Friday 12 July
Day three of my hunger strike did not start off well. I was awake by 4am, and gave up trying to rest half an hour later, my mind swirling with work to be done. At least I was productive in the early hours - catching up on some capital cases out of the Middle East, typing a few letters, and making a rather apathetic attempt at the Guardian crossword (I do wonder when lack of food starts to freeze the brain, but I fear I don't yet have a valid excuse).
I started the day at my mother's home and, while I was not feeling much hunger, I have been feeling woozy. I hated walking past the rather lush grapes on her kitchen counter all the time, so I stashed them in the fridge. But my biggest concern was a rather frivolous one: whether I will be able to handle the upcoming days. The Mapperton Marauders have a full day of cricket on Sunday; then it's my little chap's fifth birthday (I have to be the marauding monster at his Dragon Party on Monday afternoon); followed by the vital Crosby Plate semi-finals that evening (essentially a 20/20 match where everyone has to bowl at least one over). Notwithstanding the sleep deprivation, I feel okay, but I am just not sure how much one should expect a relatively decrepit 54-year-old body to handle after - by then - almost a full week without food.
Meanwhile, though, I have been pondering anew, rather tiredly, how trivial my concerns truly are. The Guantánamo prisoners have few cricket matches to worry about, though I did get to practice with some Jamaican migrant workers when I was there last week. It is another rather sorry reflection upon the naval base that the law gives little human rights protection to prisoners, and no employment rights to foreign workers: the corporations who bid for Guantánamo contracts inflate their profits by paying some of their employees as little as $1.50 (£1.00) an hour.
Even the Jamaicans are much better off than the detainees (and I certainly am). British resident Shaker Aamer daydreams of the night when he would get my four and a half hours of uninterrupted slumber. This is because the authorities have been conducting a novel programme of harassment, where the guards have been slamming the heavy metal doors outside the cells a dozen times an hour, 150 times a night. It is part of a perverse project to make the prisoners tired, so that they doze during the day, thereby not interrupting tours by American dignitaries who come to inspect the prison. Shaker told me that his whole block napped from nine to noon recently, and thereby missed the chance to complain to visiting senators who were shown through Camp Five.
The detainees have very little to distract themselves. Before the hunger strike, over the past eleven years, they had gradually been allowed more 'comfort items' - defined by the Gitmo authorities as 'privileges', although most of us would view them as very basic necessities (ranging from a toothbrush to a few books to read). Some of them had 'communal living' where they were not locked in isolation cells all the time - another 'privilege' accorded to people who, for the most part, have long since been cleared for release (but remain in this maximum security prison).
Those 'privileges' rapidly disappeared when the hunger strike began in February. The 166 detainees, who once had 20 books at a time, were limited to two. (Of the 36,000 books in the vaunted prison library, 35,700 are therefore not allowed off the shelf.) Most prisoners are limited to two hours 'rec', often in the middle of the night, alone in a cage outside that is only marginally larger than the cells.
Meanwhile, there is the farcical 'Ramadan Amnesty': detainees have been told they can be 'forgiven' their disciplinary transgressions, and may receive some of their 'privileges' back, in honour of the religious holiday. These are the same prisoners who have been held for more than a decade without committing any crime, so in my view most of the infractions have been committed by the US military. Furthermore, there is no forgiveness for anyone committing the on-going offence of going without food. Reprieve client Ahmed Belbacha, who once cleaned John Prescott's hotel room at the Labour Party Conference in Bournemouth, is being tube fed. He was told two days ago by the OIC (the Officer in Charge of his block) to clean up his act: he will be kept in isolation for as long as he continues with his peaceful protest.
As I head home to Dorset for the weekend, there is a crowd of rowdy lads on the train, headed for the seaside for the weekend. They have quite a party going, but the bottles of lager hold little appeal. I'm not even too tempted by my habitual South West Trains indulgence - a slice of fruitcake from the refreshments trolley. All in all, my hunger strike continues to be Easy Street compared to the real world of Guantánamo Bay.