[House Hearing, 113 Congress]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office]
SERGEANT ANDREW TAHMOORESSI:
OUR MARINE IN MEXICAN CUSTODY
THE WESTERN HEMISPHERE
COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN AFFAIRS
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
ONE HUNDRED THIRTEENTH CONGRESS
OCTOBER 1, 2014
Serial No. 113-236
Printed for the use of the Committee on Foreign Affairs
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COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN AFFAIRS
EDWARD R. ROYCE, California, Chairman
CHRISTOPHER H. SMITH, New Jersey ELIOT L. ENGEL, New York
ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN, Florida ENI F.H. FALEOMAVAEGA, American
DANA ROHRABACHER, California Samoa
STEVE CHABOT, Ohio BRAD SHERMAN, California
JOE WILSON, South Carolina GREGORY W. MEEKS, New York
MICHAEL T. McCAUL, Texas ALBIO SIRES, New Jersey
TED POE, Texas GERALD E. CONNOLLY, Virginia
MATT SALMON, Arizona THEODORE E. DEUTCH, Florida
TOM MARINO, Pennsylvania BRIAN HIGGINS, New York
JEFF DUNCAN, South Carolina KAREN BASS, California
ADAM KINZINGER, Illinois WILLIAM KEATING, Massachusetts
MO BROOKS, Alabama DAVID CICILLINE, Rhode Island
TOM COTTON, Arkansas ALAN GRAYSON, Florida
PAUL COOK, California JUAN VARGAS, California
GEORGE HOLDING, North Carolina BRADLEY S. SCHNEIDER, Illinois
RANDY K. WEBER SR., Texas JOSEPH P. KENNEDY III,
SCOTT PERRY, Pennsylvania Massachusetts
STEVE STOCKMAN, Texas AMI BERA, California
RON DeSANTIS, Florida ALAN S. LOWENTHAL, California
TREY RADEL, Florida--resigned 1/27/ GRACE MENG, New York
14 deg. LOIS FRANKEL, Florida
DOUG COLLINS, Georgia TULSI GABBARD, Hawaii
MARK MEADOWS, North Carolina JOAQUIN CASTRO, Texas
TED S. YOHO, Florida
LUKE MESSER, Indiana--resigned 5/
20/14 noon deg.
SEAN DUFFY, Wisconsin--
added 5/29/14 noon deg.
CURT CLAWSON, Florida--
added 7/9/14 noon deg.
Amy Porter, Chief of Staff Thomas Sheehy, Staff Director
Jason Steinbaum, Democratic Staff Director
Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere
MATT SALMON, Arizona, Chairman
CHRISTOPHER H. SMITH, New Jersey ALBIO SIRES, New Jersey
ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN, Florida GREGORY W. MEEKS, New York
MICHAEL T. McCAUL, Texas ENI F.H. FALEOMAVAEGA, American
JEFF DUNCAN, South Carolina Samoa
RON DeSANTIS, Florida THEODORE E. DEUTCH, Florida
TREY RADEL, Florida--resigned 1/27/ ALAN GRAYSON, Florida
SEAN DUFFY, Wisconsin--5/
30/14 noon deg.
C O N T E N T S
Mrs. Jill Tahmooressi (mother of Sergeant Andrew Tahmooressi).... 7
Lieutenant Commander Montel B. Williams, USN, Retired (veterans
Sergeant Robert Buchanan, USMC, Retired (served with Sergeant
Tahmooressi in Afghanistan).................................... 20
Mr. Pete Hegseth, chief executive officer, Concerned Veterans for
LETTERS, STATEMENTS, ETC., SUBMITTED FOR THE HEARING
Mrs. Jill Tahmooressi: Prepared statement........................ 10
Lieutenant Commander Montel B. Williams, USN, Retired: Prepared
Sergeant Robert Buchanan, USMC, Retired: Prepared statement...... 22
Mr. Pete Hegseth: Prepared statement............................. 25
Hearing notice................................................... 50
Hearing minutes.................................................. 51
The Honorable Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Representative in Congress
from the State of Florida:
Prepared statement............................................. 52
Letter from Jon and Olivia Hammar.............................. 54
The Honorable Tom Marino, a Representative in Congress from the
Commonwealth of Pennsylvania: Letter to His Excellency Eduardo
Medina Mora, Ambassador of Mexico to the United States of
The Honorable Juan Vargas, a Representative in Congress from the
State of California: Prepared statement........................ 57
SERGEANT ANDREW TAHMOORESSI:
OUR MARINE IN MEXICAN CUSTODY
WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 1, 2014
House of Representatives,
Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere,
Committee on Foreign Affairs,
The subcommittee met, pursuant to notice, at 10:06 a.m., in
room 2171, Rayburn House Office Building, Hon. Matt Salmon
(chairman of the subcommittee) presiding.
Mr. Salmon. A quorum being present, this subcommittee will
come to order.
We are going to limit the opening statements to myself, the
ranking member and the chairman of the full committee; members
will then be given ample time to ask questions, and if we have
time for a second round of questions, then we will do so.
I would like to start by recognizing myself and present my
Without objection, the members of the subcommittee can
submit their opening remarks for the record. And now I yield
myself as much time as I may consume to present my opening
Welcome everyone to this very, very important hearing on
Major--excuse me, Marine Sergeant Andrew Tahmooressi, our
Marine in custody in Mexico.
I want to thank Chairman Royce and all my colleagues who
have come back to Washington to take place in this hearing.
This is a busy time, when members are campaigning in their
districts, the election just a few short weeks away, and the
fact that so many members have come back for this hearing
attests to the fact that this is an extremely important issue
that we want to resolve as quickly as possible.
And I want to thank our witnesses, particularly Mrs.
Tahmooressi, who has been steadfast and strong in her
advocating for her son.
Montel Williams and Pete Hegseth, your work on behalf of
veterans is noble and important, and it is a pleasure to have
you speaking on behalf of Andrew.
And finally, Retired Marine Sergeant Robert Buchanan, who
served with Andrew in Afghanistan, from the bottom of our
hearts, we appreciate your great service and we appreciate the
fact that you are here appearing on behalf of your good friend,
and I would like to thank you personally for your wonderful
service to our Nation.
Not long after the VA scandal story broke in my home town
of Phoenix exposing widespread mismanagement of veteran care on
the part of the Veteran Affairs, I first traveled down to
Tijuana to visit Sergeant Tahmooressi in prison. I had been
following his story, how he had served with distinction in the
U.S. Marine Corps on the battlefields of Afghanistan; returning
home to the United States with physical and the psychological
scars of war, he made his way to southern California, where he
was diagnosed with PTSD, living mostly out of his truck, where
he carried all of his belongings, including his three
registered guns; and how he got turned around and found himself
at the Mexican border, where it is illegal to carry guns.
By the time I had visited Andrew back in late May and again
in June with Chairman Royce, he had been through a lot,
attempted to escape and take his own life, haunted by the
hypervigilance that is the hallmark of his PTSD. Even so, he
was polite, he was soft-spoken, a brave American who had
defended this country and now needed our help to return home.
Here is an interesting anecdote. On my way back from
visiting Andrew the first time, just as I was crossing the
border back into the United States, I heard on the news the
Obama administration had negotiated with the Taliban for the
release of Army Sergeant Bergdahl.
Sergeant Tahmooressi's circumstances are obviously very
different than Sergeant Bergdahl's, but it still struck me
then, as it does now, that Sergeant Tahmooressi had served his
country with honor twice in Afghanistan, and now he finds
himself in a Mexican prison after getting turned around and
crossing the border. I am mystified that President Obama
couldn't find time between negotiating with terrorists to call
our ally, the Mexican President, to appeal to him on behalf of
If we in Congress don't do everything in our power to try
to get Sergeant Tahmooressi, an injured war hero, back to the
States for treatment, then what are we doing here? Making sure
that our combat veterans are taken care of when they return is
one of our most honored and sacred obligations.
As chairman of this subcommittee, I have been consistently
supportive of our bilateral relationship with Mexico, committed
to our security partnership and to helping Mexico reform and
improve its justice system. Our commercial relationship with
Mexico is strong and is vital.
Today I feel the same way. I am optimistic about Mexico's
energy reforms, the growth of its middle class, and the
increasingly close trade and diplomatic relationship that we
share, but our significant and growing bilateral cooperation
must also come with the ability to resolve important issues,
particularly along our shared border.
I firmly believe that Sergeant Tahmooressi meant no harm or
willfully violated Mexican law when he crossed the border. And
when I talked on several occasions with the Ambassador from
Mexico, who by the way has been the Attorney General of Mexico
in the past, he echoed to me the same thing, that he didn't
believe that Sergeant Tahmooressi had any evil intentions with
those weapons in his car.
Now, he has spent over 6 months in prison for what amounts
to a wrong turn. I am disappointed that more could not be done
to address this situation in a far more timely manner. The fact
is that Mexican citizens violate U.S. law on a regular and
continuing basis, illegally crossing our southern border.
Mexican officials respond by asking the U.S. for compassion and
amnesty for their citizens to remain in the U.S., but frankly,
compassion goes both ways. Mexico does not have the ability to
provide Sergeant Tahmooressi with the care that he needs. Our
war hero needs to come home.
Last week I spoke with the Mexican Attorney General, who
explained that while Sergeant Tahmooressi had broken Mexican
law by approaching the border with weapons, his combat-related
PTSD could not be adequately treated in Mexico. The good news
is the Attorney General explained to me and, I understand,
Chairman Royce separately that he has the authority within
Mexican law to dismiss Sergeant Tahmooressi's case on
humanitarian grounds once he has expert testimony that verifies
his combat-specific PTSD diagnosis.
Chairman Royce and I obtained the appropriate expert
medical reports and forwarded them to the Mexican Attorney
General's desk this past Friday. In addition, at the court
hearing yesterday, a Mexican psychologist submitted his
official diagnosis confirming Andrew's PTSD.
Now, with all the information available to him, I am
confident, I am hopeful that Attorney General Murillo Karam
will do the right thing and very soon order the release of
Andrew so he can begin his treatment and move forward with his
life back home with his family and his friends.
Once again, we are asking our men and our women in uniform
to embark on the mission of fighting on behalf of our Nation in
our war against the terrorist organization ISIS. Making sure
that Sergeant Tahmooressi is brought home and provided the
treatment that he so desperately needs will send a message and
demonstrate to our military men and women, who are in harm's
way, that America stands up for our soldiers and our Marines.
That is how it should be.
I look forward to hearing from all the witnesses, and I
thank you for being here.
And I now yield to Ms. Gabbard, the ranking member.
Ms. Gabbard. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, for holding
this important hearing.
And most importantly, thank you to our witnesses today for
taking your time to come and allow us the opportunity to hear
directly from you and to allow us the opportunity to elevate
your story and Sergeant Tahmooressi's challenges to the
Mrs. Tahmooressi, your story, what you and your family have
gone through, and more importantly what your son is going
through is incredibly heartbreaking. I have never met you
before, I have never met your son, but hearing your story,
hearing the story from those of you who have served with him,
he is our brother, he is part of our family, part of the family
of those who have worn the uniform from whatever branch of
service and who have gone through that fight together, and to
see what he is facing now, one of our own, is unimaginable upon
When we serve overseas, the one bright light that we have
is the fact that we can come home and that we come home to our
loved ones and we come home to some sense of normalcy. And to
see now what he is going through, to not have that bright
light, is despicable and unimaginable.
