By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org
Responding for the first time to allegations that as a U.S Navy JAG officer in 2006 he oversaw the brutal force-feedings of Guantanamo detainees, Gov. Ron DeSantis sought to play down his involvement in an interview broadcast Thursday.
DeSantis did not confirm or deny whether he attended or allowed the forced feedings because sympathetic British TV host Piers Morgan never asked him that question. Instead, during an hour-long television interview filmed March 19, Morgan asked DeSantis a single, mischaracterized question about force-feedings at Guantanamo.
“The Washington Post did a big deep dive on this today actually about what you did out there. One of the things they said was that you authorized the use of force-feeding that some of the…force-feeding the detainees who were on hunger strikes,” asked Morgan, host of Fox Nation and Talk TV’s Piers Morgan Uncensored.
“So, I was a junior officer,” DeSantis replied. “I didn’t have authority to authorize anything. There may have been a commander that would have done feeding if someone was going to die, but that was not something that I would have even had authority to do. So that’s wrong. Yeah. Yeah, absolutely.”
DeSantis was correct. He did not authorize the Guantanamo forced feedings. As the Post story stated, the Pentagon authorized the force-feedings. But according to DeSantis himself, he did play a role in allowing it.
‘HEY, YOU ACTUALLY CAN FORCE-FEED’
In 2018, while running in his first gubernatorial race, he told CBS4’s Jim DeFede how he responded to a commanding officer when asked for advice on how to put down a hunger strike: “Hey, you actually can force-feed. Here’s what you can do. Here’s kind of the rules of that.”
[The International Committee of the Red Cross, the World Medical Association, U.N. human rights experts and others have condemned force-feeding as a form of torture.]
Curiously, DeSantis gave that advice while he was part of a Navy legal team in Gitmo “charged with ensuring the detainees received rights afforded under Department of Defense regulations and policies as well as Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which provides rules on how to humanely treat detainees like those at Guantanamo Bay,” according to a 2018 story in the Tampa Bay Times.
Interviewer Morgan didn’t ask the governor about that, either. [You can watch the entire interview here.]
Morgan likewise did not follow-up when DeSantis offered the strange remark that “there may have been a commander” who force-fed a detainee to save his life. Forced feedings at Gitmo have been public knowledge since early 2006 when the New York Times, NBC News and other national outlets reported that military authorities were using them as a get-tough measure intended to deter detainees looking to commit suicide to protest their indefinite confinement without charges.
DeSantis repeatedly has declined requests by Florida news organizations, including Florida Bulldog, to discuss his time at the detention camp in Guantanamo, Cuba. The camp was opened at the outset of the Bush administration’s War on Terror following al Qaeda’s hijacked jetliner attacks on New York and Washington on September 11, 2001.
In January, the Bulldog was the first Florida-based news organization to report the disturbing allegations of Mansoor Adayfi about DeSantis’s actions in Gitmo. Adayfi, detainee #441, has said DeSantis observed, allowed and participated in illegal acts of torture to help put down a hunger strike by dozens of detainees protesting their detention. DeSantis also covered up the torture, Adayfi said.
STRAPPED TO ‘FEEDING CHAIR’
The Yemen-born Adayfi was held for 14 years without charges before his release and removal to Serbia 2016 after a review board determined he was not a threat to the U.S. Adayfi first accused DeSantis of torture in a Twitter post last September after he recognized the governor in a photograph. He elaborated in a Nov. 18 interview podcast of Eyes Left, hosted by U.S. Army veteran and anti-war activist Michael Prysner, a graduate of Florida Atlantic University.
According to Adayfi, DeSantis told he and other Guantanamo detainees that he was there to make sure they were treated humanely. Nevertheless, Adayfi said, DeSantis watched in amusement on more than one occasion as he was strapped to a “feeding chair” and cans of the nutritional supplement Ensure were poured into him via a painful nasal tube inserted down his throat.
“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. He was laughing basically when they used to feed us, because…our stomach cannot hold this amount of Ensure. They used to pour Ensure, one can after another, one can after another. So, when he approached me, I said this is the way we are treated. He said, ‘You should start to eat.’ …I threw up on his face. Literally on his face.”
A second former detainee, Ahmed Ould Abdel Aziz, known in Guantanamo as detainee #757 during his 13-year internment without charges, told Florida Bulldog this month that he repeatedly witnessed DeSantis and “the feeding people” entering cell blocks where “barbaric” force feedings were taking place.
“I wasn’t directly watching Ron DeSantis,” at the feedings, Aziz said. “But we see him entering the blocks beside [us]. The blocks are all aligned…We can see him entering those blocks where they are, you know, feeding people there with that manner of torture. He came with the staff.”