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Mexican prosecutors defend treatment of Marine held on weapons charge

MexicoU.S. CongressHuman RightsMatt SalmonVeterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S.
Mexican government says jailed Marine receiving 'due process' on weapons charge
Marine was violent and lied after being arrested in Mexico on weapons charge, prosecutors say

Under pressure from politicians in the U.S. to release a Marine reservist being held on a weapons charge, the Mexican attorney general's office has taken the unusual step of defending its handling of the case.

The case against Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi, who was arrested April 1 and remains in jail, has been handled according to Mexican law and any allegation of mistreatment is "baseless," according to a statement issued Friday by the attorney general's office.

The attorney general's office "reiterates its commitment to the observance of human rights and respect for due process of all arrested."

Tahmooressi, 25, who served two tours in Afghanistan, was arrested after crossing the border at San Ysidro with three weapons and dozens of rounds of ammunition in his pickup truck, officials said.

Initially kept in the notorious La Mesa prison near Tijuana, he has since been transferred to the El Hongo prison outside in Tecate, where conditions are better, according to Tahmooressi's supporters.

Two dozen members of Congress and veterans group have called for his release. Secretary of State John F. Kerry mentioned the case to Mexican officials during his recent trip to Mexico City.

A court hearing for Tahmooressi was canceled after he fired his Mexican lawyer. No date for a rescheduled hearing has been set.

"From the moment of his arrest, Mr. Tahmooressi's fundamental rights have been respected, including the rights to due process and personal integrity, as well as his right to consular notification and access, given that he is a foreign citizen," the attorney general's statement said.

At the time of the incident, Tahmooressi had recently moved from Florida to San Diego in hopes of receiving treatment at the Veterans Affairs hospital in La Jolla for post-traumatic stress disorder.

He initially told reporters and his family that he had mistakenly driven across the border because he had never been to Mexico and missed seeing a sign along Interstate 5 that would have allowed him to remain in the U.S.

That story has since unraveled with information from U.S. authorities that shows that Tahmooressi had been in Mexico on at least three occasions.

When Tahmooressi was in the La Mesa prison, he "demonstrated violent behavior, twice attempting to escape," the statement from Mexican officials said.

Tahmooressi has told reporters that he was being "tortured" at the La Mesa prison and was forced to fight back to protect himself. He also said that he initially claimed that he had never been to Mexico on the advice of his lawyer, who he has since fired.

Tahmooressi had a rifle, a shotgun and a .45-caliber pistol in his pickup truck, along with the ammunition, officials said. The weapons are legal in the U.S. but illegal in Mexico; a large sign at the border warns visitors not to take weapons across.

Now in a single cell in El Hongo, Tahmooressi has had visits from a pastor and, last week, from Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.)

In the moments after his arrest, Tahmooressi made a 911 call asking for assistance. During that call, he told the emergency operator that he had mistakenly driven into Mexico.

"In Mexico, as in the U.S., ignorance of the law, error or misunderstandings about the consequences of breaking the law, do not exempt an individual from responsibility," according to the statement from the Mexican attorney general's office.

The commander in chief of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S. this week wrote to President Obama asking him to "show the same sense of urgency toward Tahmooressi as you did to secure the release" of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, held by the Taliban in Afghanistan for five years.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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MexicoU.S. CongressHuman RightsMatt SalmonVeterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S.
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