Countless elated Americans are celebrating the release of Marine Reserve Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi after 214 days of incarceration in Mexican prison.
Americans supported and empathized with Sgt.Tahmooressi due to his incarceration for mistakenly crossing the Mexican border. He entered the Tijuana border crossing with his belongings during his move to California, including three firearms and ammunition in his vehicle. He faced a potential of seven to 21 years in Mexican prison.
He is free and we celebrate his return while it makes us wonder if/when it will happen again and if so, what type of resolution and support would be expected.
The federal judge in Tijuana claimed Tahmooressi was released because he was unfit to stand trial due to post-traumatic stress disorder. The issue of the mistaken entrance to Mexico by error and confusion was not addressed.
The Mexican government knew within one week that he suffered from combat PTSD but Tahmooressi, interviewed by Greta Van Susteren on Fox News On the Record, claims to have been repeatedly stomach punched, struck him in the face by guards, stripped naked and cuffed to his bed for 30 days. Tahmooressi claims to have attempted suicide.
What would Americans expect under similar circumstances?
Despite no evidence to the contrary, some critics say, "Not so fast." claiming nefarious intent by Tahmooressi's crossing the border. They don't believe his story, being on the wrong road to Tijuana, alleging it was a lame excuse with his real motive concealed. They claim there was clear signage indicating an entrance to Mexico. But his supporters agree, the directions are anything but clear. In fact, California agreed; they later changed the border crossing signage for clarity. Border surveillance video collaborated Tahmooressi's account.
For me personally, there is heightened empathy for Sgt. Tahmooressi. This happened to me at the El Paso/Juarez border crossing. While traveling, assuming that the exit to Juarez lead to the road beside the Rio Grande, my family exited only to find border agents and no route to the Rio Grande. We declared we had no intention to enter Mexico and were thoroughly searched and finally permitted to turn around. Due to the absence of a turnaround lane, agents stopped all traffic entering Juarez; Again, no turn around, period. The border agent indicated that there are several that make the same mistake. Little did we realize that our freedom could have been in danger.
We got turned around, period, no nefarious attempt. Thank God we did not have weapons or else it could have been us thrown in a Mexican jail, tortured and threatened like Tahmooressi.
In pure American style, over 134,000 Americans signed petitions to demand presidential attention to his release. The White House indicated that they "respect the rule of law" and would monitor the situation to make sure he would be treated fairly.
His tireless, fierce, and respectable mother Jill Tahmooressi never gave up hope for her son suffering from PTSD after two tours in Afghanistan. Thanks to a bi-partisan group of public officials including former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, California Rep. Ed Royce, Arizona Rep. Matt Salmon, and supportive veterans, attention to Tahmooressi's well-being was monitored and his release feverishly pursued. Retired Marine Lieutenant Commander, Montel Williams made emotional appeals for resolution claiming he doesn't know if the US has the back of its military, saying, "How dare we fail to secure his release."
Fox News Host Greta Van Susteren, who closely followed Tahmooressi's plight from the very beginning, demanded Washington intervention, verified the confusion with the border by driving Tahmooressi's route. Arizona Congressman Matt Salmon drove the route and understood the case for confusion as well.
Sgt. Tahmooressi is now free but what remains before the dust settles on his case, is a critical review that should be conducted to prevent more border mistakes. A study of lessons learned about Tahmooressi's case would create a level of comfort for Americans. Confused travelers, people with PTSD or dementia, could make the same wrong turn resulting in similar strife. But there may not be the same focus and attention as was provided the marine reservist.
Minimally, all border crossings should be audited to assure turn around lanes for confused and misdirected travelers. Signs need to be clear for freeway exits with border crossing access only, such as Juarez/El Paso, assure high level diplomatic interaction, and remember, calling 911 once you reach the border crossing does not provide emergency assistance:
A 911 tape released by U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-California, appears to support the Marine's version of events.
In it, the Marine is heard saying, "I crossed the border by accident, and I have three guns in my truck, and they're trying to take my guns from me."
After learning he was in Mexico, the 911 dispatcher responded: "There's nothing I can help you with then, sir. I do apologize. You're not on American soil anymore."
Would everyday Americans who make the same mistake be helped by our government? We need to be assured by their word and deed.