In a jail cell in Mexico sits Andrew Tahmooressi, a former Marine Corps Sergeant who served honorably and survived two combat tours in Afghanistan. For almost five months, Andrew has languished in prison for simply taking a wrong turn into Mexico.
In past months, President Obama has found enough time to respond to the proposed deportation of Justin Bieber, talk up the White House beer recipe and offer insights into a wide variety of topics that are comparatively insignificant. His own online petition page collected more than the 120,000 signatures, thereby requiring a response from the White House. But Obama has yet to utter a single word on behalf of Tahmooressi.
As a combat Marine, Andrew saved lives on at least two occasions and survived a roadside bomb blast that destroyed his vehicle and injured himself and others. His promotion to Sergeant came meritoriously and either on the battlefield or off, his commitment to his fellow Marines was unbreakable. In every sense, Andrew was a top-notch.
The alleged crime by no means presents any real shock value: Andrew entered Mexico with three legally owned firearms. He did not conceal the weapons or attempt to mislead Mexican border officials, who happened to deny his initial request to turn around. They confiscated his firearms and the rest of his possessions. That night and into the next day, he endured a period of detention that exceeded the permissible limits, and he was denied the appropriate translation services.
The accusation was that Andrew was trafficking weapons but the facts support a far different version of events. The night he was arrested, Andrew was visiting friends near the border area. He was relatively new to San Diego, California, seeking treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder at the recommendation and instance of friends who lived in the region, which is home to some of the best treatment and care facilities in the country. For area residents, some of whom have lived in San Diego their entire lives, the border is a complicated place, day or night, and wrong turns are quite common.
For whatever reason, Mexican officials violated Andrew’s rights. In fact, my office recovered audio of the 911 phone call Andrew made immediately after he was directed into secondary screening. He tells the dispatcher that he took a wrong turn, that he didn’t intend to enter Mexico and that he presumed turning around was possible. The dispatcher informed him that he missed the turnaround and proceeded to say there was nothing that could be done to help.
The 911 audio is critical to Andrew’s defense, among other key pieces of evidence revealed through several evidentiary hearings. The tape verifies Andrew’s intent not to enter Mexico while other violations, including the prolonged detention and failure to contact U.S. counterparts and provide a suitable translator, invalidate actions on the Mexican side of the border.
Until recently, resolution seemed distant and sometimes uncertain. But new developments in the case could produce a ruling as early as next week thanks in part to a range of legal options that are under serious consideration. The expectation is that Mexico will do the right thing and release Andrew.
Through this entire episode, it is worth noting that Mexico-despite maintaining the belief that its justice system should be given a chance to work-has been relatively direct and open to conversation on Andrew’s detention. Conversely, the President, his Administration and State Department have been silent. And for the most part, any support provided by the State Department has been routine under the circumstances.
A Marine of Andrew’s caliber deserves more from his government. By now, the President and his Administration probably won’t make a difference in Andrew’s case but out of respect to our veterans and our military, the President should try to make an effort at least. Andrew is owed that much from the Commander in Chief he courageously served as U.S. Marine.