While Washington kept details about young navy lawyer Ron DeSantis‘ position in Guantanamo Bay under wraps, the Republican’s role in the notorious prison camp—most notably in the investigation of three deaths—haunts the Florida governor who is poised to launch his presidential exploratory committee next month.
Ron DeSantis in Guantanamo
DeSantis served as a JAG officer, which essentially means that he was a Judge Advocate General Corps. He was a law student, previously completing his undergraduate studies at Yale, where he was part of the Delta Cappa Epsilon like the two ‘Bushes’—George HW Bush and his son, George Bush. A pro-Confederate and blatantly racist, his political career with the Pentagon began immediately in his second year of law school.
However, his job was never reduced to courtrooms, but rather to conduct rogue, clandestine operations—his official job, a guise, was to “ensure the human rights of detainees.”
It was quite the opposite.
The height of inhumane treatment and systemic torture in the camp was during DeSantis’ term serving as a JAG officer, whose main task was to identify the weaknesses of the detainees and to “tighten the screws” on them—and, in addition, to keep a clean record. He made sure that human rights were violated to the worst degree, according to a podcast episode of the Eyes Left Podcast.
What he did—and his complicity in three killings
Guards and medical assistants were urgently requested to one of the inmate clinics in the Guantanamo detention camp in the middle of a June night 17 years ago, where an emergency was developing.
Ali Abdullah Ahmed and Mani Shaman Al-Utaybi were two prisoners who had been brought in dead. Yasser Talal Al-Zahrani, a third person who had been taken by ambulance to the hospital on the U.S. naval base, was later pronounced dead there. The three men were reportedly discovered with rags stuffed down their throats, their wrists and feet shackled, and a rope around their necks.
In the notoriously infamous Guantanamo Bay detention camp, it was the worst loss of life in the prison camp’s history amid a chaotic year in which there were torture, hunger strikes, and three deaths. Officers from all around the base were reportedly awakened from their slumber and raced to Camp Delta, the main internment facility.
R Adm Harry Harris, the base commander who would later command the Pacific fleet, as well as Col Michael Bumgarner, the administrator of the entire prison system, arrived. Witnesses stated that at some point, Lt. Ron DeSantis, a naval lawyer or judge advocate general (JAG) who was only 27 years old, arrived later.
Three months prior, the future governor of Florida and potential Republican presidential candidate had been sent to Guantanamo as a member of a legal team allegedly charged with ensuring that the guards and other military personnel complied with the law. Although he was the camp’s most junior JAG, Capt. Patrick McCarthy, his superior officer, gave him the order to begin gathering preliminary evidence after the three deaths on the evening of June 9, 2006.
DeSantis’ involvement in the probe is not apparent in terms of when it started. An anonymous JAG was reportedly present at the location in the early hours of June 10, according to several witness testimonies. McCarthy declined to comment but told The Washington Post reported that he had given DeSantis the go-ahead to gather material.
“I cannot tell you specifically what [DeSantis] did,” McCarthy said as quoted by 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.”
A Mauritanian prisoner at Camp Delta named Ahmed Abdel Aziz stated that he recognized DeSantis much later when he became famous as the governor of Florida.
“DeSantis and his group, the JAGs people were there. They were conducting the investigation,” Aziz said.
They were coming the same day the people died. They came to the cells.
DeSantis: how did Ahmed, Al-Utaybi and Al-Zahrani die?
How Ahmed, Al-Utaybi, and Al-Zahrani died is still under a veil of secrecy. One thing is crystal clear: What DeSantis witnessed and heard in the hours and days following their deaths can lead to a revelation of the truth about the death of the three.
The three inmates had committed suicide, ruled Harry, who would later serve as the U.S. ambassador to Seoul, calling the atrocity that just took place “an act of asymmetrical warfare waged against us” before the investigation had even started.
An official inquiry by the Navy Criminal Investigation Service (NCIS), which DeSantis had been drafted to support, agreed with Harris’ hurried-up conclusion in just 11 days. However, the results of that investigation weren’t made public until two years later in a report that was filled with contradictions, literal gaps, and missing pages.
