The DeSantis Torture Question
Would Ron DeSantis continue America’s detention program at Guantanamo Bay?
During a press conference at the Museum of Tolerance in West Jerusalem, Ron DeSantis was questioned about a former detainee’s claim that, as a naval attorney at Guantanamo, DeSantis watched as the prisoner was force fed, a form of torture. “Do you honestly believe that's credible? It's 2006, I'm a junior officer, do you honestly think that they would've remembered me?” DeSantis responded angrily.
Mansoor Adayfi, a Yemeni citizen, was held at Guantanamo Bay for 14 years, and has told news outlets that DeSantis witnessed him being force fed during a hunger strike in 2006. In an op-ed for Al Jazeera, Adayfi said, “As I tried to break free, I noticed DeSantis’ handsome face among the crowd at the other side of the chain link. He was watching me struggle. He was smiling and laughing with other officers as I screamed in pain.” Two former detainees, as well as defense lawyers and base officials, have told the Washington Post DeSantis had a “up-close view” of disturbing incidents at the camp during his time there.
What might DeSantis have seen? In addition to Adayfi's account, we have Imad Abdullah Hassan's more detailed rendition, from a man who spent twelve years in Guantanamo without ever being charged with anything. A judge cleared Hassan for release, finding there was not enough incriminating evidence to justify keeping him imprisoned (779 men were held at Guantanamo since it opened in 2002, with only twelve ever charged with crimes. Only two have been convicted.) Hassan’s clearance to leave came, yet he remained at America’s off-shore penal colony without explanation. He went on a hunger strike in 2009 in protest (the U.S. military refers to it as a “long-term non-religious fast”), and was force-fed.
Hassan unsuccessfully sued the president of the United States, claiming the conditions under which he was force-fed at Guantanamo were examples of torture. His description matches Adayfi’s on key details.
Prisoners were strapped to a hospital bed or special restraint chair for feeding. A funnel or bag was used to channel large amounts of liquid into the tube to feed faster. So much liquid was forced through that the second time Hassan underwent this procedure, he lost consciousness and spent two days in critical condition.
Prisoners were simultaneously force-fed laxatives, causing them to defecate on themselves as they sat in the chair being fed. “People with hemorrhoids would leave blood on the chair and the linens would not always be changed before the next feeding,” said Hassan in the lawsuit. Prisoners would be strapped down on top of others’ stool and blood for up to two hours at a time.
Hassan was at times forcibly sedated so he could be force-fed more easily. If Hassan vomited on himself at any time during the procedure, the force-feeding would restart from the beginning.
Air-conditioning was sometimes turned up and detainees were deprived of a blanket. This was particularly difficult for the hunger strikers, as they felt the cold more than someone who was eating.
Guards would bang hunger-striking prisoners’ cell doors every five minutes day and night to prevent sleep. Another detainee reported an incident in which the guards laid him on his stomach and caused him to vomit by pressing forcefully on his back.
It was all something a young naval officer would not easily forget seeing.
But bringing up the possibility that a young Ron DeSantis witnessed some of this is disingenuous. Whether DeSantis was present is only of interest given his running for president. But even if he were not present, he still would have heard about the torture while at Gitmo and issued legal opinions in line with it.
Whether DeSantis wrote such opinions is of little consequence, given the number of military and civilian personnel who certainly not only witnessed torture but performed it. Their responsibility pales next to the men who created the torture regimes, legalized them, and promulgated them—Bush, Obama, Cheney, and Biden. If DeSantis supported torture in his role as a naval attorney at Gitmo, he was among the smallest of wheels in a very large machine to do so.
Not a single American has been punished for what happened at Guantanamo, and the first should not be Ron DeSantis. But DeSantis is not just anyone; he is one man out of hundreds of millions in the U.S. who says he wants to be president, and has a decent chance of achieving just that.
So instead of speculating on what DeSantis saw, let’s instead demand from him a statement on torture itself. Knowing what he knows now, would he say that legalizing torture was the right thing post-9/11? As president, would he support torture in the future? As president, would he seek to close Guantanamo and set the thirty prisoners still there free?
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We know what Trump thinks about torture; we know Biden as president has made no real efforts to close Gitmo or reduce its headcount. And we know what a young naval officer named DeSantis decided, more or less, when faced with torture by the United States of America in the name of justice for the Republic.
At various points in his later career, DeSantis repeatedly argued that the United States was correct in imprisoning detainees outside the legal system, and after joining Congress in 2013, he became a leading voice to keep the prison open. He has described hunger strikes as part of a jihad against the United States, and characterized claims of abuse from detainees and their lawyers as attempts to work the system. Asked about the hunger strikes, DeSantis said in an interview in 2018 that “what I learned from that...is they are using things like detainee abuse offensively against us. It was a tactic, technique, and procedure.”
DeSantis saw what he saw; with the passing of time, does he still believe in what happened in Guantanamo? In the name of never again, we need to know what President DeSantis would do. Vying to be Commander-in-Chief, "I was only following orders" will not be enough.