WASHINGTON — A Marine jailed in Mexico on charges of bringing weapons into the country tried to kill himself after receiving threats of rape, torture and execution, his tearful mother told a House panel Wednesday. She said her son was suffering an ordeal worse than his two combat tours in Afghanistan.
Jill Tahmooressi's testimony came at a hearing designed to raise pressure on Mexico's government to release her son on humanitarian grounds. She outlined the difficulties her son, Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi, encountered with post-traumatic stress before moving to California to seek treatment and, shortly thereafter, taking a wrong turn at a poorly indicated border area and accidentally entering Mexico. She expressed hope, however, that her son could be released in a matter of weeks.
Tahmooressi, who is now in the reserves, was arrested six months ago at a San Diego-Tijuana checkpoint after Mexican officials say they found a rifle, shotgun, pistol and hundreds of rounds of ammunition in his pickup truck. The 26-year-old says he was headed to dinner in San Ysidro, California, when he mistakenly wound up at the border crossing. He says all three guns were legally owned and were in his truck with all his other possessions as he had just moved from Florida.
Mexican justice officials say possession of weapons restricted for Army use is a federal crime.
Jill Tahmooressi read a series of what sounded like text messages or phone calls from her son, which she referred to as "quotes."
"Mom, I got lost. I made a wrong turn. I'm at the Mexican border. You need to know this because I've been surrounded by military," he told her on March 31 at 11:45 p.m. A day later: "Mom, I've been arrested. Please secure me an attorney."
The situation quickly got worse. On April 5, Tahmooressi told his mother, "I'm not going to make it through the night. Whatever you do, do not come down here to investigate. Do not come down here to ask questions. You will be killed as well. I need you to go underground. I need you to cancel your bank accounts."
Nine days later: "Mom, I tried to kill myself because the guards and the inmates were going to rape, torture and execute me for personal information. I needed to protect you."
After another week, he said: "Mom, it's been 25 days. I've been in four-point chain restraint spread-eagle on a cot in the infirmary."
Tahmooressi's mother and lawmakers who've visited him say in addition to the threats, he received treatment at a prison infirmary for a knife wound to his neck. Prosecutors say he was placed in the clinic of a Tijuana prison after he acted aggressively, tried to escape twice and physically hurt himself. He was then transferred to a prison in the border city of Tecate, Baja California. They say his rights have been respected, and he has been visited dozens of times by his lawyers, relatives, pastor and members of Congress.
Despite bipartisan sympathy for Tahmooressi, the hearing took on a political tone as Republicans and military members called as witnesses sought to contrast Tahmooressi's ongoing plight with the Obama administration's efforts to secure the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. Afghan militants allowed Bergdahl to come home in May after holding him five years when the administration agreed to transfer five Taliban leaders held at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to the Gulf emirate of Qatar.
Pressed by Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., who has visited Tahmooressi in Mexico and chaired Wednesday's House Foreign Affairs subcommittee hearing, Jill Tahmooressi said she has not been contacted at any point by President Barack Obama. To her knowledge, Obama has not raised her son's condition in discussions with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto.
Salmon also pointed the finger at Mexico's government. Many Mexicans illegally cross into the United States, he said, and Mexican authorities seek compassionate treatment for them. "Frankly, compassion goes both ways," he said.
Jill Tahmooressi said her son is "desperate" to return home. She said his PTSD treatment plan has been aborted as Mexico doesn't have the ability to provide combat-related expressive group therapy as the United States does. He completed his second tour to Afghanistan in 2012 and finished active duty later that year. He is now in the Marine Reserve.
Despite the travail, Jill Tahmooressi expressed optimism that her son's case was advancing. At a Sept. 9 hearing in Mexico, eight hours of video surveillance was shown. She said it corroborated her son's account, and that a Mexican lawyer the family has hired believes dismissal or acquittal is possible in the coming weeks.
Follow Bradley Klapper on Twitter at https://twitter.com/bklapperAP.