Dylann Hanrahan ’25
I have often heard vague comments about Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ time in the “service” and how this was one of the few respectable qualities about him; yet, I was always struck by how unclear it was to the public what exactly he did during his time in the military. After some digging, I found that Ron DeSantis was a Lieutenant Commander and a JAG lawyer (Judge Advocate General’s Corps) in the Navy, during which he spent time serving at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp in Cuba as well as Fallujah in the course of the war in Iraq. The Guantanamo Bay detention camp was created during the Bush Administration after 9/11. At its height, Guantanamo Bay held 780 detainees, today 35 remain. Out of the 780 men, only 12 were charged with war crimes; two of the 12 have been convicted while the rest are awaiting trial.
Unsurprisingly, not much is publicly known about DeSantis’ official orders and duties. There is only one speech in which DeSantis directly references his time spent at Guantanamo. Forty-two pages of U.S. Navy records released to the Florida Pheonix in 2018 during DeSantis’ gubernatorial campaign show that he was described as a JTF-GTMO (Joint Task Force Guantanamo) scheduler/administrative officer with all other details heavily censored. This past November, an ex-Guantanamo Bay detainee was interviewed on a podcast alleging that DeSantis allowed, observed, and participated in acts of torture to end a hunger strike in 2006 conducted by detainees who were protesting their sentences. The allegations come from 44-year-old Yemen-born Mansoor Adayfi, who was held in the detention center for 14 years without a single charge. Adayfi was released in 2016 and promptly taken to Serbia to begin anew after a review board concluded he was not a threat to U.S. security. The podcast, Eyes Left, is hosted by Michael Prysner, who, interestingly enough, is a U.S. Army veteran.
Out of respect for the men who were illegally tortured in the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, I have chosen not to explicitly explain the brutal and inhumane torture tactics which DeSantis allegedly helped orchestrate. I will not describe their hardships in my own words, but I urge you to listen to the podcast (“Ron DeSantis’s Military Secrets: Torture & War Crimes”) to listen to Adayfi’s account. Adayfi claims that DeSantis began his time at Guantanamo as a seemingly “good cop” who seemed as though he might want to give the detainees fair legal representation. Adayfi explains DeSantis’ attitude quickly changed, and it was revealed that these first illusions of humanity were DeSantis’ attempts to look for vulnerabilities in the men to hurt them more. Detainees had mentioned to DeSantis how the guards often made constant loud noises to keep them awake at night; in response, they increased the noise. Mansoor Adayfi commented that DeSantis watched with visible amusement as he and other detainees were force-fed meal replacement shakes to end their hunger strikes. “Ron DeSantis was there and watching us. We were crying, screaming. We were tied to the feeding chair and that guy, he was watching that.”Adayfi directly references DeSantis, “I’m telling Americans if this guy, if this is humanity. This guy is [a] torturer, is a criminal.”
Why aren’t more former detainees coming forward with similar claims? Ron DeSantis and all other JAG lawyers do not use their real names while stationed in Guantanamo. Mark Denbeaux, lead lawyer for the high-profile case of detainee Abu Zubaydah, explains, “They don’t want detainees or anyone else to know who they are. That secrecy is a big problem… I’ve never seen that reported.”
You may wonder how Mansoor Adayfi ended up in the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. According to Adayfi, he had traveled to Afghanistan as a teacher’s research assistant and was kidnapped by warlords, held for ransom until age 23, then was sold to the CIA in exchange for a hefty cash bounty. Adayfi remains vocal; he tweets often, expressing his concerns, and has published a memoir titled Don’t Forget Us Here: Lost and Found at Guantanamo, in which he hauntingly recounts the hellish nightmare of the Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp. Ron Chernow, a Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer, boldly states, “[Adayfi] tells a tale of both casual cruelty and organized sadism that should make every American politician redden with shame.” No major news networks have picked this up yet, but I imagine if DeSantis runs for president and becomes a significant candidate as the polls indicate, this will surface. I urge you to share Mansoor Adayfi’s account and to vote with humanity.