Slidell businessman detained in  South Sudan allowed to call wife

Anne McCabe finally heard her husband’s voice Thursday morning — one day after their 25th wedding anniversary and one week after he was seized and detained for the second time by National Security Services, a government agency in South Sudan.

Her husband, Elton “Mark’’ McCabe, had been working in the African nation since late August, developing clinics and Internet infrastructure. While he still has not been set free, Anne McCabe is relieved that he is now being detained in a police facility and is no longer in the hands of the NSS,

The 12-minute conversation she had with him Thursday morning was only the second time she has been able to speak to him since his ordeal began on Oct. 14.

“I asked, ‘Are you OK,’ ’’ she said. “Mark was just emotional. He said, “I love you, happy anniversary and I want another 25 more years.’ ’’

The Slidell couple are accustomed to work-related separations. For years, Mark McCabe traveled domestically on business. More recently he has worked jobs abroad, and he decided to go to South Sudan at the urging of Mohamed Oglah, an Iraqi with whom he had worked in Kuwait. The two formed a company for the work in South Sudan, and both are being detained.

While Anne McCabe’s most pressing question was about her husband’s physical wellbeing — he suffered a major heart attack last December — she also wanted to know why the NSS had taken him. She describes her 52-year-old husband as a caring and affectionate man, a person who likes to crack jokes and give people nicknames, an avid hunter and fisher who makes and keeps friends for life. The couple have three children, ages 19 to 24, and a granddaughter.

“He said, ‘It’s political,’’’ she said. “It’s all just political and he’s caught up in the middle of it,’’ she said.

McCabe told embassy officials that the NSS had wanted him to sign a confession, but he refused to do so, according to a time line drawn up by Sen. David Vitter’s office.

Anne McCabe has taken a crash course in global politics herself. She first learned that her husband had been taken into custody when the U.S. Embassy in Juba notified her. Susan Page, the U.S. ambassador to South Sudan, had learned about the detention from the Kenyan ambassador to South Sudan.

Since then, Anne McCabe has been in daily contact with the embassy, calling Oliver Mains, political officer to the U.S. Embassy at South Sudan her lifeline and expressing gratitude to Vitter.

“I’ve been working with the McCabe family, the U.S. Embassy and the State Department to get Mark released to the embassy on humanitarian grounds,’’ Vitter said. “While we’re working to get Mark home, his health and safety are top priorities.’’

McCabe’s health has been his wife’s greatest concern. On Wednesday, their anniversary, she experienced her lowest moment. After days of hearing nothing, she said she felt she had no choice but to consider him dead.

Her concerns were not overblown. Mark McCabe had not received critical medications for several days early on in his detention. An embassy physician who examined McCabe on Oct. 24 determined that he was unlikely to survive prolonged detention and was in danger of quick decline if he did not receive his medication.

When Anne McCabe spoke to her husband Thursday, he told her that while in NSS custody, he had been held in a “hole in the ground’’ without light, the only American amid a crowd of about 60 Sudanese prisoners. He was finally able to shower and get clean clothing Thursday after being moved to the police facility.

When her husband left for South Sudan, Anne McCabe told him that he had to be back by their anniversary and pointed out that his supply of medication would be exhausted by then. She ended up shipping medication to the embassy, which delivered it to McCabe.

Now, the family is waiting and hoping that McCabe will be released on humanitarian grounds. He will have to appear before a court in South Sudan on Nov. 22 — Thanksgiving Day.

When he returns, she said, it will be for good. His days of working overseas are finished. “He’s going to get that blue Wal-Mart vest on,’’ she said.