There is no question that our Government needs to do
whatever it takes to support Sergeant Tahmooressi as he seeks
justice and freedom in Mexico, and there is no question that
the State Department must make this a priority. While we hope
that the Mexican court and the Mexican Government will do the
right thing and recognize that this case must be dismissed as
soon as possible, the reason why we are here is because we know
and understand that we cannot let up, that action is necessary,
and we have to continue to apply that pressure to force that
action and to bring him home.
I want to thank each of you for coming today, for your
championing Sergeant Tahmooressi and his freedom, and
continuing to push for this action and being his voice in his
I thank you all for being here and look forward to hearing
Mr. Salmon. I thank the gentlewoman.
The Chair now recognizes the chairman of the full
committee, Mr. Royce.
Mr. Royce. Well, thank you Subcommittee Chairman Matt
Salmon for your work on this issue, for holding this hearing.
Matt Salmon and I had an opportunity to go down and talk to
Sergeant Andrew Tahmooressi in his cell. And I do want to
share, Jill, I want to share with the Sergeant's mother an
observation that I think that Sergeant Buchanan was absolutely
right when he said this was one of the most impressive young
men he had served with. He is a very, very fine young man. And
he has been through a lot.
I think this committee has played a role historically in
trying to make certain that in foreign policy, we look after
the interests of those men and women who have served this
country, and in this particular case, a young man who made a
wrong turn and has now found himself 6 months, 6 months after
his diagnosis, in this situation.
Now, Matt and I had approached the Government of Mexico on
several occasions, and one of the things you had us do was to
try to get him moved from the prison in Tijuana, and he is now
in Tecate, and in a much better place, I must say, and he
And we are respectful of our relationship with Mexico, but
it has been 6 months. And I now feel in our discussions, which
we have had in the past with the Ambassador, with the Foreign
Minister, but now over the phone last Thursday, I had a long
discussion with the Attorney General, and with the case, with
the argument that I think we are making and making here today,
the argument that he cannot get PTSD treatment, but less than
10 days before he was taken into custody, he was diagnosed with
just that diagnosis.
And as the Attorney General has shared with us, it is
within his ability to make a decision based on humanitarian
grounds if the diagnosis shows that this in fact was the case.
And we sent him that diagnosis, and we have sent him
subsequently the diagnosis also that we have now from the
doctor in Mexico.
I think that, as Matt has raised this point, it is
important to consider, since we have raised this with the State
Department, our Government took steps to have one soldier
released in exchange for five senior Taliban leaders, five
senior Taliban leaders who had all committed serious offenses,
war crimes. All five would be hauled up in front of the Hague
for crimes against humanity based upon the terror that they
visited on Afghan and U.S. forces. All five were determined to
be a serious danger to the United States, and yet at the end of
the day, those five, with close ties to Osama Bin Laden and to
Mullah Omar and to the Haqqani terrorist network, have all
found their way out of custody.
The question is, what steps has the Government taken in
order to ensure the release of this young Marine?
And that brings us to why we are having the hearing today.
And as Members of Congress, we must see to it that U.S.
servicemen and servicewomen, who are put in harm's way to
defend our country, are properly cared for when they return
back here to the United States, when they are injured, as
Andrew was injured, by a grenade.
Mrs. Tahmooressi, I am pleased, I must say, that you are
with us today. And I am equally pleased that we have with us a
brave Marine who served two tours, combat tours, in
Afghanistan, your son did this, Jill, and we talked a little
bit with him about his service, but during his time when he was
deployed in Helmand Province with the 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine
regiment, he received a combat meritorious promotion, a
battlefield promotion under meritorious conditions. Now, this
speaks to his valor and to his love of country.
And to discuss his service, it is an honor to have Robert
Buchanan with us today. I met Robert at my office back some
months ago when he came to talk to me about his comrade and
about the effort he was undertaking, along with you, Jill, in
order to secure his release. And he served with your son and
said, as I indicated to you, that not only was he a fine young
man, he also told me he was one of the bravest young men he had
And I must admit here too that Robert has been very brave
himself and earned the Purple Heart after sustaining injuries
himself from an IED explosion. And we want to thank him and
others for traveling all the way here to Washington.
And, as many of you know, these physical injuries as a
result of that IED attack that Andrew sustained lead at times
to psychological difficulties that we call PTSD, and the fact
that the San Diego Veterans Affairs Hospital diagnosed him less
than 10 days prior to this event on the border and the fact
that it results in hypervigilance and memory and cognition
lapses and depression, the fact that he will not be able to
receive treatment in Mexico, and so this has been--the
treatment has been prolonged by 6 months.
It is because of this that I, together with Congressman
Salmon, have pressed this case with the Attorney General of
Mexico. And last week, after our conversation, I must say that
I am confident that a humanitarian release of Andrew will occur
very soon so he can start getting better and get the treatment
And I believe the case that is being made here is a
compelling one that will result in the right decision, the
correct decision, the humane decision from the Attorney
Thank you very much.
Mr. Salmon. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Pursuant to Committee Rule 7, the members of the
subcommittee will be permitted to submit written statements to
be included in the official hearing record. Without objection,
the hearing record will remain open for 7 days to allow
statements, questions and extraneous materials for the record
subject to the length limitation in the rules.
Ms. Gabbard. Mr. Chairman?
Mr. Salmon. Yes.
Ms. Gabbard. I request unanimous consent to recognize one
of our colleagues, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who
actually represents the home district of Mrs. Tahmooressi in
Westin, Florida, to join us here on the committee today. She
has been actively advocating on this issue, working closely
with Jill, with the Obama administration and the Mexican
Government to try to secure Andrew's release.
Mr. Salmon. Without objection, so ordered.
Ms. Gabbard. Thank you.
Mr. Salmon. First I would like to introduce our panel. And
again, thank you so much for traveling across the country. I
know you all have very busy schedules.
Mrs. Tahmooressi is a resident of Florida and is the mother
of Marine Corps Sergeant Andrew Paul Tahmooressi, an inactive
reservist. Mrs. Tahmooressi is a licensed registered nurse in
the State of Florida. She has been serving at Miami Children's
Hospital since 1980, and from everything that I have seen and
in my conversations with her, one heck of a mom. Glad to have
you here, Mrs. Tahmooressi.
Lieutenant Commander Williams is founder of the Montel
Williams MS Foundation. Together with researchers and the U.S.
Army, Mr. Williams is working on ways to improve the treatment
for soldiers who have experienced blast-related traumatic brain
injuries. It is so great to have you here and see you again.
Lieutenant Commander Williams began his professional career in
the U.S. Marine Corps. He holds a bachelor's degree in
engineering and a minor in international security affairs from
the U.S. Naval Academy.
Sergeant Buchanan is a U.S. Marine Corps veteran and a
Purple Heart recipient, who was honorably discharged after 6
years of service. Thank you. Mr. Buchanan was a machine gun
squad leader during the work-up training for his deployment
with the 2/6 battalion, and helped train Andrew Tahmooressi as
a machine gunner. While on deployment in Afghanistan, he fought
side by side with Andrew. In August 2010, Sergeant Buchanan's
all terrain vehicle ran over a 1201 IED, BIED, resulting in him
earning his Purple Heart award. Since his exit of the Marine
Corps, Mr. Buchanan has been active in his school's veteran
club, in his community's veterans organizations, and is
actively attending American Legion Post 862. He is currently
working on his business degree.
And Mr. Hegseth is the CEO for Concerned Veterans for
America. The mission of CVA is to advance policies that will
preserve the freedom and prosperity that veterans and their
families so proudly fought and sacrificed to defend. An
infantry captain in the Army National Guard, Mr. Hegseth served
in Afghanistan in 2012, where he was the senior
counterinsurgency instructor at the Counterinsurgency Training
Center in Kabul. Previously, he served in Iraq with the 3rd
Brigade of the 101st airborne division for their 2005-2006
deployment. He earned two Bronze Stars and a combat
infantryman's badge for his time in Iraq and Afghanistan. Mr.
Hegseth graduated from Princeton University, completed a
master's in public policy at Harvard University's John F.
Kennedy School of Government in 2013.
So the lighting system. And, Jill, even though I am going
to enforce it on everybody else, I am never going to mess with
somebody's mother. The way it works is, you are each given 5
minutes for your testimony. After 4 minutes, the amber light
goes on. When you start speaking, it will be green. When the
amber light shows up, it means you have got 1 minute to wrap it
up. The red light means stop for everybody but Mrs.
And, Mrs. Tahmooressi, you are recognized.
STATEMENT OF MRS. JILL TAHMOORESSI (MOTHER OF SERGEANT ANDREW
Mrs. Tahmooressi. Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member, Members of
the committee and Congress, thank you for the invitation to
I am grateful for the committee's interest regarding
Sergeant Tahmooressi, my son, and his ongoing incarceration in
As the mother of a high achieving young man, there are a
few horrific memorable quotes I recall and wish to share with
you regarding my son. I believe these quotes will not only
frame the character of my son, yet will also highlight the
current predicament my son is in.Quotes needed? deg.
In 2006, at the age of 17, he said, ``Mom, I'm scheduled
for my solo flight today. I'll be getting checked off on my
private pilot license.''
At age 18, after having graduated from public school,
Westin Florida, and having been afforded the Florida Bright
Scholarship, he said, ``Mom, I'm not ready for college yet. I'm
going to head out to Alaska. I would like to be a commercial
fisherman.'' One of his favorite shows at the time was ``The
Deadliest Catch,'' if anyone remembers that.
In 2008, ``Mom, God just nudged me to join the military.
I'm going to enlist in the Marines.''
In 2010 he would phone home when he could with the battle
stories. I am a brave mom. I am a mom of a Marine. And so in
2010, ``Mom, we just hit an I.E.D.''
In 2012, ``Mom, I blacked out when I fell from atop an M-
Rap, hit my head on one part and I blacked out. They found
In 2013, ``Mom, I'm dropping out of Embry Riddle
Aeronautical University [where I was enrolled in a bachelor's
degree for the commercial pilot degree] because I can't
concentrate on the academic work.''
March 14th--or March 31st, sorry, 11:25 this year, ``Mom, I
got lost. I made a wrong turn. I'm at the Mexican border. You
need to know this, because I have been surrounded by military.
In case anything happens to me, I need you to know where I
The following morning, April 1st, 2014, ``Mom, I've been
arrested. Please secure me an attorney.''
April 5th, ``Mom, I am 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. Let the Broward sheriff's office know, but, Mom,
I am not going to make it through the night. Don't come down to
April 14th, ``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.''
May 1st, ``Mom, it has been 25 days. I have been in four-
point chain restraint spread eagle on a cot in the infirmary.''
