‘I will never forget his face,’ says tortured Gitmo detainee. DeSantis denies encounter.
Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis [last week] scolded a journalist for asking him about his time working as a naval judge advocate general at the U.S. penal colony in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
During an event at Israel’s Museum of Tolerance, DeSantis was asked about allegations that he was present on at least one occasion when a former Guantánamo detainee was force-fed by guards to quash a hunger strike. The United Nations has deemed force-feeding a form of torture.
Before the reporter could finish his question, DeSantis, who is believed to be preparing a bid for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination, snapped, “No, no… all that’s BS, totally BS.”
After the journalist completed his question, DeSantis angrily responded: “Who said that? How would they know me? Okay, think about that. Do you honestly believe that’s credible?… This is 2006, I’m a junior officer, do you honestly think that they would have remembered me from Adam? Of course not!”
In response, Mansoor Adayfi, a Yemeni citizen who was incarcerated without charges at Guantánamo for 14 years, tweeted, “I will never forget his face, he was laughing and smiling watching me being tortured on the force-feeding chair.”
While chastising the reporter, DeSantis, who is trying to crack down on press freedom in Florida, accused Adayfi of “trying to get into the news because they know people like you will consume it because it fits your preordained narrative that you’re trying to spin.”
“Focus on the facts and stop worrying about the narrative,” DeSantis said.
Adayfi, who was finally released from Guantánamo in 2016 without ever being charged with a crime, first told Mike Prysner’s Eyes Left podcast in November that guards brutally force-fed him and other prisoners cans of Ensure in 2006 to break a hunger strike and that DeSantis was there for at least one torture session.
“Ron DeSantis was there watching us. We were crying, screaming,” said Adayfi. “We were tied to the feeding chair. And that guy was watching that. He was laughing.”
Unable to handle the amount of Ensure being crammed into his body through his nostrils, “I threw up on his face,” Adayfi said. “Literally. On his face.”
“When I was screaming, I look at him [Ron DeSantis] and he was actually smiling. Like someone who enjoyed it,” Adayfi added. “It shocked us all.”
In March, Adayfi toldThe Independent that he doesn’t “remember exactly when DeSantis came because we had no watch, no calendar, nothing.”
According to Adayfi, DeSantis feigned concern for the detainees’ welfare before watching them endure torture: “He came to talk to us along [with] others—medical staff and interpreters. And we explained to him why we were on hunger strike. And he told us, ‘I’m here to ensure that you get treated humanely and properly.’ We were talking about our problems with the brothers, the torture, the abuses, the no healthcare.”
An investigation by The Independent confirmed that DeSantis’ role as an attorney at Guantánamo was to field complaints of illegal treatment. A second former prisoner has claimed the Florida governor witnessed forced feeding. Following his stint at Guantánamo, DeSantis advocated for its continued operation and against the release of detainees.
In an Al Jazeera opinion piece published earlier this month, Adayfi explained how he came to recognize DeSantis:
In 2021, just as my memoir—Don’t Forget Us Here, Lost and Found at Guantánamo—was about to be published, I was on Twitter and saw a photo of a handsome man in a white navy uniform. It was Ron DeSantis, the governor of Florida. I do not remember what the post was about—probably something about him clashing with President Joe Biden over Covid policies. But I remembered his face. It was a face I could never forget. I had seen that face for the first time in Guantánamo, in 2006—one of the camp’s darkest years when the authorities started violently breaking hunger strikes and three of my brothers were found dead in their cages.
After finding a Miami Herald article in which DeSantis bragged about his service at Guantánamo and confirming that my memory is correct, I sent his photo to a group chat of former detainees. Several replied that they too remembered his face from Guantánamo. Some said seeing his face again triggered painful memories of the trauma they suffered during their imprisonment. I understood. Even after spending the previous few years working on my memoir, which meant reliving everything I had been through at Guantánamo, seeing his face again triggered a lot of pain in me too.
As Adayfi pointed out, “DeSantis still calls Guantánamo a ‘terrorist detention facility,’ even though back in 2006, the year he was there, an analysis of official documents found that the great majority of the Guantánamo prisoners were innocent men, imprisoned only because of mistaken identity or because they had been sold to the U.S. for bounty money.”
“Regardless of these facts, DeSantis advocated keeping Guantánamo open in his 2016 testimony before the Subcommittee on National Security, in which he claimed that all detainees were ‘hardened and unrepentant terrorist[s],’ whose release ‘risks harming America’s national security,'” Adayfi wrote.
“At the time of DeSantis’ speech, 80 prisoners remained at Guantánamo. I was one of them,” he continued. “Of the 779 men held at Guantánamo since it opened in 2002, only 12 have been charged with crimes. Only two have been convicted. I wonder who DeSantis was talking about.”
Adayfi, who was just 18 years old when he was sent to Guantánamo in 2002, is one of several people released in recent years. But as human rights defenders made clear on January 11, the 21st anniversary of Guantánamo’s opening, they won’t stop fighting until the notorious military prison is shut down for good.