October 1, 2014
The Arizona Republic
Bill Theobald

WASHINGTON -- A former Marine imprisoned in Mexico for six months after making a wrong turn at the border may be released in the next few weeks, witnesses testified Wednesday at an emotional congressional hearing.

Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., said he and Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., talked with the Mexican attorney general last week about Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi, the 25-year-old combat veteran who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.

"I must say I am confident that a humanitarian release will occur very soon," Royce said at a hearing of a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee chaired by Salmon.

Jill Tahmooressi testified that recent developments in her son's court case leave her optimistic that he will be acquitted or the charges against him will be dismissed in the next few weeks.

The South Florida native was detained on weapons charges March 31 after he made a wrong turn in San Ysidro, Calif., and crossed into Mexico. He immediately acknowledged to Mexican authorities that he had three weapons and ammunition in his truck.

He was imprisoned and told his mother he was strapped spread-eagled to a bed for 25 days. He attempted suicide, he told her, because he feared the guards were going to rape, torture and kill him.

"Andrew is despondent and desperate to return to the United States," she said.

Several witnesses and Republican committee members complained that the Obama administration is not doing enough to work for Tahmooressi's release.

"The paradox before this committee could not be more stark," testified Pete Hegseth, CEO for Concerned Veterans for America and a contributor to Fox News. "This administration negotiated with the Taliban and exchanged five terrorist killers with American blood on their hands for the release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl -- a soldier who deserted his unit. Yet, this administration has invested little to no effort negotiating the return of a highly decorated Marine with two combat tours."

"Sgt. Bergdahl cost American lives. Sgt. Tahmooressi saved them," he testified.

Others urged that President Barack Obama contact Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto on behalf of Tahmooressi, who concluded his military service two years ago after combat tours in 2010 and 2012.

"Make the call!" said TV celebrity Montel Williams, who is helping the Tahmooressi family.

Salmon and Royce said they met with Vice President Biden before Obama was to talk with Pena Nieto and were assured that Tahmooressi's case would be brought up. Salmon said it wasn't.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Wednesday the president has not taken up the issue directly with Nieto and that the issue was being handled through the State Department. A statement on the White House website said U.S. officials "including Secretary of State John Kerry have spoken to Mexican officials at the highest levels regarding Mr. Tahmooressi's case."

Salmon, who has visited Tahmooressi in prison, said something larger is at stake.

"It's about do we stand with those who stand for us?" Salmon said.

As to the confusing road on which this saga began, Jill Tahmoooressi testified that a new sign has been installed so that other Americans don't inadvertently cross the border.

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