These quotes, horrific in varying degrees for a mother,
pale in comparison to Andrew's statement that, my time in
Mexico has been far worse than my two combat tours to
Andrew is under contract with the U.S. Marine Corps. He is
still a Marine, will always be a Marine, but he is an inactive
reservist until August 24th, 2016. He was discharged active
duty October 2012, serving unselfishly in Operation Enduring
Freedom, multiple combat tours, being meritoriously promoted on
Andrew felt privileged to serve the war on terror. He
fought in an infantry battalion as a section lead and a 50-
caliber gunner. He volunteered and was willing to lose his life
for freedom, liberty and the elimination of oppression. He
fought not for one political party, yet he fought for the world
at large, including Mexico, who does not send their military to
Suffering symptoms suggestive of combat-related post-
traumatic stress disorder throughout 2013 while attending
university, Andrew packed up his Ford F-150, the same truck
that he drove to Alaska the 6,000 miles. He packed up his whole
entire truck with all of his possessions, including his three
U.S. legally purchased firearms. His first purchase, by the
way, was in 2007 on his way to Kodiak, Alaska. That was the
shotgun for his protection.
He arrived at San Diego at the invite of a friend, who has
got a Purple Heart, 100 percent disability, who said, Andrew,
come out here. We have got the best VA system in the country.
So he did that.
And on March 12th, he received his crisis intake positive
screen for post-traumatic stress disorder. At the time, he was
ordered the cognitive therapy, the veteran group therapy. He
attended on March 20th. And indeed there is a third medical
record in his Veteran's Administration record from the morning,
March 31st, that famous day when, at 10:30, he pulled out of a
parking lot on the California side, San Ysidro, very confusing
area, lots of construction going on. He had just come off that
on ramp earlier in the day, so as he pulled out left, made a
sharp left back onto that on ramp, thinking it headed north to
San Diego, but in just a few hundred feet, a blind curve into a
barricaded Mexican customs lane. There was no way to turn
around at that time. In fact, there was no signage at the
border at that time.
With no visible sign indicating how to turn around and with
no U.S. presence at the border, Andrew purposefully stops at
the first Mexican official he sees and explains, I got lost,
made a wrong turn, and ended up here by mistake. I have all of
my possessions in my truck, including three U.S. legally
purchased firearms. Can you show me how to get back to the
border? He thought that that Mexican customs agent was going to
flag him an escort vehicle, but over time, the military came
onboard. That is when he dialed 911 for help. No one was able
to help him, including the 911 operator. These facts are
recorded and is evidentiary statement in the Federal Court of
Arrested on weapons and ammunition possession, now
incarcerated in a Mexican prison, Andrew is despondent and
desperate to return to the United States. His PTSD treatment
plan has been aborted. It was aborted on April 1st, as Mexico
does not have the ability to provide combat-related PTSD
expressive group therapy as recognized here.
He phones home every day. He is very complimentary and
appreciative for the actions of the Congress, the actions of
the White House in responding to the wethepeople.gov petition
that was responded to on August 28th. At that time, the White
House responded that they would ask for urgency, but today the
urgency to influence expedition, in my opinion, is ineffective.
It is 6 months, and we are still connecting dots. We still do
not have the authenticated 911 call in the record. It is
supposedly held up in a department in Mexico.
Today, though, there is new signage at the border for
wayward passenger--for wayward drivers that make that error
that Andrew made, and I am sure there may be hundreds each day
that do that, there is now a new sign that says, Return to the
USA, erected in May, and the graffiti-laden sign that was on
the on ramp, that also has been changed. So should any motorist
make that mistake now, they do have way to come home.
Mr. Chairman, I urge attention and collaborative action
among the United States and Mexico for an expedient resolution
of Andrew's Mexican judicial process, expecting wholeheartedly
that release to the U.S.A. is justified. My son is despondent,
without treatment, and he needs to be home.
Thank you very much, and I look forward to your questions.
Mr. Salmon. Thank you, Mrs. Tahmooressi.
[The prepared statement of Mrs. Tahmooressi follows:]
[GRAPHICS NOT AVAILABLE IN TIFF FORMAT]
Mr. Salmon. Lieutenant Commander Williams.
STATEMENT OF LIEUTENANT COMMANDER MONTEL B. WILLIAMS, USN,
RETIRED (VETERANS ADVOCATE)
Lt. Commander Williams. Thank you, Chairman Salmon, Ranking
Member Sires, and Chairman Royce, members of the subcommittee
and full committee.
It is very critical, extremely critical that we are holding
this hearing today, and I can't thank you enough for doing so.
I also want to say thank you to all the members who made it
a point to come back for this hearing today, but you have to
understand that your peers must recognize the fact that
veterans are watching today, and for those of them who did not
come back, this will be remembered.
While the scope of this hearing is limited to the case of
Sergeant Andrew Tahmooressi, I would be remiss to remind this
committee that Andrew's case is merely a symptom of a greater
policy failure in how we address the needs of all of our
returning soldiers. The failure is unfortunately even more
pronounced when it comes to PTSD. And we throw this term around
very lightly, but what we have to recognize is that 30,000 new
cases of traumatic brain injury occur every year in our
services, and it doesn't matter whether or not soldiers go into
a combat situation or not. The majority are from training
exercises. We currently have over 600,000 veterans suffering
from residual symptoms from traumatic brain injury right now in
the VA system.
And I will tell you, no ifs, and or buts, our veterans from
Iraq and Afghanistan often feel absolutely abandoned by our
Government, and I believe that they have a reason to feel so.
Before I begin, my testimony is definitely longer than 5
minutes, so I am going to synopsize and make sure I yield to
others, but there are some points that I think really clearly
have to be made.
As we have addressed it over and over again, Andrew made a
wrong turn. And we have thrown out a couple of terms related to
PTSD with that by saying, hypervigilance, but we have got to
slow down for just a second and take a minute and understand
what that means. Though Jill can't say it and others won't say
it, we know for a fact that Sergeant Tahmooressi's time in this
prison has been worse than his time in both combat situations.
He is going to come back to the United States and have to be
treated for his combat PTSD, but also his incarceration PTSD.
And to me, this is an abomination.
Six months. He didn't hesitate to say, aye, aye, sir, to go
off and serve. How dare we, how dare we as a Nation hesitate to
get that young man back. We sit here in this city and discuss
sending more young people off to die. I have a son who is 21
years old who has asked me over and over again, dad, should I
serve? And right now I am telling him no. That is coming from a
guy who did 22 years in the service, but, no, because our
Government doesn't respect you enough. And how dare they treat
him the way they do and the way they will.
Andrew's incident is clearly triggered by his PTSD. The
hypervigilance, when he made that turn while in Mexico, he made
a decision to leave. When he got in his car, he was probably
And just so some of you understand, I suffer from MS, I
have scars in my brain that are synonymous with concussive
brain injury, so some of the symptoms that I am talking about
are symptoms that I live through on a daily basis: Emotional
lability, sometimes depression, sometimes hypervigilance. I can
walk in this hallway in Congress, where I am most protected,
and be afraid to walk in that bathroom. This is what these
young men live through, and it is sad that we have one of our
own right now being held in a prison while we talk about it.
It is clear, everyone understands, he is not going to get
the treatment that he is due. He has served the time, I
believe, for any crime that he could have committed. So bring
him home and let's treat him appropriately, but his treatment
is not going to just be for combat PTSD. And remember, his
treatment for his PTSD for being in prison rests on our
Now, I want to clearly say I have the utmost respect for
the Mexican Government and the Mexican people. I am not one of
those who is going to join into the fray of screaming for
invasions and all of those things, but what I am going to
scream for is the one part of political diplomacy that has not
been used yet, and Congressman Salmon, you pointed it out, it
is called political compassion. Compassion is what is needed
right now. Woe be it to us to let this case go by and then have
to deal with the other 600,000 soldiers who are suffering who
could make the same mistake.
My testimony is much longer than 5 minutes. I would please,
please ask the members to read the entire thing. I have
synopsized for you, but I would like to leave you with one
other little point. Every nation on this planet and all people
are judged, no matter what religion you are, whatever faith you
are, we are all judged by what we do for the least of us.
Andrew is one of the best of us, America's treasure. If we
can't treat the best better than we treat the worst, how dare
you ask another gentleman to put on a uniform.
Thank you so much, sir.
Mr. Salmon. Lieutenant Commander Williams, without
objection, your testimony, your full testimony and everybody's
full testimony will be entered into the public record. And I
appreciate your great comments.
[The prepared statement of Lt. Commander Williams follows:]
[GRAPHICS NOT AVAILABLE IN TIFF FORMAT]
Mr. Salmon. Sergeant Buchanan.
STATEMENT OF SERGEANT ROBERT BUCHANAN, USMC, RETIRED (SERVED
WITH SERGEANT TAHMOORESSI IN AFGHANISTAN)
Sergeant Buchanan. Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member, members of
the committee, thank you for the invitation to testify today.
I am forever grateful for the subcommittee's interest in
the overview of Sergeant Andrew Tahmooressi's dire need to get
Veterans Affairs Hospital medical treatment as soon as
First off, I want to say, I knew Andrew, I was a corporal
when he came to our unit. And I was the guy that made sure he
had a haircut on Monday and a fresh shave every day, but if you
guys have any questions to who Andrew truly was, I recommend
you ask Sergeant Mark Podlaski back here, his best friend,
brother in arms. The two were inseparable the entire time I
You don't truly know a man until you have deployed to
combat with that individual. I had the pleasure of both taking
part in training and deploying to Afghanistan with Sergeant
Tahmooressi. He was truly one of the best junior Marines I have
ever had the pleasure of working with. You tasked something out
to him, there was not a second thought. It was going to get
done. He was the kind of guy that his peers looked up to. From
the get-go, the first day I met his group when they came to our
unit, Sergeant Podlaski and Sergeant Tahmooressi stood out
amongst their peers. He had a humble attitude, never talked
back, was always eager to learn and be the best Marine he could
This was a Marine who received a combat meritorious
promotion. Let me go back. Sergeant Andrew Tahmooressi was
meritoriously promoted to corporal. That alone speaks to
somebody's character. To be combat meritoriously promoted in
this day and age amongst our field, it is a rarity and an honor
amongst our gun club, if you want to call it. This alone speaks
volumes to what kind of individual Andrew is and can attest to
On Andrew's last deployment, he saved the life of a fellow
Marine by securing tourniquets on him after he stepped on an
IED, improvised explosive device, causing him to lose both of
his legs. It is in these moments that a man's true character is
tested, and Andrew shined. He did not run away; he ran to help.
Congressman Matt Salmon, Ed Royce and Duncan Hunter, I want
to personally thank you. You have spearheaded our cause in
getting Andrew home. And from the bottom of my heart, I want to
thank you personally. They have all sent out multiple letters
in support to the State Department and the White House. I also
had the opportunity to sit down face to face with Congressman
Ed Royce, and from the get-go, we had his immediate and
unflinching support toward Andrew's release.
The crime with which Andrew is being charged requires
intent. Weapons trafficking is not a negligent crime, and his
true intent has been proven as being an accident.
Please help us get this combat veteran home and into the VA
for much needed medical care. Every day he is down there is a
day longer that it is going to take for him to readjust in the
civilian life. Every Marine, every military member comes back
with different luggage from war and it takes different amounts
of time to readjust in the civilian life. We all have our good
days and bad, but isolation is the last thing anyone needs.
