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Joining the Guantanamo Bay Hunger Strike

I have now been without food for 48 hours. That is not very long. Shaker Aamer has frequently done it in Guantánamo Bay for weeks. I suspect I've dropped a couple of pounds. Shaker's weight has fluctuated from roughly 16 stone (224lbs) when he was first taken into US custody, to ten stone (140 lbs) at the nadir of his many hunger strikes. He is currently towards the lower end of the scale. There have been times in the past when Shaker has been put through the gratuitously violent force feeding process - illustrated when the rap star Yasiin Bey (Mos Def) agreed to undergo the procedure for us on video.

As his lawyers, at Reprieve we thought it sensible to persuade him to let us take his strike on, so he could start eating again, and be somewhat more healthy to come home - we hope - at the end of the 30-day Congressional notice period, on October 24th. A second purpose is to keep the pressure up, so that the bureaucrats in London and Washington do not delay Shaker's reunion with his family after 13 long years. Some wonderful folk have organized this and more than 250 people have taken the challenge - for example, David Morissey did October 16th, Brandon Neeley (a former Guantánamo guard) is taking the 17th, David Davis MP (former Home Secretary) the 18th, Harriet Walter the 19th, Juliet Stevenson the 20th, and Mark Rylance joins Roger Waters the following day. Perhaps by the 22nd, we will have heard news that Shaker is about to be put on a plane, and this will save Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell MP the trauma, but I fear he'll have to limit himself to water.

I decided to see how long I could go, rather than limit myself to one day. I went for a week once before, in sympathy with the mass strike back in 2013. Mine was a fairly piffling commitment compared to Shaker's, and to the other seven men who are still engaged in their peaceful protest. Ahmed Rabbani, my Pakistani client, is a simple taxi driver rather than the mega-terrorist promised to us by the Bush Administration. He has been on strike without a break for a year and three quarters now. They force feed him, but he is now not much above six stone (84 lbs), barely still alive.

I have followed Shaker's rules for hunger striking since he is, in his own words, a professional. That meant eating mainly prunes and other fruit for a couple of days before the strike. Shaker says that the worst fate of a striker is to suffer from constipation, and I don't want to find out if he is right.

Then, rather more than 48 hours ago now, I just stopped taking in anything but water and - thankfully, permitted by Shaker - black tea or coffee.

For the past two days, I have been surrounded by food. Somehow it is all people mention. And the process of baking a fresh loaf - for that marvellous smell in the morning! - to prepare a packed lunch for my seven year old to take to school has become torturous. And yet I am the fortunate one. I have been very busy, in part spending two days with a class of ten year olds, re-enacting the trial of Nurse Edith Cavell, executed as a British spy by the Germans 100 years ago last Monday. The kids did better than the German high command, and did not shoot her at dawn this time. What with this and keeping busy on a number of real capital cases, I did not have time to ponder what I was missing.

But imagine being Shaker, cleared for release in 2007. Imagine sitting lonely in a cell in Guantánamo Bay, wondering whether the promise of release means anything at all this time. Imagine not having the pleasure of preparing your child for school, because you have not even been allowed to see him for 13 years (Shaker has never even met his youngest son, Faris, who was born on February 14th, 2002, the very day Shaker arrived in the Cuban prison). Imagine having no work to do, and not being allowed to read - many of the books I have taken for him have been banned, including predictably the Gulag Archipelago. Imagine how the ache for food would consume your day then.

So as I move forward with my own pettifogging hunger strike, I magnify my discomfort perhaps 1000 times. Then, at last, I might be approximating what Shaker and the others with him suffer every day.

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