Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Will America let an innocent U.S. Marine languish in a Mexican prison? We have so far.

You can make a difference.  If you care to do so.

At first I didn’t pay much attention to the case of U.S. Marine Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi.  And I’m guessing I was like a lot of people in that regard.  I’d heard that he’d been jailed after showing up at a Mexican border checkpoint with three guns in his truck.  I knew that anyone who drives anywhere near the border sees signs warning you not to do that.  I thought, “What a chump,” and dismissed it from my mind.

But late last month a Facebook posting made me sit up and pay attention.  A journalist friend of mine for whom I have a great deal of respect was calling for a boycott of Mexico.  The friend is a retired TV anchor named Wes Sarginson who has decades of experience.  I knew him to be an honorable man, a capable journalist, and a patriot.  If Wes was calling for something as extreme as a boycott, something was up.

I looked more closely.  It turns out, in late March Sgt. Tahmooressi was in southern California after having moved cross country.  He had his entire life’s possessions with him in his vehicle.   Those possessions included three military-style weapons that he’d obtained legally.  One day Sgt. Tahmooressi decided to go to Tijuana to do the tourist thing.  At around 10:00 PM or so that night, according to his story, he returned to his car on the U.S. side, made two left turns out of the parking lot, and wound up in a northbound lane—heading, he thought, for San Diego.  The problem is that in taking that ramp, in the dark he’d missed a sign saying “Mexico only.”  The northbound lane looped around and became southbound.  There was no turnaround; he was committed to driving to the border checkpoint, which lay just up ahead.

As it turns out, that checkpoint is not at the border, but just across it.  The Mexican authorities searched his vehicle and found his weapons.  At this point, Tahmooressi was still not clear that he’d already crossed into Mexico.  And he had no idea of what kind of trouble he was in.  His call to 911 bears this out.  While Mexican authorities were going through his belongings, he used his cell to call 911, seeking help and guidance—and his only concern at that time was that authorities might confiscate his property.  “They’re trying to take my guns from me,” he told the dispatcher.  Questioning him closely, she determined that he was already on Mexican soil, and said there wasn’t a thing she could do for him.

157 days later as of this writing, he’s still there, and that dispatcher’s statement appears to be our country’s official stance.  Mexico’s gun laws—which some of its leaders have suggested our country adopt—provide strict penalties for any violation, even if the violation is accidental and unintentional.  A warning to U.S. tourists posted on the website of Mexico’s Tijuana consulate is very plain about that.  Bring so much as a pocketknife, the warning says, and “You may become one of dozens of U.S. Citizens who are arrested each month for unintentionally violating Mexico’s strict weapons laws.”   Read the statement for yourself to see the harsh treatment Mexico plans for Americans who take a weapon there, even accidentally.

Let me just tell you, as someone who’s walked blissfully around Tijuana myself with a small pocketknife on my person, that warning sends chills down my spine.

Tahmooressi later made the mistake of trying to escape by climbing up a fence.  His treatment at the hands of guards, which wasn’t exactly gentle up to that point, turned savage.  In an exclusive interview with Fox News, he described how guards tied him in such a way as to force him to stand up all night, and he talked about other episodes of mistreatment including being changed naked to a bed in a chilly cell, and having to endure repeated slaps and punches.

The situation is completely outrageous.  Tahmooressi’s story is credible, especially with that 911 tape to back it up.  But his treatment at the hands of Mexican authorities and guards is no accident.  As the Tijuana consulate warning makes clear, such harsh treatment of American tourists is policy.  Mexico wants to make a point about its gun laws—which have served that country so well, leaving the populace disarmed and defenseless against cartel drug thugs—and with its treatment of Tahmooressi and others who get caught in this dragnet, it’s doing so.

More than 134,000 people signed a petition asking President Obama to intervene.   Even after the petition crossed the 100,000 thousand mark where the president has promised to respond, the White House waited weeks to make a statement.  When it finally did so late last week, it dismissed the concerns of the petitioners, pointing out that Mexico is an important trading partner.  The statement made only the vague promise that the State Department will continue to “urge the Mexican authorities to process this case expeditiously.”  Given the harshness of the law under Mexican’s Napoleonic code—under which the accused is guilty until proven innocent—it’s possible, even likely, that such expedited processing, if it were to occur (which it hasn’t—the case isn’t even on the court calendar at present) would only lead to a guilty verdict more quickly.  That Tijuana consulate advisory states that violators could face prison terms of up to 30 years.