Please help us get him home and the treatment he so direly
Mr. Salmon. Thanks, Sergeant Buchanan.
[The prepared statement of Sergeant Buchanan follows:]
[GRAPHICS NOT AVAILABLE IN TIFF FORMAT]
Mr. Salmon. Mr. Hegseth.
STATEMENT OF MR. PETE HEGSETH, CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER,
CONCERNED VETERANS FOR AMERICA
Mr. Hegseth. Members of the Foreign Affairs Committee,
thank you for the opportunity to be here today.
I want to thank Chairman Salmon, Chairman Royce, Ranking
Member Gabbard, U.S. Marine Duncan Hunter, and everyone else
who came back from their districts to be here for this
important hearing. It is greatly appreciated. Your forward-
leaning support of veterans and our military matters and is
I also want to thank my fellow witnesses, who are allowing
a soldier to hang out with a bunch of Marines.
Mrs. Tahmooressi, your courageous advocacy on behalf of
your son inspires us all. It really does.
Sergeant Buchanan, thank you for having the back of your
And Lieutenant Commander Williams, Marine, using your
platform the way you are makes a huge difference. Thank you
My name is Pete Hegseth. I am the CEO of Concerned Veterans
for America, and our mission is to fight for the freedom and
prosperity of all Americans, but specifically for the well-
being of veterans. And we represent a growing number of
veterans and military families who refuse to accept the status
quo in Washington. We fight like hell, aggressively and
passionately, to ensure that America's veterans are no longer
treated like second-class citizens in their own system and in
their own government.
The ongoing situation with Sergeant Tahmooressi, who has
now been held for 184 days by the Mexican Government, is yet
another example of our Federal Government leaving a man behind.
In the military, we leave no man behind. We are leaving an
inactive reservist behind in Mexico.
Andrew Tahmooressi is a United States Marine, he is a non-
commissioned officer, he is a machine gunner and infantryman, a
decorated combat veteran who deployed twice to Afghanistan,
meeting the enemy in fierce combat. Sergeant Tahmooressi
literally saved the lives of his fellow Marines. He was so
good, as everyone has said, a meritorious battlefield
promotion, which is nearly unheard of.
His gunnery sergeant called him, your gunnery sergeant,
called him an outstanding Marine and a stand-out guy. There is
no doubt this guy is an American hero, plain and simple, but
his service comes with a physical and psychological cost. And
let me assure you, post-traumatic stress, or PTS, it is real.
And if left untreated, especially for those who partook in the
horrors of war, it can become a lifelong disorder that you
manage. And it can also be deadly. As many people here know, 22
veterans in America today take their own lives. Many more
struggle in silence.
As has been reported widely already, Sergeant Tahmooressi
was diagnosed with PTS before he crossed that border and
attempted to take his own life in a crowded Tijuana prison. The
condition has only been exacerbated by his treatment there and
his lack of treatment in the United States.
He doesn't face post-traumatic stress because he is weak or
because he is a coward or because he is a victim. He simply
faces the invisible wounds of war. And right now he faces them
alone, largely alone, with a few advocates fighting for him on
Left untreated, these hidden wounds, they can lead to the
bottle, they can lead to reckless behavior, they can lead to
detachment and societal withdrawal. Following my tour in Iraq,
I know I dealt with all three. But much worse, these scars can
end in suicide, unless, of course, there is a lifeline. Seeking
care for post-traumatic stress either through peer-to-peer
counseling, alternative therapy, family support, or proper care
at the VA saves lives.
Those who manage post-traumatic stress, they are not
ticking time bombs, they are not victims. With the right
treatment at the right place at the right time, most soldiers
and Marines, like Sergeant Tahmooressi, come back and become
the leaders and the pillars of our communities that we need so
badly in America today.
My bottom line to this committee and to this Government and
to the Mexican Government is this: Sergeant Tahmooressi needs
and deserves immediate treatment for his post-traumatic stress,
and shame on anyone at home or abroad who doesn't move heaven
and earth to make that happen.
In combat, men like Sergeant Tahmooressi never have enough
troops or enough ammunition, never have enough time or enough
equipment, but they still get the job done. The same should be
expected from the United States Government. No excuse for
inaction is good enough. He should be released immediately, end
Before leaving home for this testimony, I kissed my two
young sons on the forehead. And I am willing as a soldier and a
citizen and a father to someday lend them to the cause of
freedom's fight, but in doing so, I only ask that my Government
do everything possible before, during and after they serve, to
stand right beside them and be there for them. Mrs. Tahmooressi
expected the very same thing. Is she going to receive it? is
the million-dollar question.
In closing, the contrast before this committee, this
Congress and this White House could not be more stark. And it
has been mentioned twice, but it is worth mentioning again.
This administration negotiated with the Taliban and exchanged
five terrorist killers with American blood on their hands for
the release of Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, a soldier who
deserted his unit on the front lines 2 months into his first
tour of duty.
And as everyone has heard, Sergeant Tahmooressi did two
tours of duty, a highly decorated Marine. Sergeant Bergdahl
cost American lives; Sergeant Tahmooressi saved lives. Does
that not matter?
It is time to bring our Marine home, long overdue, and get
him the care that he has earned.
Thank you for this opportunity, and I welcome your
Mr. Salmon. Thank you.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Hegseth follows:]
[GRAPHIC(S) NOT AVAILABLE IN TIFF FORMAT]
Mr. Salmon. I am going to yield myself 5 minutes for
questions, and Mrs. Tahmooressi, I would like to start with
Interesting enough, Mr. Hegseth, after the release of
Bergdahl, there was a lot of media scrutiny about that
arrangement, that trade. And the President very boldly said on
national TV that as Commander in Chief, he leaves no soldier
behind. That is his policy.
I just want to ask you, Mrs. Tahmooressi, has the President
personally called you, has he personally contacted you about
Mrs. Tahmooressi. No, he has not, Chairman.
Mr. Salmon. To the best of your knowledge, has the
President made any kind of a phone call to the President of
Mexico to intercede on Andrew's behalf?
Mrs. Tahmooressi. Not to my knowledge.
Mr. Salmon. I know I had a personal meeting with Vice
President Biden the week before the President was to speak with
the President of Mexico, and Vice President Biden assured me
that they would be on top of it. And I was told after the phone
call that the President did not bring it up. Very, very
Can I ask you, Mrs. Tahmooressi, how have the Mexican
authorities treated you as you have searched for information
regarding your son and his location? Have they been forthcoming
or have they left you in the dark during this process?
Mrs. Tahmooressi. Well, the judicial process is one that is
done in secrecy, in a sense, because I attend all of Andrew's
hearings, and supposedly it is supposed to be open to the
public, yet each and every hearing I attend, the honorable
presiding judge asks that I sit out in the hallway, because
there is not enough space in the courtroom.
So I have not been given any information forthcoming from
Mexico officials other than a fact sheet that did come out some
time ago, yet I had some questions on their facts.
Mr. Salmon. I was mystified when you told me that the judge
would not allow you, the mother, to come in and sit in the
hearings, that you actually have to sit outside.
Mrs. Tahmooressi. Correct. And it is interesting, that it
is always a hearing room that is selected without even a
window. All of them have windows except for the one that
Andrew's court proceedings are going on.
Mr. Salmon. How about our folks at the consulate there in
Tijuana? Have they been pretty helpful?
Mrs. Tahmooressi. Well, the local department, that would be
Consul General Andrew Erickson, who actually served with Andrew
in Afghanistan in 2012, from a personal standpoint, like making
sure Andrew has a toothbrush, making sure that I get escorted
in and out safely, because there are travel warnings, in the
beginning they had red alert travel warnings to Mexico,
Americans were supposed to keep a low profile because of a high
risk of kidnapping.
So they do help escort me in and out; however, it is the
State Department local level on April 14th that translated the
VA medical record that I ran to San Diego, and it is the State
Department in Tijuana, Mexico, on April 14th that flew in Dr.
Riegel from the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City. Dr. Riegel did a
full evaluation that day. I witnessed it. And I received the
report from the State Department approximately May 1st with the
diagnosis of PTSD.
It was translated and supposedly given to the judge, but it
was never entered into court as evidence to substantiate PTSD.
It was not considered--I don't know if it was because it wasn't
considered legitimate, it was from a U.S. source, and that is
why just 2 days ago, 6 months into this ordeal, a Mexican
psychiatrist has come in to validate combat-related PTSD, which
I just find ironic, because they don't send their military to
But the Mexican psychiatrists are considered legitimate,
but not Dr. Riegel, who did a full evaluation, from our U.S.
Embassy in Mexico City on April 14th, but those documentations
have not seemed to be effective or considered of high
Mr. Salmon. Thank you.
Lieutenant Commander Williams, you mentioned in your
testimony that him being in prison for 6 months is extremely
counterproductive to his PTSD. Can you elaborate on that just a
Lt. Commander Williams. Yes, sir. No question. I was
afforded with Jill an opportunity to speak to Andrew, what, 3
nights ago, 3 days ago, and it was my first time speaking to
him, because I literally tried my best to keep this off of
Montel and keep this on Andrew, and knowing that when I enter
this fray, the press would maybe take it in the wrong
When as I spoke to him, he said to me the other night
specifically, we talked for a couple minutes just in general,
how are you doing? Okay. And I said to him, it is an ignorant
question for me to ask you, Andrew, but Marine to Marine, how
are you doing? And he paused and he said, I have a hard time
keeping the bad thoughts out. I have a hard time keeping the
bad thoughts out. This is 2 days ago. I have a hard time
keeping the bad thoughts out, this is a key statement from a
person suffering right now, and he was sending that message, I
think, clearly to let me know and let his mom know, it is not
going well, but he couldn't say it in any other way.
So why am I so concerned? Again, this is not about me, but
most of you know I have suffered from MS for the last 20 years,
diagnosed in 1990. My MS, I have scars on my brain that are
closely equivalent to a concussive blast, so these symptoms, I
recognize. I am in a treatment program for them now and I am
doing very well, however, I know 1 day, 2 days without
treatment that I have, these things come back.
And unfortunately, Andrew being involved in a concussive
blast, we have just now determined he has traumatic brain--
well, PTSD, but they really haven't looked at his brain yet,
and there may be residual effects that are going to cause this
a little bit longer to be treated. And now for him to sit in a
prison, and I know we are hesitant to say it, but the rumors
are that he has been beaten, he has been treated like a POW,
not a person incarcerated for making a mistake.
And he said it to his mother and he said it to his peers:
His treatment here is worse than being in Afghanistan. And for
a person who is suffering to make that statement, he knows it.
So when we get him home, this is just the beginning, but it is
also an example of what we need to make sure we take care of
for the other guys and the other soldiers that are serving and
suffering the same way.
Mr. Salmon. Thank you very much.
The Chair yields to the gentlewoman from Hawaii.
Ms. Gabbard. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, and thank
you all for your very heartfelt testimony.
I wish we had more time. I know it is very difficult to
capture everything that you are conveying in such a short
period of time.
I understand and can appreciate everything that each of you
has communicated with regards to post-traumatic stress, with
regards to the treatment that Andrew needs, but I want to take
a step back for many people who may be watching or listening
who have not worn the uniform or who have not had a family
member who has worn the uniform and who haven't had that first-
hand experience that each of you has related.