Covering up with an absurd, nonsensical account
Anyone present at the scene would have been aware that there were serious questions about the official account. The dead men, as per the U.S. official story, chained their own hands and feet, stuffed cloth down their own throats, made nooses out of pieces of cloth, climbed on their washbasins with the noose around their necks, and stepped off.
This comes although they had only spent the previous 72 hours together in the same prison block, Alpha, in separate cells with empty cells in between. High-security inmates in the Alpha Block were not allowed to interact or even speak with one another. However, it was claimed that the three men planned to commit suicide at the exact same time and in the exact same way.
Ahmed and Al-Utaybi’s bodies exhibited advanced rigor mortis by the time they were transported to the clinic, indicating that they died before 10.30 pm. According to the official account, they would have spent more than two hours dangling in transparent wire mesh-side cells in a block of roughly 15 inmates that was supposed to be continuously patrolled by a team of six guards along a central walkway. All this time passed without the guards noticing anything in the three cells, again, as per the official U.S. story.
‘He saw everything’
It is difficult to believe that someone with DeSantis’ legal background would miss the contradictions in the official story, according to Mark Denbeaux, a professor at Seton Hall Law School who oversaw the forensic investigations into the three deaths.
“Any JAG would want to know how guys would die while they’re in a cell guarded by five guys, and how they could have been hanging long enough for rigor mortis and with a rag shoved down their throats,” Denbeaux said.
To justify the advanced rigor in the men’s bodies, NCIS claimed that the three men stuffed other cloth into their beds to make it appear as though they were sleeping, covered their windows with blankets and mattresses, and obscured the view into their cells.
However, the same investigation failed to explain where they would have all acquired so much material, which was severely restricted to the residents of that block.
A few hours earlier, a guard shift had conducted a regular search of every Alpha block cell but discovered no indication of any such prohibited materials. Although “apparent suicide notes” were allegedly discovered, no fingerprint or handwriting analysis of the found documents was ever conducted.
The military intelligence unit troops stationed in the watch towers with a clear view of the camp, whose account of events differed significantly from that of the NCIS, as well as the top medical officer on duty that night, were not formally interviewed by the NCIS investigators.
The three deceased detainees had been turned over to the U.S. by other forces who claimed they belonged to Al-Qaeda but were not considered to be high-value prisoners. Never was anyone charged. Al-Zahrani was only 17 when he was detained, and he died at the age of 22. He and Al-Utaybi, 30, were both Saudis. 37-year-old Ahmed was Yemeni. They were placed in Alpha Block because of their participation in a widespread hunger strike.
They were among the last participants of the protest against detention without trial and the poor conditions that had begun the previous year.
After considering several possibilities such as detaining, deporting, or prosecuting them, one senior official remarked, "Why don't we just kill them?"
A new book exposes the #CIA's rendition and torture techniques, linking them to the practices of #AbuGhraib prison authorities. pic.twitter.com/o2h2A2uDKl
— Al Mayadeen English (@MayadeenEnglish) April 13, 2022
The detainees were force-fed cans of Ensure, a liquid nutrition supplement usually taken by the elderly. DeSantis watched as detainees were strapped to the chair, force-fed can after can of Ensure through their noses.
“There was a colonel and DeSantis. They were looking at each other and were just smiling,” Aziz tersely stated.
Aziz said of DeSantis,
He was coming on a regular basis. He was visiting the places where dark things and dirty things were perpetrated. He saw everything, and I guarantee you he never objected.
With the official account filled with contradictions, literal gaps, and missing pages, how the three inmates died remains unknown, but the intention could be nothing less than spilling blood.
Despite his long history of sadism and manipulation, in addition to his accomplice in torture and killings in Guantanamo Bay, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is expected to jump into the presidential fray as soon as mid-May. The lawyer who watched and smiled as detainees were strapped to the chair, force-fed through their noses is running to become the new president of the United States.