This man put his life on the line for our country.  Letting Mexico throw him in prison for the crime of having made a wrong left turn at the border, so that it can tweak our noses about gun control, is beyond unacceptable.

Last week I was urging people concerned about this to sign that petition.  That opportunity is past us now; the petition is closed and the White House has dismissed the concerns.  Please consider the following actions instead:

Boycott Mexico
Don’t travel there.  Don’t buy anything made there.  Make sure you let everyone know you’re doing this and why.

Write the president
I recommend snail mail, not email.  A paper letter requires someone to physically touch it, and therefore cannot be dismissed quite as easily.   Demand that he do something.  There are all kinds of ways American can bring pressure to bear here, if the administration would only choose to do so.

Write your congressional representative as well.

Share this blog posting with your friends and urge them to take similar action.  In today’s modern age, few forms of communication are more powerful than social media—as noted, that’s how I became interested in this case.  Even though I’m a member of the traditional media myself, it took a friend to call it to my attention.  Copy the URL below and paste it on your friends’ Facebook timelines.  Send it out by Twitter and by any other social media sites you may belong to.  Recommend action.  Your friends trust you.  Get them involved.  Many of them will do it if you ask and if you lead by example.  So please share this link:

Contact information is below.  I’ve also included a sample letter template for your convenience, which you may cut-and-paste into a word processing document if you like and alter according to your needs.

Don’t let our Marine rot in prison.  Take action.  And demand action of our government.

U.S. Rep. Matt Salmon (note:  Salmon is from the Gilbert area, not southern Arizona, but he has gotten behind the Tahmooressi case in a big way)
207 North Gilbert Road
Suite 209
Gilbert, AZ 85234
Phone: (480) 699-8239 Fax: (480) 699-4730
Hours: Monday - Friday, 8:30 am - 5:30 pm

U.S. Rep. Ron Barber
3945 E. Fort Lowell Road
Suite 211
Tucson, AZ 85712
Phone: (520) 881-3588
Fax: (520) 322-9490
Hours: M-F 8-5:00 p.m.

U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick
11555 W. Civic Center Dr #104A
Marana, AZ 85653
Phone:  520-382-2663
Fax: 520-382-2664
Hours:  M-F 9am-5pm

U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva
738 N 5th Ave. Suite 110
Tucson, AZ 85705
Phone:  (520) 622-6788
Fax (520) 622-0198
Contact page:

U.S. Senator Jeff Flake
6840 Oracle Road
Suite 150
Tucson, AZ 85704
Phone: (520) 575-8633
Fax: (520) 797-3232 

U.S. Senator John McCain
407 West Congress Street
Suite 103
Tucson, AZ 85701
Main: (520) 670-6334

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500


Sample letter template:

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President:

I am writing to respectfully request that you personally look into the matter of Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi, a U.S. Marine now being held captive in a Mexican jail for the apparent crime of having made a wrong turn at the border.

Sgt. Tahmooressi states that he meant to take a ramp to San Diego and not drive to a Mexican border checkpoint in Tijuana.  But he took a wrong turn and wound up headed south on a freeway that did not provide a turnaround lane.  As Sgt. Tahmooressi was in the process of moving cross-country at the time, he had all his earthly possessions with him, including three firearms that were perfectly legal for him to have in our country.

Sgt. Tahmooressi’s story is credible, and is backed up by a 911 call he made at the time.  Mexican customs officials could have and should have resolved this issue within 15 minutes and sent him on his way.  Instead, they threw him in prison without bail.  Mexico prides itself on its zero-tolerance gun laws.   Please do not let our Marine be sacrificed on that altar.  Mexico’s treatment of Sgt. Tahmooressi is an outrage.  Further, as the same thing could happen to any of our citizens who make the same mistake—indeed, the Tijuana consulate has posted a warning stating that Americans will be treated harshly even for unintentional violations—this cannot be construed as a friendly act.  I hope you will agree that this situation is not acceptable.

I respectfully ask you to intervene in Sgt. Tahmooressi’s behalf. 

Respectfully submitted,

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