And put us in the position of any one of us going there,
any one of us missing that turn, any one of us not seeing a
sign and ending up in a position where you are getting
arrested, you are surrounded by the military after making an
honest mistake, I think each of us would probably be pretty
pissed off, each of us would probably not be acting in the
calmest of manners, understanding the unknown that lay ahead,
anyone in that situation.
And I think that on top of that, understanding the strong
case of his character that you have made, the strong case of
his service, his commitment, what he has done, the commitment
he has had throughout his life only adds to that understanding
and really goes to the point of the fact that what is
occurring, there is no excuse, there is absolutely no excuse
And the most unfortunate thing is it appears that
bureaucracy is being allowed to be used as an excuse for his
continued incarceration and is really being blamed for why no
action has been taken. As many of you said, whatever it takes,
whatever it takes, he should be brought home.
My question for Jill is after the September 9th hearing, it
has been reported that your son's lawyer expressed confidence
that a favorable ruling may be close, and I am just wondering
if the assessment has changed since then and how you expect
things in the near term to go from the Mexican judicial
Mrs. Tahmooressi. Thank you for that question. Mr. Fernando
Benitez is Andrew's current criminal defense attorney. We had
had two attorneys previous to Mr. Benitez, who did great
disservice to Andrew. They were not of the ethics that I had
expected, especially since the first one was actually--I
selected off of the Department of State reference sheet in
But Mr. Benitez does state a high degree of confidence.
There was a hearing on September 9th where the video
surveillance was watched for 8 hours, and it definitely
corroborated Andrew's truthful and forthcoming statement and it
did poke holes in the statements by the Mexican officials and
So for that reason, Mr. Benitez believes that he is very
close to resting the case now and he expects a verdict--or an
action of either dismissal or acquittal within the next couple
of weeks, especially since the two psychiatric evaluations, one
from the defense and one from the prosecutor, have just been
done and filed in the court yesterday and ratified at 5:30 in
So I believe we are just several weeks away. We are
Ms. Gabbard. Thank you.
And for Mr. Williams, I know that you, as well as Jill and
others, have talked about specific actions, a phone call from
the President, you mentioned the petition that over 100,000
people have signed. What specific actions do you feel will
actually truly be effective in gaining Andrew's release that we
can advocate for and that we can push for here?
Lt. Commander Williams. Congresswoman Gabbard, first, I
want to apologize for not acknowledging you as the ranking
member, and I also want to say thank you for your service.
It is right now 11:05. If this hearing is going to stop in
the next 10 minutes, I think the President needs to pick up the
phone in 15. Make the call. Make the call today. If you are not
going to call President Penna Nieto, call this woman. This
woman's child, he is a father. I am a father.
I need to say something else that I didn't say earlier. The
reason why I jumped out, decided to become more public--and
please, believe me, it is not about me--I have a daughter right
now who has been going through cancer treatments for a year.
She is now in her second round. It came back. It is the worst
of it the last couple days.
This woman, since June, has sent a prayer to my family
every day for my daughter. So those who wonder why I am here,
this is a father and a mother who have two ill children. I know
a lot of us who suffer from post-traumatic stress don't like to
use that term ``ill.'' But if we use it appropriately and use
it the right way, that means it can be treated. It is an
And so I would beg that the President make that call. If
that can't happen, then I would say that I would beg that maybe
this committee, we issue a joint statement directly to
President Penna Nieto and say the world is watching, it is time
for you to act.
Ms. Gabbard. Thank you. Thank you all very much.
Mr. Salmon. Thank you.
Chair now recognizes the chairman of the full committee,
Mr. Royce. Yeah, I wanted just to go to Sergeant Buchanan.
And I think all of us are hopeful that your friend Andrew
will be back here soon. But what advice, I think I would ask,
would you give him and us on how best to approach his PTSD
treatment? And I would also ask that question of Mr. Hegseth,
since he is a veteran and works regularly with those who have
gone through something of what Andrew has gone through.
Sergeant Buchanan. Thank you for your question, Congressman
He needs to be with his brothers, the guys that trained
with him, deployed with him, know what he is going through. It
doesn't matter what branch, what your job was, we all wore a
uniform, and that is what we have in common. And that is
something, outside of the military, when you are readjusting.
That is something about Sergeant Tahmooressi, is his humble
attitude. He has a servant's heart. He always wants to help.
And part of the problem with that is he will help other people
before he helps himself.
He had just started the VA treatment, the process. He was
just at the beginning, getting diagnosed. That is nothing. That
is the first of many steps, and it is a long process, the VA
system. We need to get him in there, get him with his friends,
start the healing process, because, like everyone was saying,
isolation is the last thing a Marine, a combat vet needs that
is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Mr. Royce. And I will go to Mr. Hegseth. You mentioned also
the trade that the United States made for five senior Taliban
leaders, including former director of intelligence for the
Taliban, one of their senior commanders. One was chief of
staff. The chief of staff was implicated in the death of
thousands of Shia. All five had been involved in coordinating
attacks against American and coalition forces, and three of the
five were directly linked to al-Qaeda.
Now, the United States has taken an action to get them
released. And one of those five in Qatar today already told a
senior Taliban official--this was reported on the news--that
his next step would be to try to return to Afghanistan in order
to carry out attacks against American and coalition forces
Let me ask you your thoughts on this and what can be done
in order to secure the release of Sergeant Tahmooressi.
Mr. Hegseth. Me and my men guarded those five detainees at
Guantanamo Bay for a year. This is something that is incredibly
personal for all those that have served and specifically those
that have served in those combat zones.
To know what it took, to know the number of boots that were
on the ground that sought those men, to lock those men up, so
that we don't have to face them again, and then to know that
our Government is willing to give them away. And then a Rose
Garden ceremony with a family of someone who everyone knows who
has looked at the case deserted his unit. And then Ms.
Tahmooressi can't get a phone call.
And we hear all about a pen and a phone. Use your pen and
your phone and call the President of Mexico and get this done.
It is not hard. And it is not political. It is personal for
people that know it.
And Sergeant Buchanan was perfect on his remarks about the
VA. It is peer-to-peer counseling. It is being and talking to
the men that you have served with. And oftentimes at the VA,
there is also alternative therapy.
The question also, and this is not the hearing for the
Department of Veterans Affairs, but, Ms. Gabbard, you talked
about bureaucracy. How many people, how many Sergeant Jones and
Sergeant Smiths are attempting to access mental healthcare at
the VA and then they are made to wait weeks and months?
You know how many mothers I meet on the road when we do
events that come up to me and said, I lost my son to suicide as
he was waiting for treatment at the Department of Veterans
That is a scandal just like this one and another instance
where our Nation turns its backs, as Lieutenant Commander
Williams talked about, on those who have given so much for this
Nation. So trading deserters for terrorists and making veterans
wait for basic care, unacceptable.
Mr. Salmon. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
The Chair recognizes Chairman Smith, who is chairman of the
Subcommittee on Human Rights and the former chairman of the
Veterans' Affairs Committee.
Mr. Smith. Thank you very much, Chairman Salmon.
And I think this hearing perhaps more than anything else
that has happened so far will give additional hope to Andrew.
And hopefully he knows the strong bipartisan support, the
concern, the prayers that go out for him.
And I would just say to my colleagues, I am not surprised,
I am not shocked that the President has until this moment--and
Montel Williams, I think, made an excellent point about pick up
the phone, Mr. President.
This is not calling Ruhani on behalf of Saeed Abedini, a
pastor from the United States. This is a calling a friend and
ally with whom we have a robust trading relationship. It is a
dereliction of duty on the part of the President that he has
not made this phone call. And not just one, but then put the
full court press on the Mexican Government to release Andrew.
Let me just say also, and Matt Salmon mentioned I was
chairman of the Veterans' Affairs Committee, I served on that
committee for 26 years, including a stint as its chairman.
PTSD, as I think you know, Pete, during the Vietnam war
there was denial about PTSD. That argument has long been over.
And the care, even though it is often delayed, that the VA
provides, they have literally written the book on how to care
for veterans who are suffering from post-traumatic stress
disorder. And delay is denial. One day of a delay is denial.
And I also think it needs to be pointed out that 6 months
of inattention to any service-connected disability, be it
physical or psychological, causes that condition to fester and
So the ongoing appeal to the Mexican Government today is
very simple and very direct: Release Andrew now, today, so that
he can procure badly needed treatment for PTSD. He is a hero.
He is a man that the American people and this Congress looks up
to and says thank you. And yet he languishes in a Mexican
prison. And we need to do more.
But, again, we write law, we fund programs, and we do
oversight as Congress. It is the executive branch that has
direct contact with the President of Mexico. And that phone has
to be raised to his ear and he has to not get off the phone
until Andrew is released.
So, again, I want to thank you. This is powerful testimony.
And to hear a mother make such an articulate and strong appeal
on behalf of her son and then have three very distinguished
Americans do so in a way that has to be heard in Mexico City,
it has to be heard at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. It has already
been heard by Members of Congress.
And my colleagues have done yeoman's work. And, again,
thank you, Matt, thank you, Chairman Royce, Duncan Hunter and
others, who have done so much for so long. But the President
has to do his part. Andrew has to be on a plane getting that
health care that he needs. Delay is denial.
I thank my friend, and I yield back.
Mr. Salmon. I thank the gentleman.
I would like to now recognize the former chairman of the
full committee and a great American, the gentlewoman from
Florida, Ms. Ros-Lehtinen.
Ms. Ros-Lehtinen. Thank you so much, Mr. Chairman. Thank
you to the chairman of the full committee.
Wow. Incredible witnesses. Thank you so much.
Jill, I wanted to follow up on a few things that we
discussed when we met in Miami. I am aghast that you still have
not heard from the White House.
Do you play golf?
Mrs. Tahmooressi. No.
Ms. Ros-Lehtinen. No? Because I know that you are a nurse
at Miami Children's Hospital. That is just literally blocks
away from the Biltmore, a beautiful hotel in Coral Gables. They
have a wonderful golf course. Should we invite the President to
play a few rounds of golf with you, get his attention?
Mr. Chairman, I would like to request unanimous consent to
submit a statement from a constituent of my congressional
district, Olivia and Jon Hammar. Jill knows them well. They are
parents of a Marine veteran, Jon Hammar, who similarly was
arrested, detained for weeks and weeks and weeks in Mexico.
It is an absolute shame, it is a disgrace that we even need
to be here. It says quite a lot about the priorities of this
administration. It should not be up to the moms, it should not
be up to the wounded warriors, to the families, to the
friends--and Mr. Tahmooressi has so many friends--to wage this
awareness campaign to get our Government to act, to press the
administration for Andrew's release.
And I wanted to ask you about the process you have had to
go through with the lawyers in Mexico. And I am recalling some
of the same things that Olivia had to go through. Because it is
important that we recognize the similarities between the cases.
Tahmooressi took a wrong turn, ended up in the twilight zone,
and we must get him back.
