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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

By Tony Perry, Los Angeles Times

SAN DIEGO — The lawyer for a U.S. Marine held in a Mexican prison since April 1 on weapons charges said Wednesday that, after three evidentiary hearings, he was optimistic that he was close to a ruling that would free his client.

“Although the trial is ongoing and there’s evidence still pending, we feel optimistic and close to a favorable intermediate ruling,” Fernando Benitez, attorney for Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi, said in a series of Twitter messages.

Benitez spent Tuesday in an eight-hour hearing before a federal judge in Tijuana in which video from 18 surveillance cameras was shown from the night that his client was detained and then arrested.

Benitez argues that his client’s rights were violated by Mexican customs agents who arrested him at the San Ysidro border crossing.

A forensic photo and video report will be submitted to the court on Sept. 29, Benitez said, that will prove a central part of Tahmooressi’s defense: that he mistakenly drove into Mexico after missing the last turn to remain in the United States.

Tahmooressi had three weapons and several hundred rounds of ammunition in his pickup truck when he drove into Mexico. In a 911 call after being detained, he told the operator that he had mistakenly driven across the border.

Reporters and members of the public were not allowed to attend Tuesday’s hearing. Mexican prosecutors have declined to discuss the case.

The 25-year-old reservist, a veteran of two deployments to Afghanistan, remains held without bail in a prison outside Tecate in the Baja California state. Benitez told Greta Van Susteren of Fox News that it was not necessary for Tahmooressi to attend the hearing because he was not set to testify.

Benitez argues that the customs agents who arrested Tahmooressi violated Mexican procedure by not providing him with a translator and not getting a judge’s approval before searching his truck. There are also irregularities with the paperwork documenting the arrest, he said.

“It has now become clear that (Tahmooressi) has told the truth,” Benitez said via Twitter. “And that Mexican customs held him for almost 8 hours with no attorney nor translator.”

The surveillance videos, he said, show that Tahmooressi was cooperative with the customs agents. “He could have very well run away,” Benitez told Van Susteren.

Tahmooressi had recently moved to San Diego to receive treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.

Under the Mexican legal system, a judge holds multiple hearings to hear all sides of the case before deciding, without an American-style trial by jury, whether the defendant is guilty. If convicted, Tahmooressi could face up to 21 years in prison.

A psychiatrist has been retained to provide a report to the judge about Tahmooressi’s PTSD. Benitez argues that the Mexican legal system is not equipped to give his client proper care.

Photo: Allen Ormond via Flickr

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Poll: Most Parents Oppose Rapid School Reopening

Numerous local school systems around the country are plowing ahead with plans to resume in-person instruction despite growing evidence that children are just as capable of spreading the coronavirus as adults.

Classes were set to begin on Monday in Baker County, Florida. Masks for students will be optional, not required. "It looks like it's back to normal this morning, honestly," a local television reporter observed as parents dropped their kids off in the morning. Many students wore no face coverings.

The Trump administration and the GOP have pushed for full reopening of schools for months."Schools in our country should be opened ASAP," Donald Trump tweeted in May. "Much very good information now available."

"SCHOOLS MUST OPEN IN THE FALL!!!" he reiterated on July 6.

"The science and data is clear: children can be safe in schools this fall, and they must be in school this fall," demanded Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ) on Aug. 1.

"I believe our schools can, and should rise to the occasion of re-opening for in-person education this fall," agreed Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) two days later.

"The CDC and Academy of Pediatrics agree: We can safely get students back in classrooms," tweeted House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) last Tuesday.

But while Scalise, Mike Pence, and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos have all cited the American Academy of Pediatrics in their arguments for reopening, a new study by the group and the Children's Hospital Association raises red flags about how safe that will be.

Their report found 338,982 reported coronavirus cases in children as of July 30 in the United States. Between July 16 and July 30, the nation saw a 40% increase — 97,078 new infected children.

Last week, a high school student in an Atlanta suburb posted a photo online showing few students wearing masks in a crowded school hallway. Since that time, at least six students and three adult employees in the school have reportedly contracted the coronavirus, and the school temporarily has switched to online classes.

Another Georgia school district has already seen at least 13 students and staff members test positive since reopening a week ago.

A recent study in South Korea found that children aged ten and older spread the coronavirus at the same rates adults do. A separate study in Chicago suggested young kids might also be effective spreaders.

These contradict the false claims made by Trump and his administration that kids have an "amazing" near immunity to COVID-19.

"If you look at children, children are almost — and I would almost say definitely, but almost immune from this disease, so few. They've got stronger, hard to believe, and I don't know how you feel about it, but they have much stronger immune systems than we do somehow for this," Trump told Fox News on Wednesday.

"You got to open the schools. They have a stronger immune system even than you have or I have," he told Barstool Sports on July 23. "It's amazing. You look at the percentage, it's a tiny percentage of one percent. And in that one case, I mean, I looked at a couple of cases. If you have diabetes, if you have, you know, problems with something, but the kids are in great shape." Children have made up nearly nine percent of all cases, even with schools mostly closed.

And DeVos incorrectly said in a July 16 interview, "More and more studies show that kids are actually stoppers of the disease and they don't get it and transmit it themselves."

In early July, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidelines for how schools could operate more safely during the pandemic.

Trump publicly ridiculed the guidelines, dismissing them as "very tough & expensive" and "very impractical."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.