Marine Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi should not be a prisoner, and he should not be a pawn.
Tahmooressi, who has family and roots in Weston, was arrested in March by Mexican authorities when he crossed the border from California with three loaded firearms in the car. Since then his mother, Jill Tahmooressi, and American officials including Secretary of State John Kerry and members of Congress such as Debbie Wasserman Schultz have tried without success to get him out.
Tahmooressi's plight has stirred outrage. Americans are distrustful of Mexico's legal system. Conditions of captivity can be brutal, and reportedly were during Tahmooressi's early detention.
The fact Tahmooressi is a Marine reservist who served two tours in Afghanistan increases the outrage and frustration.
Tahmooressi bought the firearms legally in the United States. Internet chatter has added a layer of Second Amendment politics to the mix, including accusations that President Barack Obama is dragging his feet because Tahmooressi supports gun rights.
Failure to get Tahmooressi out of Mexico more quickly is embarrassing for the Obama administration, whether or not Tahmooressi's claim that he entered Mexico by mistake is true. He has been diagnosed with service-related PTSD, which could have affected his behavior. The United States has a special obligation to protect veterans, and the obligation is even more pressing since the Department of Veterans Affairs has failed to provide sufficient mental health services.
Why have Mexican officials been intractable? Perhaps it is simply the result of bureaucratic snags unavoidable in a sluggish judicial system. But this incident dredges up serious points of contention between the U.S. and Mexico that might be affecting Mexico's response.
The illegal flow of firearms from America galls Mexican police and politicians. The weapons arm the drug cartels causing so much terror and havoc. Congress has done little to stop the deadly smuggling, afraid of retaliation by the National Rifle Association. By blocking safeguards and stoking Mexican resentment, zealously vocal gun-rights activists helped create an atmosphere in which Mexico might wish to make an example of an American caught bringing weapons across the border. Botched law enforcement operations like the Fast & Furious sting also have hurt relations.
Of course, the fact Tahmooressi legally owned his weapons doesn't matter on Mexican soil. It is not easy to balance the wish to protect U.S. citizens against the need to respect foreign laws and sovereignty. Sometimes the call is relatively easy, as when the Obama administration pulled U.S. troops out of Iraq when Iraqi legislators refused to give them immunity from Iraqi law. In general, though, foreigners are expected to comply with local laws. Americans don't like it when foreigners break our laws. Mexicans don't like it when Americans break their laws.
It also might be pertinent that in January of this year, Texas executed a Mexican national despite protests from Mexico. In that case, Mexicans considered our laws as unjust as we consider Mexico's detention of Tahmooressi.
Add in Americans' general disapproval of Mexicans here illegally — which Mexicans consider an insult — and it is possible to see why Mexico might not be disposed to cooperate in the Marine's case.
Ranting by pro-gun, anti-immigration factions will not make Mexico budge. Nor will over-the-top demands for armed rescue missions.
Diplomatic pressure, which Wasserman Schultz correctly has endorsed, is being intensified largely because Jill Tahmooressi's pleas finally have motivated the administration.
In Mexico, Tahmooressi's lawyer soon will ask the court to dismiss all charges. He alleges the search was improper and that Tahmooressi was denied access to a translator.
Dismissing the charges and releasing Tahmooressi would redeem Mexico's judicial system and provide a welcome resolution.
Tahmooressi should not suffer because of strains in U.S.-Mexico relations. His case should not be used to justify baseless accusations that the Obama administration does not care about Tahmooressi. His case should be judged strictly on its own merits. On those terms, it is clear that Tahmooressi should be freed.