By Christine Coe
Last Friday, a Mexican judge ordered the immediate release of Andrew Tahmooressi, the 26-year-old marine imprisoned in Tijuana for 214 days when he took a wrong turn in San Ysidro, California finding himself stuck at a Port of Entry.
Tahmooressi, who served two tours in Afghanistan, left his Florida home in January to seek treatment at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in La Jolla, California for PTSD. After being in California for only a couple of months, he found himself lost on an unfamiliar road late in the evening of March 31. The road was poorly marked with no visible signage to indicate he was en route to the Mexican border. Once he discovered his mistake it was too late, as that road has no turn off or exit point for drivers to correct their route.
Tahmooressi, who suffers from paranoia, was carrying three loaded weapons; a rifle, a shotgun and a pistol; he also had hundreds of rounds of ammunition. All three weapons were legally registered in the United States. According to his attorney Fernando Benitez, he keeps his loaded weapons nearby because they make him feel safer.
Tahmooressi, who had been officially diagnosed a week before his wrong turn, was evaluated by a psychiatrist hired by prosecutors to evaluate his condition on September 30. His condition was corroborated by the psychiatrist who stated in a report that the marine felt he was in constant danger.
The judge ordered his release based on this report, citing his mental health and need to receive appropriate treatment in the US, without commenting on the weapons charge against him. It is a Federal violation to possess weapons restricted for use by the Army in Mexico which is legitimately battling the inflow of U.S. weapons across the border where they end up in the hands of violent drug cartels. Tahmooressi however, was never charged with the sale or distribution of weapons, nor was his entry intentional and Republican congressmen and senators widely supported his innocence.
Fellow marines who served with Andrew Tahmooressi considered him a hero and one of the bravest marines with whom they had served. Tahmooressi was given a meritorious battlefield promotion to sergeant for his service. He had served his country courageously and won overwhelming support from Americans who turned out in big numbers at rallies across the country petitioning the White House to demand his release.
Those pleas fell on the deaf ears of a President who “leaves no man behind.”
President Obama has come under sharp criticism for his muted inaction in this case, particularly by Republicans who worked hard to gain the heroes release. Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) told the Washington Times,
“The President, who is also the commander-in-chief, didn’t do his job. 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.” Rohrbacher called Obama’s lack of interest in the case a “slap in the face to veterans.”
Further noting that Obama had “gone AWOL.”
Representative Matt Salmon (R-AZ) headed a subcommittee that held two hearings on the matter. He said pointedly that Obama did not put the effort in Andrew Tahmooressi’s release as he had for deserter Bowe Bergdahl, whose release was illegally negotiated with the release of five of the most extreme Taliban prisoners in Guantanamo Bay. Adding that “he didn’t lift a finger” and “couldn’t even make a phone call.”
Sargent Bowe Bergdahl’s release, by comparison, commanded Obama’s focused attention. He appeared to work tirelessly for the man’s release long before his controversial trade of the so-called deadly Taliban Five. Under fire for actions which side-stepped Congress despite laws forbidding his executive action, the President said vehemently that he would not apologize for the deal.
“We had a prisoner of war whose health had deteriorated and we were deeply concerned about — and we saw an opportunity and we seized it. And I make no apologies for that.” Adding piously, “America does not leave soldiers behind.”
If Obama wants to tout this long-held military principle, what happened in Andrew Tahmooressi’s case? While Bergdahl was a deserter who endangered his entire unit, Tahmooressi served valiantly, earning promotions and admiration.
If indeed, “no man left behind” is a valuable tenet the President clings to and used to justify setting loose five of the alleged most dangerous enemies to America, what happened to his values? Certainly Tahmooressi’s health was equally deteriorating and deserved similar concern?
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