With Little Movement at State Dept., Chairman Appeals Directly to Mexico to Release Marine
The chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee asked Mexico's foreign secretary to "expeditiously" resolve the case of a Marine sergeant being held there for bringing guns into the country.
Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi was arrested at the border the night of March 31 and is currently being held in the El Hongo II prison in Tecate, Mexico.
"Mr. Tahmooressi inadvertently arrived at the Mexican border in his vehicle that contained a number of his possessions, including firearms registered in his name in the United States of America. He was not attempting to enter Mexico, but became confused and took a wrong turn that landed him on Mexican territory. I have been following Mr. Tahmooressi’s case closely, and one of my Committee staff members recently met with him to discuss his situation," Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) wrote Thursday to Foreign Secretary Jose Antonio Meade Kuribeña.
"Andrew Tahmooressi is a U.S. Marine Corps reservist who, after honorably serving two combat tours in Afghanistan, suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)," Royce continued. "Mr. Tahmooressi’s diagnosed PTSD presents itself in hyper-vigilance, memory and cognition lapses, and depression. His suicide attempt while incarcerated in the La Mesa penitentiary in Tijuana was a manifestation of this disorder, and underscores the need for this young man to immediately begin treatment at a clinic specialized in combat related PTSD in the United States of America."
The chairman added that he's "respectful of Mexico’s laws and sovereignty" and remains "committed to advancing our bilateral relationship."
"Given the extenuating circumstances surrounding Mr. Tahmooressi’s erroneous arrival at the Mexican border, and the fact that he requires specific and immediate treatment for PTSD, I respectfully ask that you convey to the appropriate authorities in Mexico my fervent hope that his case be resolved expeditiously, so that he may begin treatment posthaste," Royce said.
"I turn to you for assistance in seeing this case resolved in short order, and look forward to continued and necessary efforts to improve security along our common border."
Tahmooressi reportedly had a rifle, a 12-gauge shotgun, a .45-caliber pistol and more than 400 rounds of ammunition in his truck when he was stopped at the San Ysidro crossing.
Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.) visited Tahmooressi last weekend at the Tijuana prison.
"While I’m deeply offended by some of the treatment he received at the hands of prison officials at his previous detainment facility, I’m pleased to report he is doing well and is in good spirits since being relocated to El Hongo II. I also had the opportunity to tour this facility, and I leave confident that he will be treated respectfully," Salmon said in a statement afterward. "I also expressed to both prison officials and U.S. consular personnel that his care going forward is of the utmost importance and that our expectations are that when Andrew comes home, he will be in good physical condition."
Salmon said he had a private chat with Tahmooressi to discuss "strategy" for a hearing that took place this past Wednesday.
“I understand the wheels of justice can be slow, but I remain frustrated that this case, which amounts to a U.S. Marine making a wrong turn, has taken so long to resolve," the congressman said. "Andrew has served our country honorably and was in San Diego to receive the scheduled PTSD treatment he desperately needs. It is imperative that we get him home so he can recover. He is a U.S. Marine, he is ours, and he needs to be home.”
On Wednesday, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said she was aware that Tahmooressi had signed an affidavit claiming he had been mistreated in custody.
"Obviously, we monitor the conditions of U.S. citizens in foreign prisons, work with prison officials to ensure treatment is consistent with internationally recognized standards. In this case, a consular officer visited him on May 29 in the El Hongo prison," Harf said. "During that visit, he filled out an affidavit of mistreatment describing his treatment immediately following his escape attempt from the La Mesa Penitentiary in early April."
"We take such allegations with the utmost seriousness. As you can imagine, we’ll raise the issue with the appropriate authorities in Mexico, as we have repeatedly."
Tahmooressi told Fox's Greta van Susteren in a May 30 interview that he took the opportunity to try to flee when he was able to scale a number of fences and run across rooftops, making it to the gate where he was shot at by a tower guard. He then surrendered.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) recently called on Secretary of State John Kerry to prioritize the case and put pressure on Mexico to release the Marine.
"We’ve raised these issues. We’re raising them constantly. I raised them with Mexican officials when I was in Mexico," Kerry told CNN on May 28. "We are working on determining whether or not certain evidence that has been presented is meeting the standard that’s necessary to be able to hold that young Marine, and we’re trying to find out exactly what the fact pattern is, but we are working on that."
"We hope to be able to inform the family soon about where we stand with respect to the state of the evidence and what his status will be," he added.
Harf told reporters yesterday that there were no updates. "We’ve remained in touch with the Mexican officials on this," she said.
When asked if the State Department is expediting the effort to bring Tahmooressi home, Harf replied, "We are working very hard to discuss with the Mexican authorities the path forward here."
Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) argued last week that the case shows the need for some sort of DMZ along the Mexican border.
"We are not talking about Pakistan or Nigeria or some other third-world country. These are our southern neighbors in Mexico. These are supposed to be people friendly to us. We send billions of jobs -- dollars down there, millions of jobs to Mexico. And we get absolutely nothing in return. In fact, beyond that they jail Marines for no reason and keep them there. So you know, this fully reflects on Mexico, period," Hunter told Fox. "We have done nothing wrong in this country. Andrew has done nothing wrong. This is purely a Mexican problem and it needs to be resolved by Secretary Kerry and the president."
Interstate 5 south takes you directly into the border checkpoint lanes unless you take the last exit in the U.S. to Camino de la Plaza, an area with duty-free shops and parking lots where visitors to Tijuana often park and walk across the border. Signs along I-5 warn that guns are illegal in Mexico, and yellow signage warns of the last exit to remain in the U.S.
"Obviously, now, what we need between Mexico and the United States is some kind of demilitarized zone to where, when you first hit the Mexican federals, you are not in Mexican territory. So you can say, wait a minute, I didn't mean to be here. I have guns, I'm not trying to take them into Mexico. I missed the last exit, please let me go. And they then have to let you go," Hunter said.
"That's what we need on the border, obviously. If Mexico is going to be a bad neighbor, then we need to have some kind of neutral zone where accidents like this don't happen and the Mexican government can't take advantage of young Americans."