Voice of America Should Start Reporting on U.S. Marine Imprisoned in Mexico, Voice of Russia Does

BBG Watch Commentary

Sgt. Tahmooressi with Rep.  Royce and Rep. Salmon

Sgt. Tahmooressi with Rep. Royce and Rep. Salmon

Yet another U.S. news story not covered by the U.S. taxpayer-funded Voice of America (VOA) in English and nearly all of more than 40 of VOA’s other language services — the arrest in Mexico and detention of U.S. Marine Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi and numerous attempts by the U.S. State Department, key U.S. lawmakers and other Americans to obtain his release.

Even Voice of Russia had an online factual but not completely balanced news report on Sgt. Tahmooressi, Florida Governor Rick Scott Asks Kerry to Help Former Marine Jailed in Mexico, Voice of Russia [not Voice of America] June 28, 2014. Voice of America VOA English News, voanews.com, had none. According to Voice of Russia [not Voice of America English News which has ignored this story], the Republican governor of Florida, where Sgt. Tahmooressi’s family lives, accused the U.S. State Department of “inaction” in his case.

Voice of Russia did not offer any reaction from the U.S. State Department, but neither did VOA English News, which had nothing on it. At least Voice of Russia had something online in English for worldwide audiences about Sgt. Tahmooressi’s plight. Voice of America did not despite this being a U.S. news story and a news story involving the U.S. government, primarily the State Department, but also the White House and President Obama, accused by the family of the Marine of “abandoning” him, and members of the U.S. Congress of both parties who are working to get him released and visited him in his Mexican prison.

According to ABC News, “the State Department is actively engaged in the case. Consular officers have visited Tahmooressi 13 times, and 71 members of Congress have signed a bi-partisan letter asking the judge for leniency.” VOA English News has reported none of this online.

Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi who served two combat tours in Afghanistan is currently being held in a Mexican prison since March 31st 2014. He was in San Diego receiving treatment for a recently diagnosed PTSD condition when he made a wrong turn and ended up across the Mexican border. He informed the border patrol agents he did not want to enter Mexico but was arrested.

At his first formal court hearing last Wednesday the judge did not set him free. Instead, after hearing Andrew’s retelling of his fateful wrong turn into Mexico, the judge set an additional court date for August.

His mother, Jill Tahmooressi, wrote to his supporters that “Even though thousands have signed the petition on the White House website, President Obama has yet to take any action to help get Andrew released. From where we sit, the executive branch has totally abandoned him.” While there has not been much public action from the White House, the U.S. State Department is reportedly trying to obtain his release.

But Marine Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi has definitely been almost completely abandoned by the U.S. taxpayer-funded Voice of America.

A search of the main VOA English website shows that Voice of America has not posted a single news story in English about Sgt. Tahmooressi. Zero. The same is true for almost all other VOA language services.

Voice of America English News Website Screen Shot 2014-07-12 at 1.04AM EDT

Voice of America English News Website Screen Shot 2014-07-12 at 1.04AM EDT

VOA English News did not report on these comments by Secretary of State John Kerry about Sgt. Tahmooressi in an interview with Chris Cuomo of CNN New Day on May 28, 2014. VOA English News also did not report on numerous responses from the State Department spokesperson to questions from journalists about Sgt. Tahmooressi during regular State Department press briefings.

QUESTION: Let me switch topics slightly. When you look at situations of American citizens abroad like Kenneth Bae and like the Marine, Mr. Tahmooressi, who is being held in Mexico – we had Tahmooressi’s mother on. She’s hoping for more from you on that situation, the family of Kenneth Bae hoping for more. Isn’t it important that the U.S. do everything it can to bring its citizens back home when they are being held abroad, especially if it is unlawfully? Do you think you can do more there?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, absolutely it’s important to get any citizen back, and we are literally working daily on every single citizen. There is not one – just the other day, I spoke out publicly about Mr. Hekmati in Iran. We’ve raised these issues. We’re raising them constantly. I raised them with Mexican officials when I was in Mexico. We are working on determining whether or not certain evidence that has been presented is meeting the standard that’s necessary to be able to hold that young Marine, and we’re trying to find out exactly what the fact pattern is, but we are working on that. And as recently as last week, I had those discussions with Mexican authorities. We hope to be able to inform the family soon about where we stand with respect to the state of the evidence and what his status will be.

