- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 1, 2014

A group of politicians’ efforts to secure the release of Marine Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi from a Mexican jail paid off Friday night. California Rep. Dana Rohrabacher says President Obama was “AWOL” throughout the process.

The Republican Congressman told The Washington Times on Saturday that he and California Republican Rep. Ed Royce, former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, and Arizona Republican Rep. Matt Salmon took it upon themselves to fight for Sgt. Tahmooressi when President Obama did not.

“The president, who is also the commander in chief, didn’t do his job,” Mr. Rohrabacher said. “There is a lack of concern for this man, for this American hero who served our country. As commander in chief he showed a total disdain and non-interest in an American hero who served us in Afghanistan and a total disregard for the fact that he was suffering.”

Mr. Rohrabacher said that while the Counsel General in Tijuana and members of Congress were mobilized to try to save Sgt. Tahmooressi, Mr. Obama had gone “AWOL” in the battle.

“The president not stepping forward was a slap in the face to veterans,” Mr. Rohrabacher said. “The president didn’t care about it enough to make a simple phone call.”

Mr. Royce told the Times that he had spoken with Vice President Joseph R. Biden requesting a phone call be arranged between Mr. Obama and Mexican officials, but said he learned later that the conversation never occurred.

SEE ALSO: Andrew Tahmooressi back on American soil after months in Mexican jail

“I think the phone call occurred but I think the issue was never brought up,” Mr. Royce said.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki was asked in May about the perception that President Obama was not doing enough to secure the Marine’s release.

“Obviously this is a case we’ve been concerned about, hence we’ve raised it,” she told Fox News May 22, referencing Secretary of State John Kerry’s talks with Mexican officials while in country. She added that Sgt. Tahmooressi was visited 11 times by U.S. consular officials, Fox reported.

Mr. Royce did say that the president did not seem to put as much effort into securing Sgt. Tahmooressi’s release as he had for the exchange of five Taliban prisoners for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.

“A great deal of time and effort was exercised on that case, but in this particular instance where you have a marine that was decorated for valor in Afghanistan, that was wounded there, there wasn’t that much focus on a senior level,” Mr. Royce said.

During a phone conversation with the Counsel General, Mr. Rohrabacher was able to convey to Mexican officials the consequences for Sgt. Tahmooressi’s imprisonment.

“Our government was unable to make demands and threats, that was not something that we could do, but the Mexican government needed to know the consequences of what was going on,” Mr. Rohrabacher explained.

During one conversation, the Counsel General indicated to Mr. Rohrabacher that the line had been bugged by Mexican officials.

“I detailed for him our plan for rallies at the Tijuana border crossing with American veterans and we estimated that thousands of Americans would be there,” Mr. Rohrabacher said.

Knowing that officials were listening in, he also detailed legislation that his office is drafting that would cut remittances from Mexican workers in the U.S. to their families back in Mexico, estimating that it would stop billions of dollars from going across the border.

“We needed the Mexican authorities to understand what was going to happen, but to tell them to their face might have been an insult,” he said.

Mr. Rohrabacher stressed that the goal of people on both sides of the issue was to overcome miles of red-tape and maintain good relations between the U.S. and Mexico.

“People of goodwill on both sides of the border were trying to overcome this bureaucratic impasse that had left our Marine sergeant in hell,” Mr. Rohrabacher said.

Sgt. Tahmooressi was imprisoned in March when he took a wrong turn while driving, accidentally crossing the border into Tijuana with three weapons in his truck.

Mr. Rohrabacher said that he re-traced Sgt. Tahmooressi’s route to determine how the Marine got lost and said that the road was very poorly marked.

“You couldn’t tell that you were going in to Mexico and once you were on that road you couldn’t get off of it,” he said, adding that Sgt. Tahmooressi had “no intent of breaking any Mexican law.”

Mr. Royce, who visited with Mr. Tahmoressi during his imprisonment, said he is now working with Mexican officials to improve the signage on the road and to add a turn-around point for anyone who mistakenly takes the route to the border crossing.

The Embassy of Mexico said in the U.S. on Saturday that the judge decided to release Sgt. Tahmooressi after a psychiatrist confirmed he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.

“From the first moment of his arrest up until his release, U.S. consular officials had access to him, provided him with consular assistance and were in permanent contact with Andrew Tahmooressi, as well as with the appropriate authorities. During the time of his detention, he received medical care and accommodations were made for him to receive personal visits,” the statement reads.

Sgt. Tahmooressi was greeted Friday night by his mother, Mr. Royce, Mr. Richardson, Mr. Salmon and talk show host Montel Williams.

Mr. Richardson told reporters that Sgt. Tahmooressi was in good spirits and had asked for a steak dinner and stone crabs.

• Kellan Howell can be reached at khowell@washingtontimes.com.

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