I know that the consulate is prohibited from providing
legal advice, but it does give folks some help in finding a
suitable lawyer. Both you and Olivia had to go through a number
of lawyers before you could find a good and trustworthy one. Is
And could you describe the process that you went through to
find your lawyers? And the consulate provided you with a list,
but was it a list of vetted individuals or was it more like,
okay, here is an abbreviated version of the old-fashioned
Yellow Pages, select from this. And I will have you respond in
And, finally, I would like to ask about Andrew's health and
his injuries from Afghanistan and ask the panel for their
recommendations on how we can better serve our combat veterans
who return home.
As we have heard, Andrew has suffered at least two separate
concussions. We heard today that he has not been evaluated for
traumatic brain injury. There should be no reason why our
veterans should return home, don't get the immediate attention
that they deserve medically.
What do we need to do to make sure that these brave men and
women aren't falling through the cracks when they return?
And as we heard from Mr. Williams and Mr. Hegseth, who
testified, the alarming number of veterans who take their lives
every day. We need to do more as a society, as a government to
address this issue today.
So, Jill, I will start with you. If you could tell us about
the process of finding a lawyer.
Mrs. Tahmooressi. Well, when I got that phone call on April
1, Mom, I have been arrested, get me an attorney, I did the
responsible thing, I reached out to my congresswoman, Debbie
Wasserman Schultz. And her staff led me to George Rivas of the
Citizen Services in Washington, DC. He said, go to the Web
site, there is a Web site, Tijuana, Mexico, U.S. Consulate
Services, and look at the list.
And so I started down the list, and I reached this
gentleman's name. I phoned him. He answered the phone. He spoke
English. Tijuana is just 10 miles away from San Diego, yet
there is a language barrier.
So this particular lawyer spoke English, actually U.S.
trained. And he was listed as a criminal defense attorney. That
experience, I thought I was getting a reputable attorney, and
he was probably the most scrupulous and exploitative person I
have ever met in my life.
He served in the disclosure statement before the judge as
attorney and translator, and he scripted a mistruth. He
scripted a mistruth. He perjured my son. He scripted a mistruth
and told Andrew that, this is Mexico, forget anything you know
about American law. And this is Mexico, who I believe we sent
$100 million to in the past couple of years to help them reform
their judicial system.
This is the attorney that told Andrew that he must say that
he just arrived in San Diego that day, he was rushing to meet a
friend, he has never been to Mexico before, and he got lost.
When Andrew called me that afternoon and said, Mom, where
did you get that attorney, he just lied, and he told the judge
that I have never been to Mexico. Mom, I stood up twice. The
prosecutor was there. The defense attorney. Andrew, he stood up
twice to say, no, because he must have understood that, no, I
have been to Mexico. This attorney hushed him, told him to sit
And when I called up this attorney that night and I said,
you said what? I said, my son has been to Mexico, and my son
never lies. My son has some faults, we all do, but lying has
never been one. He is a man of integrity.
He said, Mrs. Tahmooressi, this is Mexico, you have to
forget everything about America. We don't practice common law.
We do oral arguments. They are not going to check any evidence.
I said, they are not going to pull bank accounts? Because I
pulled his bank account. I see that he has been in Tijuana
twice. And I got validation that he had walked into Mexico with
his best buddy friend, the Purple Heart that invited him to San
Diego. Within hours of arriving to San Diego they were already
in Tijuana. There must be a popular place in Tijuana for the
Marines to visit.
So I knew he had walked into Mexico one other time. And he
had told me he had walked out of Mexico that day when he got in
his truck purposefully to head back north to San Diego, because
he had stayed in a hotel the night previous, the Old Town San
Diego. He was headed back because he got triggered in Tijuana.
Upon nightfall, he got triggered and thought I need to get out
of here and to my friends in San Diego.
So that was my experience with the first Mexican attorney.
And that is why Andrew's original court date, I think it was
August, I am not sure of the exact date, but he had to go into
court and say, Judge, I request that this attorney no longer
represent me, in a sense, I fire this attorney. Because we
could not proceed with the lies. We could not proceed with the
That was my experience with selecting an attorney. And by
the grace of God, though, a great man serving California, he is
a criminal defense attorney, Phil Dunn. He had heard me on a
radio station or TV maybe. And he called me and said, Jill, I
am sorry, but you don't know how to pick Mexican attorneys. I
am going down with you and we are going to pick an attorney.
So we did. We went down there. But this time the State
Department, the same State Department that referred me to the
list, we met in their boardroom. And we said, please provide us
a list, a short list, and as we typically rank number one as
preferable, do provide us a short list.
So they did. They provided a short list within hours. We
went interviewing at least four to five different firms and
selected Mr. Benitez the next day.
Mr. Salmon. Thank you very much.
The Chair recognizes the gentleman from California, Mr.
Mr. Rohrabacher. Thank you very much to all of the leaders
who have provided their time and effort to make sure this
hearing, which is an incredibly significant hearing, is
And let me thank Mrs. Tahmooressi for sending me a tweet
the other day to draw my attention to something that I didn't
notice was even going to happen. And so I did redo my schedule.
We are defining ourselves today. We define ourselves by our
actions, especially in times of crisis. Andrew defined himself.
At a time of war, he joined the United States Marine Corps. I
come from a Marine family, and I know what that means.
And I will just say that I also know that Andrew did not do
anything intentionally wrong. I went to Tijuana and I retraced
his steps. I retraced his steps. And on the way back, when I
drove out of that parking lot and made that turn to the left,
it appeared, I can testify to everybody today, it appeared that
I was going into California. And once you made that turn there
was no going back until you were in Mexico. There is no doubt
that this problem was not caused by any intention of Andrew to
in some way not respect the law of Mexico, and that is very
Today, Mexico is defining itself, however. Mexico is
defining itself to us. I have a warm spot in my heart for
Mexico, and I like the Mexican people. And I think that I am
speaking for most of us here today. Mexico we look at as a
friend. I hope the people of Mexico are listening, because if
this thing isn't cleared up soon there will be hostility that
they don't deserve being heaped upon them, because they will be
proving themselves to us that they aren't our friend and we
shouldn't treat them that way.
If they treat an American hero like that, we can no longer
treat Mexico as our friend. I would hope in a very short time
we can celebrate together with the people of Mexico, with you,
and recement a friendship. But it will all depend on whether
they do the right thing now. They will define themselves that
We are defining ourselves. The President is defining
himself. Shame on President Obama for not making a 30-second
telephone call to the President of Mexico and getting this
thing settled a long time ago. He is the Commander in Chief.
That means he is personally the commander of people who
volunteer to fight our wars. And if they don't think that he
cares enough about them to make a phone call, they going to
feel they are betrayed, and they are being betrayed.
I would recommend, Mr. Chairman, I understand the President
is in Washington today, that we not wait for the President and
that we put a call, a conference call in to the President, or
that today, within the next \1/2\ hour, we call the White House
and personally request that each and every one of us go and see
him to have a meeting to talk to him about this case.
This has gone on long enough. We have a hero----
Mr. Salmon. Mr. Rohrabacher, the chairman would like to----
Mr. Royce. If the gentleman will yield, I will just relay
that I, myself, as well as Mr. Matt Salmon, in meeting with the
Vice President, relayed that request that the President do make
that phone call. And I would suggest it is quite appropriate
for other members here likewise to contact the White House and
make that request.
Mr. Rohrabacher. Well, I think we went to the second guy.
Now it is time to go to the guy on top. And I would ask my
colleagues to join us today in that telephone call.
And, finally, let's just hope and pray, and our thoughts
are with you. And this is a travesty that a brave hero has been
treated like this. He did his duty, it is up to us to do our
duty. The President of the United States is not doing his. So
let's act on this.
Thank you very much.
Mr. Salmon. Thank you.
I yield to the gentleman from Texas, Mr. Poe.
Mr. Poe. Thank the chairman.
Sergeant Tahmooressi, a Marine, he exemplifies exactly what
I believe it was Ronald Reagan said about the Marines: There
are two groups that understand the Marines, Marines and the
enemy. And I think that is a true statement.
This hearing to me is more than about the way America has
handled the situation of your son, Jill. It is an example and a
symptom of a bigger problem that our Marines and soldiers that
have testified have talked about, the idea that the Government
released five terrorists who killed Americans and are on the
battlefield again doing the same thing. They are in Guantanamo.
You have been to Guantanamo Bay prison. People need to see what
it is like. It is no Mexican jail. It is a lot better than a
Mexican jail. And we have learned about the Mexican
incarceration system. As a former judge, I heard a lot about it
at the courthouse.
But a prisoner, a Marine being threatened and assaulted
while incarcerated, that is wrong, no matter who he is, whether
he is a Mexican national or American. But yet we know that has
occurred, but still, 6 months later, there he is. And during
that 6 months--and this is not about the President--but he has
had the opportunity to make a couple of phone calls during that
6 months. He called, on July 3, the United States men's soccer
team congratulating them. June 20th, he congratulated the San
Antonio Spurs' head coach for their victory. So he can make
those congratulatory calls. Let's just make one more and make a
statement to the Mexican President.
I have sponsored, along with the chairman, a resolution,
House Resolution 620, sponsored by 81 Members of Congress,
Republicans and Democrats, that calls on the Mexican Government
to release our sergeant. We hope that we could get this
resolution adopted at least by action before we have to take a
vote on it.
And I think the comments about contacting the Mexican
President, maybe that is something we ought to be doing.
Whatever it takes, there is action. But that is one avenue we
are going through legally to try to get something done.
You have all been excellent witnesses. You don't hedge on
anything. I wonder why there is no witness here from the State
Department, why they are not here testifying what they are
doing or not doing about the Marine that we have been talking
Lieutenant Commander Williams, your comment, going back to
about this is bigger, it is a symptom of other things, our
veterans coming back, how they are treated, waiting in line to
die at the Veterans Administration hospital. And I am not very
IT savvy, but I have been getting constant tweets, I think they
are called, from citizens in Texas complimenting you and
demanding Congress do something about our Marine.
There have been 37 young men and women from my
congressional district in Texas killed in Iraq or Afghanistan,
men and women from all races, all branches of the service.
Their photographs are on my wall here in Washington, as with
many other Members.
We are not forgetting this Marine. We are not forgetting
any of them, whether they were killed in action or whether they
are wounded or whether they come back with the wounds of war,
as you have talked about. The American public, I think, stands
with our military, all of them, because, as it has been said,
the worst casualty of war is to be forgotten. And we are not
going to forget those that come back, and we are certainly not
going to forget Sergeant Tahmooressi while he is in a Mexican
jail. It is long past due to come back.
And I think I am out of time, so I will yield back to the
chairman. I have some questions, but I will ask you later.
Lt. Commander Williams. Mr. Chairman, could I please, sir,
just make one comment. I will be brief.
Mr. Salmon. Please.
Lt. Commander Williams. Congressman Poe, I want to thank
you, sir, for bringing up House Resolution 620. And as you
pointed out, 81 Members of Congress, both sides, have signed on
to this. But, unfortunately, we need to get this to the floor.
It would send an incredible message today to the President of
the United States if the House and Congress would go ahead and
at least call a vote on this.
And I should also say that what you stated, the American
public knows about Sergeant Tahmooressi. But I don't understand
what is going on, sir, at the political level. In the last 12
days, two governors have sat down and had conversations, one
from each side, with President Penna Nieto, and neither one of
them has raised this question. And we asked them both to do so.