A search of the VOA Spanish website shows only only one short news report about Sgt. Tahmooressi in May 2014 and no updates we could find online since then, May 23, 2014, more than a month and a half ago. A search did not produce any results on the VOA Spanish website about a CNN television interview in which Secretary Kerry answered a question about Sgt. Tahmooressi. Executives currently in charge of VOA are former CNN television staffers.

Voice of America Spanish Service Screen Shot 2014-07-12 at 1.05AM

Voice of America Spanish Service Screen Shot 2014-07-12 at 1.05AM

Sgt. Tahmooressi mother wrote to his supporters: “We have to keep Andrew’s story in the news. We cannot let Andrew be forgotten. Please tell your friends and family about Andrew’s story. Click on the image or follow this link to watch the video about Andrew.”

The Voice of America, despite being funded by U.S. taxpayer and required by its congressional Charter, which is U.S. law, to report on U.S. news and U.S. policies, a provision that would cover State Department’s and congressional attempts to get Sgt. Tahmooressi released from Mexican prison, definitely is not keeping this U.S. story in the news.

The Voice of America of course did not report online this week that Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), expressed extreme disappointment that the judge in Mexico did not order Sgt. Tahmooressi released from prison.

The Voice of America also failed to report on earlier actions by U.S. lawmakers to get Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi released and their visits with him in prison.

BBG Watch had this report on June 23, 2014.

BBG Watch Commentary

Voice of America ignores U.S. Marine Andrew Tahmooressi in Mexican prison, visit from Congressmen Royce and Salmon

Tahmooressi with Rep.  Royce and Rep. SalmonU.S. taxpayer-funded Voice of America (VOA) has almost completely ignored the arrest and subsequent detention in Mexico of U.S. Marine Sergeant Andrew Tahmooressi who in March 2014 inadvertently arrived at the Mexican border in his vehicle that contained firearms registered in his name in the U.S. He was apparently not attempting to enter Mexico, but became confused and took a wrong turn that landed him on Mexican territory and in a Mexican prison.

Voice of America is also not reporting on criticism of the Obama Administration for not doing enough to obtain release of Sergeant Tahmooressi in contrast to exchanging five Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl who was held by the Taliban in Afghanistan.

A search of the Voice of America English news website does not show any reports on Sergeant Tahmooressi who honorably served two combat tours in Afghanistan and suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which is blamed for his apparently inadvertent crossing of the Mexican border.

VOA Tahmooressi  Search Screen Shot 2014-06-24 at 9.56AM EDT

VOA Tahmooressi Search Screen Shot 2014-06-24 at 9.56AM EDT

A search of the Voice of America Spanish news website showed only one short news story, dated May 23, 2014, which mentioned U.S. State Department attempts to get Mexican authorities to release Sergeant Tahmooressi. After a month, this VOA Spanish news report shows only 3 (three) Facebook “Shares.”

According to a search, VOA Spanish Service has not posted since then online any updates on the story, despite numerous other appeals for the U.S. Marine’s freedom, including a May 31 visit with him in prison by Rep. Matt Salmon (R-AZ) and criticism of President Obama from Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif. for not doing enough in the case of Sergeant Tahmooressi.

“Meanwhile, as far the Administration went for Bergdahl, Andrew Tahmooressi is still stuck in a Mexican jail for making a wrong turn and the only thing grabbing the president’s attention so far is an online petition that forces him to respond,” Rep. Hunter said.

The VOA Charter requires the Voice of America to “represent America, not any single segment of American society, and … present a balanced and comprehensive projection of significant American thought and institutions. The VOA Charter also says that “VOA will present the policies of the United States clearly and effectively, and will also present responsible discussions and opinion on these policies.” (Public Law 94-350)

Neither VOA English nor VOA Spanish news website had anything on the June 21 visit with Sergeant Tahmooressi at a prison in Tecate, Mexico by U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and a second visit by Rep. Matt Salmon, Chairman of the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee.

According to a search of the Voice of America English news website, VOA English News did not report on Sergeant Tahmooressi at all or on the political controversy that this new story has generated in the U.S. with Republicans accusing the Administration of inaction.

