Friday, 22 Sep 2023

Ron DeSantis in Guantnamo: how questions about his past haunt the Florida governor

Ron DeSantis in Guantnamo: how questions about his past haunt the Florida governor


Ron DeSantis in Guantnamo: how questions about his past haunt the Florida governor

In the middle of a June night 17 years ago in the Guantánamo prison camp, guards and medical orderlies were urgently summoned to one of the inmate clinics, where an emergency was unfolding.

Two inmates, Ali Abdullah Ahmed and Mani Shaman al-Utaybi, had been brought in dead. A third, Yasser Talal al-Zahrani, had been rushed to the hospital on the US naval base but was declared dead there soon afterwards. The three men were found hanging from their necks, with their hands and feet bound and rags in their throats.

It was the worst loss of life in the prison camp's history - in the midst of a turbulent year in which there were hunger strikes and riots as well as the three deaths - and officers around the base were roused from their sleep and rushed to Camp Delta, the main internment centre.

R Adm Harry Harris arrived, the base commander who would go on to command the Pacific fleet, accompanied by Col Michael Bumgarner, the head of the overall prison complex. At some point, witnesses say, a more junior officer turned up, a 27-year-old navy lawyer, or judge advocate general (JAG), Lt Ron DeSantis.

The future Florida governor and Republican presidential contender had been assigned to Guantánamo three months earlier, part of a small legal team tasked with ensuring the guards and other military personnel followed the law. He was the most junior JAG in the camp, but after the three deaths on the night of 9 June 2006, his superior officer, Capt Patrick McCarthy, ordered him to start collecting initial evidence.

It is unclear when exactly DeSantis became involved in the investigation. Some of the witness statements mention an unnamed JAG at the scene in the early hours of 10 June. McCarthy did not respond to a request for comment but confirmed to the Washington Post he had ordered DeSantis to gather information.

"I cannot tell you specifically what [DeSantis] did," McCarthy told the Post, but said his subordinate was probably "involved in facilitating access to information, trying to make sure that privileged information did not get swept up. He would have been one of the folks that I dispatched to help facilitate the investigative effort."

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