I was in a meeting yesterday with an individual who is a
grand funder of a lot of the campaigns going on across this
country right now. And he sat with President Nieto 3 days ago,
4 days ago. And I was in his office yesterday. And I said, why
didn't you tell me that, because I would have called you and
asked you to do so.
But here is what is unfortunate that we are holding this
hearing today: Most of the American public has some weird idea
that he must have done something wrong, that is why you are not
backing him. And one of the points that has to be made, when
you talked about the fact that he made a wrong turn and you
followed this, that wrong turn, what people have to understand
is that submitted as evidence in the Mexican court right now is
the video of Sergeant Tahmooressi pulling up to the checkpoint.
And in that checkpoint, they gave him a green light. He could
have entered the country, buried his guns, come back, figured
out a way to get one back every week.
He put his hands up and said, hey, I made a mistake. Now,
that right there is clear enough for anybody in America who has
to understand this is not us trying to get--for some reason,
there are some people who claim that he had to have done
something wrong--this is not us trying to get a soldier who has
done something wrong back. This is trying to get a soldier
Mr. Salmon. Thank you.
The Chair recognizes the gentleman from Pennsylvania, Mr.
Mr. Marino. Thank you, Chairman.
I want to thank you all for being here.
Mrs. Tahmooressi, to you and to your family, from my
family, we pray for Andrew daily.
And, Chairman, I ask unanimous consent to enter into the
record a letter that I wrote that I dated July 10 of 2014 to
the Ambassador of Mexico to the United States of America
respectfully asking for the immediate release of Sergeant
Tahmooressi. Could I have this letter unanimously entered into
Mr. Salmon. Without objection, so ordered.
Mr. Marino. Thank you.
I did not receive a response.
Again, ma'am, my staff and I will assist the chairman in
any way needed or any way in which he requests to continue to
work on the release of your son. As Lieutenant Commander
Williams said, you and your son and veterans deserve more, have
a right to more. And we need to see that that is accomplished.
I apologize for how inappropriately you have been treated,
and I apologize for the inappropriate level of concern by the
White House. I am truly disappointed in that. The President
said on numerous occasions he has a pen and a phone, he can do
what he wants.
So at this time, Mr. President, I am asking you to use your
pen and your phone that you so continually tell the American
people that you are going to use.
I am disappointed that you have to be here today, ma'am. I
am disappointed that vets have not received the appropriate
care that they should be receiving in this country. And the
President needs to step up and show you the proper attention.
Our allies, the Mexican Government, also need to do what is
right and need to do it immediately.
And again my respect. I yield back.
Mr. Salmon. I thank the gentleman.
The other gentleman from Texas, Mr. Stockman, is
Mr. Stockman. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I appreciate Congressman Matt Salmon and his efforts
throughout all this.
In a tangent a little bit, I have to say, if your son is a
gunrunner, he is one of the worst ones I have ever seen. I
mean, to openly admit and raise his hands. Furthermore, I don't
think he brought enough to make any money. I mean, it is just
so bizarre that this whole thing is upside down, that what is
good is bad and bad is good in this nation.
He is unbelievably over there. And I actually sat with the
Consul General from Mexico right after he was taken. I gave him
a stack of papers on your son. And I said, look, I said, this
is going to grow into something really bad for both our
countries if you continue to hold our hero. I go, this isn't
going to end up well for either of our nations. Please show
compassion. I said, you show compassion, you are going to hit
We, all the time in Texas, we have them come across our
border accidentally and we turn them around. In fact, they were
shooting .50-caliber machine guns at us and we let them go back
This lack of friendship by our ally, supposedly, is so
disturbing, and I for one am puzzled by it. And I would hope
this committee in future hearings reconsiders the amount of
money we are sending down there. I don't think we should keep
investing in friends. If we have friends like this, we really
don't need enemies.
And I know we shouldn't get into bashing them, but I am
really frustrated because I see the lack of compassion on their
side. And I see compassion on our side. And we just want
balance. That is all we ask for.
And there are some other people that haven't been announced
that have come up on the Hill on your behalf. William
Chatfield, who is a Marine, came up here and lobbied--I don't
want to use the word ``lobbied,'' but spoke on your son's
behalf; Larry Ward from Special Operations Speaks has been up
here; Sam Bushman, who is a great guy, he has been up here with
his organization lobbying on your behalf. And then in my
office, Printus LeBlanc, who is a Marine, has been pushing very
hard, and Anna Marie Hoffman, who has been pushing.
Some of the things I want to just, I don't know, we are
trying to struggle and do something, but it feels like we are
pushing against Jello sometimes. Every time we push,
Congressman Ted Poe's thing, we thought that is going to be the
answer and it seems to fall on deaf ears. We talk to the
President's people, it falls on deaf ears. This hearing seems
to be falling on deaf ears. We have nobody from the State
Department here. We have nobody here that should be here.
I mean, you are here. That is great. But there should be
other people here that can pull strings that should be in this
hearing, hearing this powerful testimony, and they are not
here. And that is disappointing to me personally, because I
think in the long run this will do damage to Congress too that
we haven't taken up. And it will do damage, I think, to the
institution of the Presidency that there is so much silence.
The silence is deafening. These are our heroes from every
standpoint, and we continue to be silent, and it is very
I guess I would just ask is there any more we can do to--
besides calling the President--but is there anything we can do
outside of what we are doing right now that would move the
Mrs. Tahmooressi. Thank you. I mean, just simply, I would
like to see more than 81 signatures on the House Resolution
620. So if you could reach out to all your colleagues. Because
I believe Mexico would find that profoundly intimidating,
maybe, if there was more than 81 signatures on that House
But thank you for all of your efforts, and thank you so
much for coming in out of session to hear about Andrew's fight
for freedom and the plight of our veterans in America. Thank
Mr. Salmon. Thank you. The Chair recognizes the former
veteran and Congressman from Florida, and a dear friend,
Mr. DeSantis. Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this
Sergeant Tahmooressi is an American hero who fought for us
with honor and distinction in accordance with the finest
traditions of the United States Marine Corps, and yet he finds
himself languishing in a Mexican prison for 6 months. His
imprisonment is unjust, and the length of his detention is a
I think the witnesses here have been phenomenal. I am only
a first-term Member, but I have sat through a lot of
congressional hearings, and I really want to applaud you,
because I think you all have brought tremendous insight into
this issue. And I think it will help educate the American
people about Andrew's plight.
But it is inexplicable to me that this is even necessary to
have this. This should have been resolved long ago. And people
have mentioned that we would like to see action from the White
It is interesting, if you look, 22 USC 1732, this is the
law of the land right now, states,
``Whenever it is made known to the President that any
citizen of the United States has been unjustly deprived
of his liberty by or under the authority of any foreign
government, it shall be the duty of the President
forthwith to demand of that government the reason of
such imprisonment; and if it appears to be wrongful and
in violation of the rights of American citizenship, the
President shall forthwith demand the release of such
citizen. If the release so demanded is unreasonably
delayed or refused, the President shall use such means,
not amounting to acts of war, not otherwise prohibited
by law, as he may think necessary and proper to obtain
or effectuate the release; and all the facts and
proceedings relative thereto shall as soon as
practicable be communicated by the President to
I am not aware of the President taking any action so far to
bring our Marine back. And I don't think we have received any
information in Congress about actions that have been taken.
So I would say, Mr. President, we have a man down. Pick up
the phone and do your job on behalf of our Marine. And I think
it could be solved very quickly with that.
But I do think, even though it is the President's duty, and
I think that falls on him, we do need to speak in Congress, and
not just in a hearing, not just in press releases, but in
And so that means, absolutely, we call up House Resolution
620 and we vote it out of the House of Representatives. It
means, I believe, to say to Mexico, we send you hundreds of
millions of dollars in foreign assistance. That money stops
until our Marine is brought back to the United States. We need
to stop talking in this town and start acting.
So I am very glad that you called this hearing. I would
like to see more action. And I think that there are a lot of
other things that the President could do; obviously, pick up
the phone. We have a lot of leverage we can use on Mexico to
secure our Marine's release, and this needs to happen as
expeditiously as possible. And I yield back.
Mr. Salmon. I would like to just say for the record that
when we go back into session, if our man is not back home, we
will be moving that bill. And we will be moving it out of the
subcommittee, and I will have every intention to work with
leadership to get it expedited on the floor as quickly as
I do have a sneaking suspicion and a very optimistic view
that good things are going to happen very, very soon. And,
Congressman from Florida, I know we have all heard that before.
But I have reason to believe that maybe some optimism might be
in vogue right now.
I recognize the gentleman from Florida, Mr. Yoho.
Mr. Yoho. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And I want to thank you,
Chairman Royce, Mr. Hunter, for going and doing what you have
done, the stellar work you have done.
I want to thank you all for showing up and doing, again, I
agree with everybody up here that you guys have done a great
And, Mrs. Tahmooressi, the story you are telling
exemplifies only the love and concern a mother or a parent can
have for a child. And the things that you have shared with us
are great. I mean, I am reading this here, you know, it says,
Mom, I did this; Mom, I scheduled my solo flight. And you went
through this whole list. And the last one, I can't read because
it is too disturbing.
But to hear the excitement of our kids--Mom or Dad, I did
this--and then to have this turn out, to me it is just
unconscionable that we have gotten to this point.
And I think of everything that we have gone through in this
country with our relationship with Mexico, and it has been
brought up. They get $300 million a year in foreign aid. They
are a neighbor, they are a friend, they are a trading partner,
they are an ally. They don't send their young to defend freedom
around this globe as we do.
Again, the story you are telling, it is interesting how you
brought out the paths and turns that we make in life often lead
us in the wrong direction. But how many of us have made a wrong
turn that have had this kind of consequence in our life? Not
many of us, especially as rapidly as it has for your son and
monumental for a wrong turn.
And I see a young man that went down there who made a wrong
turn, realized he made a wrong turn, goes to the security
guards and says, hey, listen, I made a wrong turn. I want to go
back to America. And, oh, by the way, I have three guns. I am
telling you what I did.
Now, as it was brought up, if you were doing that to
smuggle them in there, you wouldn't say that. So obviously, it
was a mistake, it was a wrong turn. They need to let him go.
And for our President not to stand up to demand his
release, yet he negotiated and released--and I feel illegally--
five of the all-star players on the Taliban team for one our
Marines. And I am always happy to get one of our soldiers home.
But if we can do that, and he can do that, he can do this and
just ask for him to be returned. We don't want to make an
international incident out of this. We just want our Marine
home, we want your son, your comrade home. We want him home.
And I guess I just want to say, I, as a U.S. Congressman, I
apologize to the President of Mexico that our Marine, one of
our citizens, came into your country and made a wrong turn. And
he admitted that. And I apologize he made a mistake. And I hope
you find in your heart the ability to forgive him and release
him so that we can put this to an end and he can get on with
his life and with his treatment.
And I just want to thank all of you that have served. We
are well aware of the 22 suicides that happen every day in this
country. And we need to get him back and get him treated.
And I thought it was also interesting that President Obama,
with Sergeant Bergdahl, stated that it was a medical emergency,
it was a risk to his life, that we bring this young man home.
