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The Fourth Day of My Hunger Strike

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SHAKER AAMER
Getty

Four days without food now. Nothing too terrible to report from my end, mainly some cramps in my leg in the morning. All I had to do for that was take a salt tablet. Some of my family have begun to worry. They don't believe I am safe to drive, and I think they are already pondering how to force me to have food, and it's only been four days!

By far the most significant moment of my day was my phone call with someone who has really been going through this. I talked for 90 minutes with Shaker Aamer. He told me that things are worse in Guantánamo than they have ever been. He had a battle with the guards. "They took my salt from me," he said. He wasn't even allowed a small paper sachet, whereas I could go out and buy whatever I needed.

"I have been asking for a toothbrush for two weeks," Shaker went on. "They say they have run out of everything. Where is that $1.3million?" He was referring to the fact that the U.S. is now spending more than a million dollars per year per prisoner to treat them all horrendously. To set it in perspective, Yemen is the home of most of the detainees who remain in the prison: the annual per capita income there is about $1,300, so the money spent on Guantánamo would pay for a thousand years of the average detainee's income back home. Imagine the good that the U.S. could do with that kind of money, instead of continuing to pay for the most shameful prison on earth.

"As a detainee, I cannot have clean socks, clean underwear." Shaker told me. "Now I don't have soap and so I am not authorized to wash my own clothes. The shower is so filthy that I cannot touch the walls. I asked for something to clean it. I said I would do it myself. They would not give me cleaning things. 'I can't give you anything,' the guard said. Give me detergent, I replied, give me soap, give me anything. The floor and the walls in the shower are black."

I asked him whether it was causing him trouble, as he has suffered from skin diseases off and on for his whole time in Guantánamo. It's invariably humid on the southeastern tip of Cuba, and Shaker is devoted to cleanliness in his effort to stave off disease. When I was actually at the naval base a few days ago (on July 3rd) he showed me blotches on his skin where some fungus was taking hold.

"I showed you my skin before," he said on the telephone. "It is all over my legs now. I am getting skin diseases all over my body."

While I am physically fine myself, Shaker is encountering the effects of a real hunger strike. "I cannot see clearly any more. My chest is tight," he said. "My eyes are the most worrying thing for me. I have a lot of pain in the back of my eyes. I am getting a lot of pain. I woke up at 3am and I could not see anything. Everything was blurred, in a circle around me. I got scared, I am not going to lie. I took some honey. My family is not going to be happy if I eventually get out of here blind."

Shaker is not being force fed. He clearly qualifies for it, as he has dropped from around 220 pounds to just 150. But he thinks that the authorities are intentionally not using the tube for some particularly unpopular prisoners until they damage themselves. So he had been taking a little food, 147 days into his real hunger strike. Now, though, he told me that the administration had been so cruel to the strikers that he was going back to eating nothing.

What I am doing, along with others who have promised more than 1,000 days of hunger striking at StandFastForJustice.org, is symbolic, nothing more. I do find it a little harder now I am at home, in contrast to when I was travelling, as I end up catering for my little chap, and he wanted me to cook pancakes for dinner. It's his fifth birthday tomorrow, and I shall have to do whatever he wants. But it's not so bad going a few days without food, if that is all you deal with. And I shall pass the torch on to Frankie Boyle soon enough, so that he can pass it on in turn.

The more I do this, the more I set my own petty experience is contrast to Guantánamo. I supposed I had a good sense all along about the suffering that Shaker and the other 165 prisoners were going through, because I have been there so many times (28 to date) and witnessed what is happening first hand. But it is a message we need to get to the world, and every word that people read is a small step in the right direction.

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