By Kristina Wong - 10/01/14 12:43 PM EDT
The mother of a Marine who has been detained for more than 180 days in Mexico on Wednesday pleaded for President Obama's help to secure his release.
“My son is despondent, without treatment, and he needs to be home,” she said.
Tahmooressi teared up as she read emails from her son about his treatment in Mexico.
"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,’ ” she read aloud from one email.
Tahmooressi said her son made a wrong turn that took him to the border of Mexico, while legally having arms in his vehicle. He was arrested by Mexican authorities for possessing weapons and ammunition.
Tahmooressi said Obama has never called her about her son’s detention, drawing a public rebuke from another witness, Montel Williams, the former TV host who is also a retired Navy lieutenant commander.
“I think the president needs to pick up the phone,” Williams said to applause in the hearing room. “Make the call.”
"It is a dereliction of duty that he has not made this phone call," said Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.).
Williams, who has become a public champion of veteran mental health issues, gave emotional testimony, tearing up several times.
He said Tahmooressi “didn't hesitate to raise his hand and say, 'Aye, aye sir.’ How dare we — how dare we, as a nation, hesitate ... to get him back?"
Concerned Veterans of America CEO Pete Hegseth said Tahmooressi is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as combat trauma sustained during two deployments to Afghanistan, and needs to receive treatment as soon as possible.
Lawmakers on the House Foreign Affairs subpanel pressured Mexico to release the jailed Marine. Rep. Matt SalmonMatt Salmon GOP lawmakers give Trump bad reviews on debate performance House GOP talks 'minibuses,' moves toward Senate in spending fight Gloom sets in for GOP MORE (R-Ariz.), who chaired the hearing, said Tahmooressi “has spent over 6 months in prison for what amounts to a wrong turn.”
"I firmly believe that Sgt. Tahmooressi meant no harm, nor did he willfully violate Mexican law, when he crossed the border,” Salmon said.
Salmon said the United States has been generous in dealing with southern border crossings and now needs Mexico to return the favor.
"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.," Salmon said.
"But frankly, compassion goes both ways. Mexico does not have the ability to provide Sgt. Tahmooressi with the care he needs. Our war hero needs to come home," he said.
Republican lawmakers on the panel contrasted Tahmooressi's situation with that of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was held captive in Afghanistan. The Obama administration swapped for five Taliban detainees held at Guantánamo Bay to secure his release.
"Sgt. Tahmooressi's circumstances are obviously very different than Sgt. Bergdahl's. But it still struck me then that Sgt. Tahmooressi had served his country with honor twice in Afghanistan and now finds himself in a Mexican prison," Salmon said.
"Clearly, President Obama couldn’t find time between negotiating with terrorists to call our ally, the Mexican president, to appeal to him on behalf of our Marine," he said.
Rep. Tulsi GabbardTulsi GabbardSaudi skeptics gain strength in Congress Lawmakers seek answers on Pentagon employees' casino, strip club charges Man arrested for allegedly threatening Hawaii Dems MORE (D-Hawaii), the subcommittee's ranking member, said the State Department needs to make the Marine’s release a priority.
"There's no question that our government needs to do whatever it takes to support Sergeant Tahmooressi, as he seeks justice and freedom in Mexico,” she said.
— This story was updated at 1:42 p.m.