The Voice of America has also not reported online about Chairman Royce’s letter to Mexico’s Foreign Secretary, Dr. Jose Antonio Meade Kuribeña, in which Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee expressed his serious concern about Sgt. Tahmooressi’s arrest and detention and urged a quick resolution.

Sources told BBG Watch that both Rep. Ed Royce and Rep. Matt Salmon have had enough of Voice of America’s failures to report on U.S. news for international audiences as required by its congressional VOA Charter, not only with relation to news generated in the U.S. Congress, but also news coming out of the White House, the State Department and independent U.S. institutions and experts commenting on U.S. foreign and domestic policies. This view is widely shared in Congress among both Republicans and Democrats, both in the House and in the Senate.

Sources told BBG Watch that members and staff of the House Foreign Affairs Committee are reported to be unhappy with Voice of America director David Ensor for his alleged support of opposition to H.R. 4490 (the United States International Communications Reform Act of 2014) which was introduced in April by Chairman Royce and Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), the Committee’s Ranking Democratic Member.

Ensor and a group of VOA English Newsroom reporters oppose the bill’s wording linking VOA with U.S. public diplomacy, but a union representing BBG’s federal employees, AFGE Local 1812, came out in support of the bill and its proposed management reforms while asking for some of the text in the proposed legislation about VOA’s mission to be modified. [Some VOA Newsroom staffers had criticized the union for supporting the bill, but after meeting with the union’s leadership have reportedly asked the union to present their concerns to members of Congress. Both sides are in favor of management reforms.]

Congressman Salmon has expressed his deep displeasure with mismanagement and violations of the VOA Charter by VOA executives by proposing that the Voice of America be completely defunded. It is the first such defunding proposal from Congress in VOA’s history under its many directors.

Rep. Ed Royce reacted recently to the State Department Office of the Inspector General (OIG) audit on wasteful spending and abuse of power at the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), the agency that oversees U.S. international broadcasting, including the Voice of America. The audit details a “systemic failure” of BBG acquisitions, including nearly $5 million in unjustified and unapproved spending.

READ: State Dept Inspector General Audit Finds Wasteful Spending, Other Problems at Broadcasting Board of Governors — Royce Reacts, June 21, 2014.

 

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Chairman Royce, Subcommittee Chairman Salmon Visit Marine Sgt. Tahmooressi in Mexican Prison

JUN 21, 2014

Washington, D.C. – Earlier today, U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, along with Rep. Matt Salmon (R-AZ), Chairman of the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee, traveled to Tecate, Mexico where they visited with U.S. Marine Sergeant Andrew Tahmooressi, in order to check on his condition.  Sgt. Tahmooressi is currently being held in El Hongo II prison in Tecate, Mexico following his arrest in March.

A photo of Royce and Salmon meeting with Sgt. Tahmooressi is available via Twitter HERE.

Following the visit with Sgt. Tahmooressi today, Royce and Salmon issued the following statements.

Chairman Royce said:  “The Committee has been following Sgt. Tahmooressi’s case quite closely.   I found him to be in good spirits, but this visit confirmed my belief that Sgt. Tahmooressi, after serving two honorable tours in Afghanistan and now suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, needs to come home.  While I remain respectful of Mexico’s laws, today after I thanked him for his dedicated service, I assured Sgt. Tahmooressi that I will continue working to secure his release so that he can begin needed treatment for his PTSD.”

Chairman Salmon said:  “After visiting with Sergeant Tahmooressi for the second time in two weeks, I remain confident that his situation is improving and will end with his release in the near future. His spirits remain upbeat and he has full confidence in his new attorney. I once again expressed my heartfelt gratitude to Sgt. Tahmooressi for his military service, and relayed to him the overwhelming support he is receiving from millions across America. It remains a top priority that Sgt. Tahmooressi return to the U.S. to receive treatment for the PTSD he suffered while serving in Afghanistan. I ensured him that I will continue to do everything in my power to make sure his case is heard quickly and fairly.”

Note:  Earlier this month, Chairman Royce wrote a letter to Mexico’s Foreign Secretary, Dr. Jose Antonio Meade Kuribeña, expressing his serious concern about Sgt. Tahmooressi’s arrest and detention and urging a quick resolution.  Chairman Royce’s letter is available HERE.

On May 31, Chairman Salmon first visited Sgt. Tahmooressi in prison.  Information on that visit is available HERE.

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