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The First Day of My Hunger Strike

10/07/2013 17:19 BST | Updated 09/09/2013 10:12 BST
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Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Today is the first day of my hungerstrike. While we have agreed that it can be done in simple solidarity with all the detainees - currently more than 100 are on strike, and at least 48 are being force fed - the alternative is to 'Adopt a Hunger Strike', where you choose to do it in sympathy with a particular prisoner. I was in Guantánamo visiting my clients last week, and I promised Shaker Aamer that I would do the next few days (as long as I can last) adopting his strike.

This does not mean that Shaker is giving up: far from it. He began on 15 February, meaning that today is the 145th day of his protest - a commitment that I could never match. Neither will I have anyone to abuse me in the way the US military mistreats him. Neither am I spending my twelfth year in arbitrary confinement, long since cleared for release - the status of 86 (or 52%) of the detainees who remain in Guantánamo Bay.

The idea of adopting a hunger strike builds on what many will have seen Yasiin Bey (the American rap artist, Mos Def) doing this Monday - he had allowed us to film him going through the preliminary procedures of force feeding, using the Guantánamo 'Standard Operating Procedure' or SOP. Already, millions have watched this video, and I hope this gives each viewer an insight into the suffering I witness each time I visit the notorious prison.

I have never done a hungerstrike before - indeed, I cannot think when I have gone 48 hours without food in all my 54 years (I chose to begin today as yesterday was my birthday). I took some advice from Shaker before I started, as he is something of a professional at this point. He did his first strike way back in Bagram Air Force Base, in January 2002, soon after he had been sold to the Americans for a $5,000 bounty. He used this non-violent technique to challenge the excesses of Guantánamo ever since, though the Great Strike of 2013 is by far the longest-lasting protest seen in the prison to date.

First, he suggested, I should understand the psychology of what I am doing. The first three or four days will be worst. After that, the body begins to adapt, and the stomach shrinks - crying out less vehemently for sustenance.

Second, he advised, the worst physical suffering comes from constipation, particularly in the early days. He told me to eat plenty of fruit, food with fibre, before I began. I took his advice and ate most of a package of prunes in the last couple of days.

Third, he said, I must obviously keep well hydrated. Better, though, to drink little and often, as the aim is to prevent the stomach from expecting feasts between the famine.

Four, for Shaker there have been two styles of hungerstrike - one, to lose weight rapidly and force the Guantánamo authorities to turn to the dreaded tube for force feeding; the second, to keep a tighter control on his body. Paradoxically, Shaker's experience is that he loses less weight if he eats nothing at all - the body adjusts, and does not eat itself up at the same rate. Shaker has found that he loses weight faster by eating a little solid food each day - his body continues to burn calories as if nothing has changed.

I am not doing this as some kind of Guantánamo weight loss programme. I shall, then, not be taking any solids. The detainees' rules allow for liquids (short of liquid nutrients like Ensure® or Permacare® - those are reserved for the force feeding tubes). The detainees take tea with lemon, as well as water. I shall also take vitamin supplements, which is a luxury that Shaker is not allowed.

Let us make no bones about it: my small protest is inconsequential compared to those of Shaker, the other 16 Reprieve clients who remain there, and the many other detainees. However, I hope that if enough of us take part, and share the diaries of our experiences, perhaps those who matter - particularly the president for whom I voted, Barack Obama - will act to end the horror of the prisoners' suffering. After all, he did promise to do it, four years ago, and those have been long, long years for Shaker and the other men in Guantánamo Bay.

Clive Stafford Smith is the founder and director of Reprieve - reprieve.org.uk

To learn more about why he's gone on hunger strike, visit Stand Fast for Justice - standfastforjustice.org

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