And if that was true then, it is true now. And I urge this
President to pick up the phone and use his pen and bring this
And with that, I am going to yield back. We are with you.
We will do whatever we can. And God bless you all.
Mr. Salmon. Thank you.
I recognize the gentleman from California, who is also a
former veteran, also worked tirelessly on behalf of Sergeant
Tahmooressi, a great guy and a good colleague, Duncan Hunter.
Mr. Hunter. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thanks very much for
And thank you, everybody, for coming out.
Number one, we don't call it the Marine Corps, we call it
America's Marine Corps. Sergeant Tahmooressi is a son of
America. He is a Marine who fought for every single person.
When we have Marine Generals testify, they say it is your
Marine Corps, it is America's Marine Corps, and that is how we
should be looking at this case.
Frankly, I am tired of the lip service, of the thanks for
your service, while I watch the President give speeches in
front of our men and women in uniform so that he can look sexy
on television. Because it is just lip service. He doesn't care.
Secretary Kerry does not care. And the State Department, for
all the little things that they have done for you, they have
not gone out of their way. In fact, the first lawyer that you
got was off of their Web site that they vetted. They do not
care. But people in this room care.
I would say too that when a parent gives their son or
daughter up and entrusts their lives to the U.S. military, to
the United States Marine Corps, you gave your son up for your
country, and he did it willingly and proudly. And I look at
those pictures popping up. He is a stud. He is a young killer
of bad people. And that is why he joined, to go serve his
And to see him now and what they have reduced him to in
Mexico and to read that excerpt that you said he told you where
he was tied spread eagle and beaten and threatened with rape,
that is appalling. This isn't Yemen, this isn't Somalia. This
is supposed to be one of our number one neighbors, Mexico.
But I would advise everybody, we don't allow our Marines at
Camp Pendleton, where I was stationed, we don't allow them to
go to Mexico. The sailors in San Diego, not allowed to go to
Mexico. Mexico is more than Rosarito, Cozumel, Ensenada. In
Mexico, they make $5 a day. That is their new minimum wage. It
is not a First World country. There is a reason we don't allow
our Marines and sailors to go to Mexico from San Diego. They
don't get leave shifts there at Camp Pendleton. They are not
allowed to do it.
Andrew does not just deserve this, and he doesn't have a
right to this, to this hearing and to this attention, he has
earned it, along with about 1 percent of the U.S. population
who has served in the military, and an even smaller slice of
that has served in combat situations. He has earned this
attention here today. He has earned this Congress coming
together and this committee holding this. This is what we are
here for. This is why we are in Congress. This is why we run
for Congress and win, is to represent people like him so we can
go fight for him when people like our own President won't.
And I will tell you what. I am tired of hearing about the
President making a phone call. What kind of a low bar do we
have we set for this President, we ask him to make a phone
call? He ought to get his tail down and play some of those
Mexican golf courses and get him out of jail in person. That is
a low bar to set for the Commander in Chief, a Commander in
Chief that should go to hell and back for one of their men or
women who has been left behind, as has been stated.
I have a question for the panel. Would you allow your
Marines or soldiers to go to Mexico today?
Mr. Hegseth. No, Congressman.
Mr. Hunter. Sergeant?
Sergeant Buchanan. Negative, Congressman.
Mr. Hunter. Commander?
Lt. Commander Williams. No, sir.
Mr. Hunter. Jill, would you allow your son or any of your
friends or their kids, to go to Mexico?
Mrs. Tahmooressi. It is too dangerous. No, I wouldn't.
Mr. Hunter. In 2011, when Afghanistan was raging, you had
nine times more likely of a chance to be killed in Mexico than
to be killed in Afghanistan--nine times. Afghanistan was safer
than Mexico. This does not sound like a good neighbor. It
doesn't sound like a neighbor that makes our Ford trucks and
does deals with all of our big American corporations so that
they can have $5-a-day labor in Mexico.
Mexico stole Andrew's chance at a quick recovery. And I
think that Montel hit that right on the head. They stole his
chance at a quick recovery. By getting rid of this case and
acquitting him or throwing this case out now, today, or this
week, or sometime soon, they at least set him on a slow, uphill
path to be being healed.
And I will tell you, Montel, you are dead on. This is much
worse than Afghanistan. He would probably want to go serve two
or three tours in the most horrible, dirtiest, grittiest combat
place on Earth than sit in a Third World country jail.
So thank you all for what you are doing.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for doing this. And God help us if
we can't get one of our own back out of the clutches of a not-
so-great government like Mexico.
Mr. Salmon. Thank you.
I recognize the gentleman from Florida, Mr. Jolly.
Mr. Jolly. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
To the panelists, thank each of you for your service.
I want to associate myself with comments of my colleagues,
particularly Mr. Hunter. We are elected to work, we are elected
to actually get things done, as Members of Congress and the
President is as well.
Every member of this panel, every Member of this body at
some point has probably run against the dysfunction of
Washington. And when we are elected, we don't have the luxury
of resigning ourselves to that dysfunction. We have a
responsibility to work. That means holding hearings like this,
and that means actually putting your name on important pieces
of legislation like House Resolution 620.
The issue clearly is leadership. The facts are as clear as
they can be. We have established today that we have to get
Andrew home, that the President has not done enough. But also,
importantly, as Mr. Hegseth said, that PTS is real. We have
talked about getting Andrew home, but we have also talked about
a very important condition, and that is PTS.
My question for Mrs. Tahmooressi is, can you walk us
through very briefly, because I will have a couple other
questions, as a mom, what you noticed in Andrew as PTS began to
progress with him?
Mrs. Tahmooressi. Thank you.
He got out of active duty October 2012 and pretty much
immediately enrolled in Embry-Riddle. He was accepted in
January. That probably wasn't the wisest thing to do, because
it is hard to acclimate from the battlefield into a college
environment, especially when you have a difficult time relating
to your peer group now.
So I think it began just having a difficult time relating
to the peer group. He would see a classroom full of people his
age, but they were disrespectful, they got up and left. And as
a Marine, you definitely bow down to authority.
So he started getting aggravated, frustrated. He was having
flashbacks, really difficult time sleeping. So he would wake up
screaming. And we would hear him wake up screaming.
So a lot of restless nights, agitation. And also suspicion.
As the year progressed in 2013, he did have a hypervigilance to
self-defense. He still had what I call a hunter-prey syndrome.
I don't know if that is really a legitimate word. But to me, he
was always hypervigilant.
And 2013 is when he purchased his concealed weapon. So he
had the shotgun in 2007 when he went to Alaska, but then he
felt the need to have himself armed with the handgun. And being
a Marine, he carried a rifle for those 4 years. And he was
responsible for the biggest gun on the battlefield, a .50
So when he made his second purchase in 2013, which was his
third firearm, the rifle, that also kind of made sense to us. I
mean, we knew that that was his tool of the trade, that is what
kept him alive for 4 years.
Mr. Jolly. Let me pause just a second because of time. I
want to be respectful of time.
We know we have a wait list. I have had a conversation with
a mother like you referred to, Mr. Hegseth, somebody awaiting
treatment within the VA, and then committed suicide while on
the wait list. What do we need to do more.
Mr. Hegseth. As the Congressman said, delayed care is
denied care. We hear all the time from the VA, well, it is
great when you get in. If you can't get in, you don't get the
treatment that you need.
We have to cut through the bureaucracy. We have to hold
leaders accountable for their performance. We need to provide
transparency. And we need to give a veteran a choice. If they
can't be seen in a timely manner from a VA facility, why can't
they go to a private facility to get that care?
Mr. Jolly. Put a choice card in the hand of every veteran
and let them control their health care. That is the answer to
shattering the failure of the VA bureaucracy right now.
Mr. Hegseth. Introduce a little competition.
Mr. Jolly. You are right.
I have got a question, one last question. Mr. Williams, you
made an extremely powerful statement in your opening statement
today, that you couldn't counsel your son to put on the uniform
and carry the flag of our Nation. That appears to be a failure
in leadership, probably systemic, perhaps in this body as well
as the administration.
My question for you is, what do you need to see change to
find yourself in a position to say yes to your son, to say it
is okay to put on the uniform and carry the flag?
Lt. Commander Williams. I believe this body knows that over
the course of the last 4 or 5 months I have been extremely
vocal, and I am not going to let up. I gave the President and
this last bill the 90 days that was requested to make a change.
So I am keeping my mouth shut for about another 35 days.
But at the end of 35 days, believe me, I am not going to
stop, because all the claims that were made in this bill that
was passed, so far I don't believe these things are being
implemented. Just the idea that the fact that our soldiers were
supposed to have the right to go and visit outside hospitals
and get assistance if they couldn't get it, that is not
happening as quickly as we think.
And one of the things, giving a card to say go see a
civilian, each one of these soldiers has said this, and they
will say it over and over again: We need to be with our
brothers. The simplest thing that this body could do and
Congress could do is authorize our veterans to go to DoD
facilities. Augment those facilities to see those troops. This
is where we grew up being treated. Why should we not be treated
by the same people right now? End the backlog immediately.
Mr. Jolly. Well, the card is intended to empower the
individual to stay in the VA, go to DoD, stay with their guys
if they want to. But if they need immediate assistance
elsewhere and they want to go there, put the individual in
charge of their own health care. Let them control their own
Thank you. I yield beck. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Salmon. I thank the gentleman.
This hearing has been a fantastic hearing.
Jill, I know that not so long ago, just a few short hours
ago, you were actually in Mexico, sitting outside the
courtroom, as ordered by the judge, to support your son. And
now here you are across the country here in Washington, DC, as
a tireless advocate and a wonderful example of what an American
mother is all about. So thank you. God bless you.
And all of you panel members, your service is truly
And I think that the consensus of this panel discussion,
which focuses on a brave soldier who gave his country his
everything, it is a lot broader. It is about, do we stand for
those who stand for us or not? Do we stand for them?
And, Mr. Jolly, you made reference to the Veterans
Administration. So we chuck $17 billion at them and we do this,
and pat ourselves on the back like we have really done
something stupendous. Well, I will tell you something, in the
last 60 days the calls haven't stopped, not in any office, not
with my caseworkers. And I don't see anything changing, and I
don't see anything better. And I am dubious that it will get
better until major changes happen, until there is a major
mindset change within our country that we really do care about
those that care about us, that we send into harm's way.
This is a case of a young man who served our country
proudly who is suffering from PTSD, who is now languishing in a
Mexican prison. I implore the President to do what a Commander
in Chief should do, and that is use everything that he has got
to get this young man home. I implore the Government of Mexico
to do the right thing.
Laws are there for two things, to provide safety for its
citizenry, but also to enact justice. We know what justice
would be. Justice in this case would be to have this young man
home, being treated for PTSD. That is justice. That is
compassion, but that is justice.
I thank everybody for being here at the hearing. I thank
you for taking the time. I thank the members for coming across
Tulsi, I think you win the award for coming the furthest,
But this hearing is concluded. And God bless.
[Whereupon, at 12:06 p.m., the subcommittee was adjourned.]
A P P E N D I X
Material Submitted for the RecordNotice deg.
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Material submitted for the record by the Honorable Ileana Ros-Lehtinen,
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