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Guantánamo Bay: An Unpalatable Visit

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This week I visited Shaker Aamer, the last remaining British resident being held in Guantánamo Bay.

He was originally detained on 24 November 2001, so he is marking ten years in prison without any charge. I cannot disclose what he said to me because, as ever, complaints he might have about his mistreatment, or his chronic health problems, are deemed classified until the United States sees fit to allow me to discuss them. However, Guantánamo is more depressed than ever, as perhaps illustrated by my own experiences on the gastronomic front.

I was looking forward to dining in the best restaurant on the Leeward Side of the infamous navy based, the Clipper Club, which qualifies because it is the only place that is normally open by the time our ferry gets back from the Windward side of the bay. The Club normally boasts a microwave pizza, which is putrid, but also a gin and tonic, which I find more nutritious.

So I walked down there on my first evening, past a couple of million dollars' worth of new, wholly unused, now abandoned and overgrown, military housing units that some civilian Pentagon contractor got paid to put up two years ago. Arriving eagerly at my destination, I was aghast to discover that military economies meant that the Club now opens only on weekends. There was only one remaining dining alternative, the vending machine at the motel.

Therefore, after an appetiser of Planters Peanuts (not quite past their expiration date yet, but tasting rather stale), the main course was a bright green bag of Kars' All Energy Trail Mix. I could only swallow half of my dessert, as my memory deceived me, and the Reese's Peanut Butter cups were not up to par.

The nice lady from Jamaica at the front desk (who is, if my earlier visits hold true, being paid substantially under minimum wage by another civilian contractor) confirmed that the satellite dish had been broken for a while, so there was no chance of much after-dinner diversion. I asked when it might be fixed; she laughed rather charmingly, and said she knew of no plan to do anything about it. Tomorrow night's entertainment will, then, be rather similar to this evening's: tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow.

Indeed, on my second evening on the island, things had not improved. One of the silly new rules dictated that I must choose between cutting off my visit with Shaker Aamer 50 minutes early, and being refused a visit to the main shop on the Windward side.

I chose the latter, hoping against hope that the little shop on the Leeward side would still be open when my ferry got there. Alas, while the lights were still on, I was fifteen minutes late.

So I repaired to the vending machine again; even the remaining Reese's cup seemed appetising tonight.

Guantánamo is, increasingly, torture for all those concerned. The soldiers have long since forsaken the notion that by holding prisoners without trial they are preserving the rule of law; the prisoners have lost all hope, ten years into their endless detention; and, as the Gitmo Diet takes hold, even the lawyers are finding their visits unpalatable.

Clive Stafford Smith is Director of the charity Reprieve, and has been visiting the Guantánamo prison for seven years now.

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