Did you know that Florida governor and Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis worked at the US detention center at Guantanamo Bay? Journalist Séamus Malekafzali recently rounded up some of the extant reporting on DeSantis's time at Guantanamo — and boy howdy, it's something! From Malekafzali:
While DeSantis had enlisted in the Navy after the beginning of the Iraq War in 2004, he did not go with the sole intention of serving in the American occupation of that country. In fact, working at Guantanamo Bay was one of the selling points that led him to join. He writes in his book that was released this year, The Courage to be Free, that a navy recruiter told the then-Harvard law student that there would need to be military JAGs ("judge advocates" or military lawyers) to lead prosecutions at Guantanamo Bay. DeSantis remarks that that idea "seemed like a good opportunity to make an impact."
And so DeSantis enlisted and became a Naval JAG, putting a bachelor's degree from Yale and a doctorate in law from Harvard to use. DeSantis would get his initial wish two years later: he would be joining up at Joint Task Force Guantanamo.
DeSantis, as a JAG officer, dealt with the conditions of detainees at the camp, advised on how to address issues they may have, and supposedly was there to make sure regulations were followed during interrogations.
Malekafzali does a lot of great digging into this, and you should read the full piece on Substack. But here are a few of the details I learned that I found particularly eye-opening. Like this Harper's Magazine transcript in which former detainee Mansoor Adayfi, who spent 14 years at Guantanamo without any charges or trial, shares his personal experience with DeSantis:
In 2006, when DeSantis was there, it was one of the worst times at Guantánamo. The administration, the guards, all of them were the worst. They cracked down on us so hard. When they came to break our hunger strike, a team came to us. The head of the team, he was a general. He said, "I have a job. I was sent here to break your fucking hunger strike. I don't care why you are here. I don't care who you are. My job is to make you eat. Today we are talking. Tomorrow there will be no talking." The second day, they brought piles of Ensure and they started force-feeding us over and over again.
[…] Ron DeSantis was there watching us. We were crying, screaming. We were tied to the feeding chair. And he was watching. He was laughing. Our stomachs could not hold this amount of Ensure. They poured one can after another. So when he approached me, I said, "This is the way we are treated!" He said, "You should eat." I threw up in his face. Literally on his face.
To reiterate: DeSantis was there as a Naval JAG lawyer, which meant it his job to ensure that everyone was being treated humanely.
Ron Desantis Once Oversaw Torture at Guantanamo Bay. Now, He Wants Your Vote [Séamus Malekafzali / Substack]