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Not much of a Memorial Day celebration for U.S. marine stuck in Mexican prison

No information from White House about negotiating his release
No information from White House about negotiating his release
Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images

Memorial Day is a federal holiday that is designated to honor the women and men in the United States armed forces who serve or have served our country defending our freedoms is celebrated each year on the last Monday of the month of May. People across the United States celebrate Memorial Day in a variety of ways. For some, Memorial Day is simply a day off from work or school where a three-day weekend means time to relax. Celebrated today, Monday, May 26, it signifies the unofficial start of summer when children flock to the pools to cool off and have some fun in the sun. For many families, it means cook-outs, fireworks, and time with families. For our veterans, military members, and their families, this holiday takes on a solemn feel where they remember and reflect on the many men and women who put their lives on the line to serve the country they love and to protect their families. Across the United States, veterans groups, communities, and town will honor the heroes of the armed forced by flying the American flag, host parades, and plant flowers at the graves of those veterans who died in the line of duty. For one American mother, today is just one more day that she waits to find out when her son, who is a United States marine, will be released from a Mexican prison.

Jill Tahmooressi from Weston, Florida is outraged that her son Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi has been sitting inside a Mexican prison for almost two months and that no one is doing anything to get him out. Tahmooressi is a sergeant in the United States Marines who served two tours in Afghanistan and risked his life to save people in his unit from insurgents. Now this 25 year-old hero and combat veteran sits inside Tijuana's La Mesa Penitentiary facing 21 years incarceration in a maximum security prison for weapons-trafficking charges. As it was reported in Fox News on May 24, the situation started when Tahmooressi made a wrong turn leaving a parking lot in San Ysidro, California and ended up at a border crossing stop in Mexico. Tahmooressi, who finished active duty and was honorably discharged in November 2012 after serving four years as a gunner in Afghanistan, had three personal weapons with him in his vehicle and was arrested for violating Mexico's strict laws against bringing guns into the country. An article in Liberty News online said that the Associated Press reported that Tahmooressi was upfront in telling the border police that he had three weapons in his possession: a .45 caliber pistol, a 12-gauge shotgun, and an AR-15 rifle. Each of these weapons were registered in the United States, but Mexican authorities paid no mind charging Tahmooressi with possessing two firearms intended only for military use. Tahmooressi attempted to explain the situation saying that he went to dinner with friends at a border town and missed the sign for the u-turn option to return to the United States. The response from the Mexican authorities was to charge Tahmooressi with a crime, lock him up in a jail, and deny him bail.

An article that appeared yesterday in the New York Post said that after realizing the gravity of his error, Tahmooressi called 911 to request help with the situation as custom agents were about to arrest him and confiscate his possessions. Because he was inside Mexico territory, 911 operators were unable to dispatch U.S. officers to aide him. There is some disparity in stories from here as Tahmooressi told his lawyer after explaining his predicament that initially the custom agents were going to allow him to leave and even give him directions back to the States. Somewhere along the line that changed and the former marine was taken into custody. Defense attorney Alejandro Osuna, of Tijuana, Mexico, said that this 911 call along with video footage he intends to subpoena and submit as evidence at trial will prove that Tahmooressi was not a threat and did not intend to commit a crime. Since his arrest, Tahmooressi spent time in two different Mexican prisons being transferred at one point for attempting to escape. According to his parents, Paul and Jill Tahmooressi, their son was involved in two incidents where he suffered injuries to his brain. In 2010, he was injured when an improvised explosive device blast went off during one of his tours in Afghanistan, and a fall in 2012 compounded his existing injury. He relocated to San Diego to obtain treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). While he was incarcerated in the Tijuana prison, Tahmooressi stabbed himself with glass from a broken lightbulb and was provided medical treatment for the self-inflicted injury. Considering he was diagnosed with PTSD prior to the incident, this would explain his behaviors inside the prison and untreated put him at serious risk for harm.

Tahmooressi's first trial is scheduled for Wednesday, May 28 which will be the first time he will face the custom agents and Mexican soldiers who arrested him. Osuna will present to the court the 911 tape on June 4 and on June 5 court officers will visit the border crossing site. At this point, Tahmooressi's freedom lies in the hands of the Mexican courts as the United States has not intervened. The State Department reportedly is aware of Tahmooressi's plight and acknowledges that this situation is not uncommon for other Americans who are unaware of gun laws over the border. According to the State Department, ignorance of the law is not a defense. Several U.S. lawmakers including California State Rep Duncan Hunter and Florida Senator Marco Rubio and Secretary of State John Kerry voiced concern and pushed for the White House to intervene. Tahmooressi's family also took to the media to get the word out about the situation and to demand that President Obama negotiate for the former marine's release. A rally was held on May 19 to build support for his release and a petition is being circulated to free Tahmooressi.

The outcome of Tahmooressi's case remains undetermined and could go either way where he could spend the next 21 years inside a Mexican prison or he could be released back to the U.S. soil. Part of the problem is the difference between Mexico and United States laws and sovereignty between the two countries. It is unlikely that the judge will dismiss the case and even Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto is powerless to employ a pardon. Tahmooressi's fate lies in the hands of the judge to be understanding or for Mexico's attorney general to issue and order of release. With Mexican authorities being somewhat oblivious and uncaring about mounting public pressure in the United States, there is no guarantee that even if the petition reaches its goal of 100k signatures that diplomatic pressure from President Obama would even lead to Tahmooressi's exoneration. Nevertheless, American citizens will celebrate Memorial Day with some parades, cookouts, fireworks, and fun times with family and friends. It is important to not forget the one military veteran and hero who will not be celebrating this important holiday in the way that he should be able to and to push for those in political power to aide in his release.