), who penned a formal letter to the President asking him to intervene, was one of several Republicans quoted by Fox News with a certain "thanks-for-nothing" attitude toward the White House's performance: "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."

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) was even more blunt, declaring Obama "AWOL" during the struggle to secure Tahmooressi's release.  "The President, who is also the commander-in-chief, didn't do his job," said Rohrabacher.  "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."

Newsmax quotes Rep. Matt Salmon (R-AZ) saying the White House was of "zero help" securing Tahmooressi's release.  He said he was given personal assurances by Vice President Joe Biden four months ago that the President would get involved, but Obama didn't even broach the subject during a phone call with the Mexican President a week later.

It should be noted that the effort to get Tahmooressi home was not a strictly partisan affair; the former Democratic governor of New Mexico, Bill Richardson, was a key player.  If there was any back-channel pressure from the Obama Administration, it was so subtle as to be completely undetectable by the people who stood tall and demanded the Sergeant's release.  The Administration probably isn't happy to see this story splashed across the front pages, since it will inevitably lead to questions about why the President wasn't involved, especially if a broader mainstream-media news audience hears the grim details of the American's captivity for the first time, and maybe remembers all that noise Obama and his shills made about "leaving no man behind" when they were swapping Taliban big shots for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.  It's hard to claim that Obama held his tongue out of soaring respect for the Mexican legal system when the Mexican government hasn't been shy about expressing its opinions on American legal processes involving Mexican citizens.

Was Obama reluctant to get involved because he thought pushing for this particular prisoner's release would complicate his political messaging on gun control?  Was this just another side effect of the sunset of American prestige around the world under Barack Obama, bringing us to a place where the President of the United States doesn't even have any pull with our next-door neighbors, and Obama worried that a blunt refusal of his public overtures would make him look bad?  It's interesting that the media doesn't seem terribly interested in these questions, since they instantly went over the moon with wall-to-wall coverage when Obama wanted to work up a little good press by making a deal to get Sgt. Bergdahl back.

U-T San Diego has a good summary of Sgt. Tahmooressi's arrest and release, which was arranged on humanitarian grounds due to his suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder:

Tahmooressi, 25, claims he drove into Tijuana by mistake on a Monday night after taking a wrong turn near the Mexican border in San Ysidro. He had recently moved to San Diego from Florida, and says that he was driving out of a parking lot, intending to head north. But instead he drove into the El Chaparral Port of Entry, where Mexican customs inspectors examined his pickup truck and found more 400 rounds of ammunition and three loaded firearms: a .45-caliber pistol, a 12-gauge shotgun and a 5.56 mm assault rifle.

His release was ordered by Judge Victor Octavio Luna Escobedo of the Sixth Federal District Court in Tijuana. Had Tahmooressi been convicted, he would have faced seven to 21 years behind bars.

Luna Escobedo declined to comment. A statement from Mexico???s Federal Judicial Council said the judge ordered dismissal of the case after federal prosecutors withdrew their accusation in closing arguments. The judge ordered Tahmooressi???s ???immediate and absolute liberty.???

According to one Mexican official familiar with the case, the grounds for the dismissal were that he is unfit to stand trial because he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Tahmooressi's family released a statement that said his incarceration in Mexico had "taken a toll on him far worse than his two tours in Afghanistan."  Absent a humanitarian release to seek treatment for his PTSD - something that could, and should, have been done long ago - the case was a legal mess of conflicting statements and questions about testimony, including a claim from Tahmooressi's family that he was coached to make false statements by his first attorney.  It has also been noted that he was held for hours after his arrest without an attorney or translator, making the Mexican government's insistence that he didn't accurately describe himself to the authorities - they seem very hung up on his not immediately identifying himself as a Marine - ring hollow to critics of his arrest.  There was never any conclusive proof to doubt his story about making a wrong turn and getting pulled into the port system without realizing what was about to happen to him; it should have been possible to clear up the details of the incident, establish his state of mind, and see him back into the U.S. for treatment without seven months of prison hell.

The prosecution eventually hired a psychiatrist to evaluate Tahmooressi; his reported was just issued at the end of September.  In the report, it was noted that the prisoner "feels like he is constantly in danger."  After six months in Mexican prisons, that's not a psychological disorder, but presumably this state of mind was accepted as the reason he had loaded guns in his car when he was arrested.  One hopes he is feeling safer now that he's back with his family in Florida.  Americans contemplating travel to Mexico would do well to remember every detail of his story.