I chanced upon this information only upon buying a day-old newspaper in a grocery store in Oceanside. I shall dispense with the customary italicization meant to describe quotation. Hence, the entire op-ed by Governor Richardson as transcribed by Yours Truly, Flying Junior:
Lessons From the Tahmooressi Case
As I reflect on the successful effort to bring former U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi home after 214 days in prison in Mexico, I am pleased that despite the differing border security concerns that loom high in public perception and national policy in both countries, we were able to find the common ground that ultimately resulted in Andrew’s release.
There are two concerns, however, that remain in the American public’s mind that I would like to address; first, what took so long for Andrew’s release and, second, why Mexico deserves credit. By addressing the underlying foreign policy issues behind Andrew’s case, I hope to answer these questions and provide a better understanding of the complexities that had to be overcome for his release.
In 2008, then president George W. Bush signed into law an agreement with Mexico – with great political and financial support from congress – known as the “Merida Initiative” which the State Department defines as a “partnership between the U.S. and Mexico to fight organized crime and associated violence while furthering the rule of law.” Two key objectives of this initiative for Mexico were curbing illicit arms trafficking and judicial reform.
As a former border governor, I am familiar with stories about people making the wrong turn and winding up in Mexico by mistake. This one, however, was seriously exacerbated by the fact that Andrew had guns and ammunition in his vehicle. Furthermore, misleading advice from Andrew’s first two legal defense teams had tainted and weakened the “innocent mistake – wrong turn” defense, which made it very difficult to advocate for his release through diplomatic channels.
Mexico was facing a serious dilemma: It had to decide whether to be consistent with the rule of law as established by the Merida Initiative or undermine the judicial reform’s credibility by what would be perceived by the Mexican public as making an exception, for the very partner that was funding and urging a stronger rule of law.
With that in mind, I started my work on Andrew’s behalf in June by sending letters to officials in the Mexican justice system seeking his release on humanitarian grounds, based on his need to return home to receive treatment for his PTSD. This was a legal argument – not a political one—that could be used in court as an alternative defense to the wrong turn theory. A week later I was happy to learn that he had obtained a stellar new legal defense team – and I was subsequently delighted to learn it had adopted the PTSD treatment argument. It became central in the case’s dismissal and Andrew’s release October 31.
Although it took a long time to accomplish, the most important lesson is that Andrew is free because Mexico’s judicial reforms sought by the Merida Initiative are beginning to work. Though there were significant flaws in the way the two countries interacted on the case, and though a devoted network of supporters led by Andrew’s mother, Jill Tahmooressi, including myself, U.S. Representatives Ed Royce, Matt Salmon and television personality Montel Williams continued to advocate on behalf of Andrew with the Mexican government and by bringing media attention to his story, it was Mexican legal due process that freed him, not political expediency spurred by pressure from Mexico’s neighbor to the north. It should be remembered that the U.S. has a great deal to gain by a firm rule of law taking hold in Mexico – and this case was brought to a successful conclusion in a way that strengthened that concept.
Some have criticized me for praising the Mexican government’s handling of Andrew’s case, but this was an important part of the process. It built the good will that moved forward his release and even gained me permission to personally deliver him clothing so that he wouldn’t have to go through the humiliation of entering the U.S. in prison garb and allowed me to spare him an additional day in custody by substantially shortening his immigration processing before being handed over at the border.
I recently attended President and Mrs. Obama’s Salute to the Troops event at the White House in advance of Veteran’s Day. Several Marines in attendance took it upon themselves to thank me for my work on Andrew’s release. That’s the kind of response that makes it all seem so very worthwhile.
Richardson, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, was governor of New Mexico from 2003-2010.