Column: Misguided partisans ask Obama to intervene for Marine jailed in Mexico

A poster from a May protest attended by about 100 people near the San Ysidro border crossing shows support for Marine reservist Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi, who is being held in a Mexican jail on weapons charges.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

I have news for the fevered partisans accusing President Obama of putting the welfare of one American soldier held prisoner in a foreign country over another.

The situation of Marine reservist Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi, 25, who has been jailed in Mexico since March 31 after being busted on the Mexican side of the U.S.-Mexico border with three firearms in his car, is not remotely comparable to the situation of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was held for five years by the Taliban.

And you’re not doing Tahmooressi any favors by pushing that narrative.

Tahmooressi, who served two tours of duty in Afghanistan before retiring, told Greta Van Susteren that after spending the day in Tijuana (where he checked into, then out of, a hotel), he returned to the U.S. side of the border, and got into his truck.


He made a wrong turn, he said, and ended up accidentally crossing back into Mexico, where he tried to turn around but was stopped by Mexican border guards. He told them he had three guns – all legal in the U.S. – whereupon they arrested him because guns are illegal in Mexico, whether you entered the country by accident or not.

According to Vice News, Tahmooressi entered Mexico with a 5.56mm rifle, a 12-gauge shotgun and a .45-caliber pistol, as well as more than 400 rounds of ammunition. The chief Mexican customs officer at the San Ysidro crossing told Vice that the guns, all loaded, were “just wrapped up in his belongings” rather than locked away and unloaded as required by California law. Vice also reported that “the rifle was found behind the driver’s seat, the shotgun on the passenger seat, and the pistol was in the driver-side door pocket, along with several cartridges.”

It’s pretty hard to accidentally end up in Mexico. Especially with guns. There are big signs on the U.S. side telling travelers that guns are illegal in Mexico. There’s plenty of warning that the border is approaching. Is it plausible that Tahmooressi crossed by accident in the dark? Maybe. I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, even though he admitted that he lied to Mexican officials about how many times he’d crossed the border.

Tahmooressi’s mother, Jill Tahmooressi, has been campaigning in the media for American officials to secure her son’s release. A nurse, she told Vice News that her son needs specialized treatment. She said she had observed signs of paranoia in him, and that he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder at the Veterans Affairs facility in La Jolla on March 12. She said he is “hypervigilant” and in 2013, suffered from “hunter-prey syndrome; he was the prey.”

Let’s leave aside for the moment the horror we may feel at the idea that a psychologically compromised veteran who believes he is being hunted is driving around with three loaded guns and a cache of bullets, and is so out of it he misses numerous alerts that he is about to cross an international border.

Was it proper for Mexican authorities to arrest him on suspicion of violating the country’s gun laws? Of course it was.

Should Mexico release the former Marine? Yes. I think Mexico should, and I think Mexico will.

And then every effort should be made to get this young man into treatment, and to separate him from his guns and ammo before he hurts himself or anyone else.

As my colleague Tony Perry has reported, at least 24 members of Congress have called on the State Department to work with Mexican authorities to free Tahmooressi. Last month, Secretary of State John Kerry brought up Tahmooressi’s plight in talks with Mexican officials, and the case is being monitored by the U.S. Consulate in Mexico.

Still, that hasn’t stopped the partisan noise machine from trying to use this unfortunate young man’s plight as a cudgel against the president.

“This Administration went to unprecedented lengths for Bowe Bergdahl by making a lopsided deal with an untrustworthy partner,” U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter told Fox News. Meanwhile, “Andrew Tahmooressi is still stuck in a Mexican jail for making a wrong turn.”

On Monday, in an open letter to Obama, Veteran of Foreign Wars Commander-in-Chief William Thien wrote that the charges against Tahmooressi “appear to be a desperate attempt by a failing nation-state to project strength against the United States.” You don’t insult an ally, especially when you are asking it for a favor.

This situation requires diplomacy, and diplomacy requires restraint. No country wants to be told how to administer justice, or bullied into ignoring its own laws.

Those who try to link this hapless Marine’s situation to the release of Bergdahl are not doing Tahmooressi any favors. He’s been incarcerated for just over two months. They should stop comparing him to a soldier who spent five years in captivity.

The louder they yell, the more they imply that Mexican laws are expendable (or should be overlooked just this once), the longer it’s going to take to get Tahmooressi home.