Ron DeSantis angrily chastised a reporter on Thursday as he spoke in Jerusalem, and denied that the had been present for force-feedings during his service at the US military prison at Guanatanamo Bay.
The moment occurred as Mr DeSantis gave a press conference at the Museum of Tolerance, a cultural centre in the Israeli territory of West Jerusalem. His visit to the Middle East comes as the Florida governor is thought to be preparing a bid for the Republican nomination against Donald Trump and others in 2024.
At the press conference, Mr DeSantis was questioned about claims from a former Guantanamo detainee who was held without being charged for more than a decade at the notorious military prison accused him of being present for episodes where he was force-fed by guards to break a hunger strike.
Mansoor Adayfi, a Yemeni citizen who was held for 14 years at Gitmo, told The Independent in March that he was brutally force-fed by camp staff during a hunger strike in 2006, and that Mr DeSantis was present for at least one of those sessions. Force-feeding is designated as torture by the United Nations
“Do you honestly believe that’s credible? It’s … 2006, I’m a junior officer, do you honestly think that they would’ve remembered me?” Mr DeSantis shot back angrily.
Mr Adayfi was released in 2016 (without ever being accused of a crime) and first came forward with the charge that Mr DeSantis had been in attendance for the force-feedings last November.
Another detainee has also accused Mr DeSantis of being present; an investigation from The Independent confirmed that Mr DeSantis’s role as an attorney was to field complaints of illegal treatment from detainees.
“I don’t remember exactly when DeSantis came because we had no watch, no calendar, nothing,” Mr Adayfi told The Independent. “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.”
The treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay is hardly a partisan issue in Washington. Members of both parties have worked to keep the controversial prison open, and even though Barack Obama famously pledged to close the prison during his presidency he ultimately failed to do so and even found himself defending the concept of these force-feedings to journalists.
“I don’t want these individuals to die,” he said in 2013.
The prison at Guantanamo Bay has faced global criticism as detainees have been held for years without charges, in some cases with very thin or no evidence at all of detainees’ supposed links to terror groups. Some of treatment of prisoners at the facility has also been described as torture, including the force-feedings and waterboarding.
In his recent book, The Courage to be Free, Mr DeSantis wrote that part of the reason he enlisted in the military was to lead the prosecution of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, explaining that it “seemed like a good opportunity to make an impact”.