When critics accuse The New York Times of cherry-picking news coverage, my eyes glaze over. Editors there and elsewhere make choices that are usually defensible, even if not absolutely objective. Similarly, when critics howl about how México abuses Americans in its justice system, my instinctive reaction is to wonder what terrible crime the accused actually committed.
In our highly-charged, partisan and ideological world, they are both easy targets so I tend to give both México and The New York Times the benefit of the doubt.
My reservations noted, in the case of Jon Hammar, the 27-year old former combat Marine in a raw jail in the Mexican border town of Matamoros, I am satisfied that both the Republic and the newspaper of record have abused or ignored the civil rights of a prisoner who should have been sent home with a slap on the wrist.
As far as I know, the facts of the Hammar case are uncontested.
He brought a shotgun on a summer surfing vacation into México, declared it both on the U.S. side of the border in Brownsville, Texas, and when he reached Mexican customs on the Matamoros side of the line.
Admittedly, it was a dumb thing to do. In the wake of “Fast and Furious,” Mexican authorities are hyper-angry over the flood of heavy weapons from the U.S. into the hands of the drug cartels that represent an existential threat to their democracy.
But Hammar’s .410 shotgun is hardly a heavy weapon. His defenders say it comes off the pages of an old Sears Roebuck catalog, and should be considered a semi-harmless antique. I don’t buy that, but the gun is the smallest bore shotgun popularly available; it is often the first gun kids are given by their hunter dads and is commonly used to shoot birds or small critters. I used one to shoot a squirrel out of a nest in the Belmont Lake State Park on Long Island in the summer of 1960 and was so traumatized by the assassination I gave up hunting.
In a shootout with the bandits of the Matamoros cartel, it would be laughably inadequate; sort of like the famous line from “The Untouchables” about bringing a knife to a gun fight.
So yes, he was dumb to bring it into a nation engaged in the hyper-violent generational fight of its life. Still, sensitive national pride duly recognized, given the obvious difference between Hammar’s .410 bird gun and say the Holmes/Lanza .223 Bushmaster AR-15 machine guns that have sold-out at Walmarts around America, or the heavy-gauge weapons unleashed on México by the ATF office in Arizona during the botched “Fast and Furious” gun walking operation, an apology by the otherwise law-abiding former Marine, followed by a reprimand, fine, and a one-way walk back to Brownsville should have sufficed.
Instead he is in a prison where a photo shows him handcuffed to his bunk.
What the hell is that about?
I’ve been in Mexican prisons up and down the country over the last four plus decades covering the Republic’s various dramas. Never have I seen anyone handcuffed to his bunk. In fact, México’s rough, low-rent prisons tend to be more open and relaxed than our own. Conjugal visits are common; well connected inmates often make their own dining arrangements, and if you don’t try to split or if your drug gang isn’t at war with another drug gang in the same facility, you do your time, pay your bribes and when the time comes you go home.
The picture of Hammar chained to his bunk looks wildly punitive and contrary to international law, which brings me to The New York Times.
I’ve searched for stories of the Hammar incarceration, but have found zero coverage of the Marine’s plight.
Even with the involvement of several prominent Congressional Republicans I have not seen a mention of Hammar in the NYT. If he was, say, an American college kid or poet or teacher on vacation and the same melancholy fate befell him I can not imagine so juicy a human interest story being ignored.
Now the Mexican ambassador to the U.S., a fine man named Arturo Sarukhan says Hammar must go to trial. In prison since August 13, that trial is scheduled for January 17; although in a late development, a Matamoros city judge indicated that he might accelerate the process and hear the Marine’s case today, Friday December 21st.
Thank goodness for small favors. The accelerated proceeding means that if acquitted (as he should be) he will not miss the Christmas holidays with his family. Technically, however, if convicted on the weapons he faces up to 15 years behind bars without possibility for bond or parole. If that disaster befalls Hammar, his case will be a rallying point fueling the notion that México is dysfunctional or hypocritical.
Mr. Ambassador, what is the point?
The always tender but crucial bilateral relations between our two great nations require sense and sensibility. At a time when the president of the United States has promised finally to attend the contentious issues of immigration affecting millions of Mexicans and their citizen American relatives why allow this case to give fodder to your political enemies?
He’s not a drug bandit and he’s not responsible for “Fast and Furious.” He served his nation in Iraq and Afghanistan and he was going surfing to ease his post-traumatic stress disorder. His fine parents, Olivia a magazine publisher and Jon a soft ware engineer are fraught with anxiety.
Mr. Ambassador, urge your promising new president Enrique Peña Nieto not to pick a fight where everybody loses. Advise him to take the high road. Send Hammar home.
Geraldo Rivera is currently host of "Geraldo at Large" on Fox News Channel (FNC), which is also nationally syndicated by Twentieth Television. Rivera recently celebrated 40 years in journalism.