The media fuss over last week’s release of Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl from Taliban captivity is just starting to die down, with opinion still split on whether he’s a rescued hero or a deserter who’s not worth the price we paid to get him back. Opinion within the military is predictably one-sided, with about 95% of surveyed troops saying he should be court-martialed unless he has a very good explanation for why he walked out of his OP and went looking for the Taliban. Now, with that story not yet cold, there’s more controversy brewing because a US Marine is in foreign captivity a lot closer to home – Mexico, to be exact.
USMC Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi was arrested just inside the Mexican border on March 31 last year after crossing over from California in debated circumstances. When Mexican border staff searched his truck, they found a semiautomatic rifle and 12-gauge shotgun on the back seat and a .45 pistol in the door pocket. Tahmooressi says he crossed the border by accident and tried to persuade the Mexicans to let him U-turn and head back north. Instead he was arrested, and he’s been in jail ever since. A White House petition asking the Obama administration to get him released has now collected more than 100,000 signatures, but so far there’s no sign of progress. Now the VFW is urging the President to personally intervene with the Mexican authorities to get Sgt. Tahmooressi repatriated as quickly as possible.
It’s important to remember that the two situations aren’t simple to compare. Whatever Bergdahl had done, he was illegally detained by a terrorist organization that’s extremely hostile to America. Tahmooressi is in the hands of a friendly neighboring country that says, with some justification, that he was breaking their laws. He’s not going to have his head sawn off on Mexican TV or be ransomed for Gitmo detainees. So is it fair that he’s still in custody while Bergdahl is free?
“Mexico has nothing to gain from making an example of him, so unless they have clear evidence that he entered their country deliberately, they should do the decent thing and let him go.”
One way to look at it is that getting Bergdahl back was a political maneuver. He personally might not have been worth it, but it did send a message that the USA will go to any lengths to get its warriors back alive. No such message would be sent by getting Sgt. Tahmooressi freed. Legally the Mexicans have every right to detain him; he entered their country carrying weapons he wasn’t entitled to have there, so it’s hard to say he’s being wrongfully detained. Some have questioned whether he’ll get a fair trial – and that’s a reasonable question; Tahmooressi also says he was beaten and punched in the face by guards after trying to escape, which is clearly abuse. At the very least, the USA should be demanding guarantees that he’ll be properly treated while he’s in Mexican custody.
At the end of the day, it would be good to have Sgt. Tahmooressi back with his unit as soon as possible. He’s a respected Marine who’s served two tours in Afghanistan. If he made a mistake, as he says, it would be a tragedy for him to suffer any more for it than he already has. Mexico has nothing to gain from making an example of him, so unless they have clear evidence that he entered their country deliberately, they should do the decent thing and let him go.