Slidell — Normally, the McCabe family of Slidell would spend Thanksgiving debating the merits of Elton “Mark’’ McCabe’s fried turkey and his mother-in-law’s more traditional roasted bird, but today the 52-year-old businessman is set to face a hearing in South Sudan that will determine whether his weeks of imprisonment are finally over.
For his family, anxiety is on the menu.
His wife, Anne McCabe, has been staying in close touch with the U.S. Embassy in Juba, the State Department and Sen. David Vitter’s office, trying desperately to ensure her husband’s health, safety and, most critically, his freedom.
McCabe went to South Sudan in August to do development work, establishing clinics and Internet infrastructure. He was seized by the government’s National Security Service in mid-October. His wife says that the agency accused McCabe and his partner, Mohamed Oglah, of scheming to kidnap an Indian businessman.
Anne McCabe, who has only been able to speak to her husband a few times since his ordeal began, said that the NSS demanded that he pay $100,000.
“We don’t have $1,000,’’ she said.
The charges against her husband are without basis, she said, and no evidence against him has been produced. Vitter’s office says that the American businessman has never been officially charged with anything.
“I want to know why he is even going to trial,’’ she said Wednesday. “I hope they deport him and say, ‘Don’t ever come back.’ ’’
While she is hoping for good news today, there’s been little of that recently. McCabe, who suffered a critical heart attack nearly a year ago, has been deteriorating physically while in confinement and suffered another mild heart attack Monday night, Vitter’s office said.
He’s been in a hospital since then, rather than the police facility where he was held previously, Anne McCabe said. But he is determined to go through with today’s hearing, against doctor’s orders, according to his wife.
“He wants to get this over with,” she said. “He doesn’t want to be rescheduled.It might be three months from now.’
Vitter asked South Sudan President Salva Kiir Mayardit to allow McCabe to be evacuated to Nairobi to see a cardiologist. The doctor treating him in South Sudan has signed a statement saying that the transfer to Nairobi is a necessary emergency measure, Vitter said in his letter to the country’s president, an assessment that has been confirmed by American physicians.
“Earlier this week I emphasized to the South Sudan ambassador that if cases involving an American citizen are being mishandled in such a proportion by their government, then any foreign aid proposals for Sudan would be called into question,’’ Vitter wrote.
The United States provided South Sudan with an estimated $32 million in law enforcement funds, according to Vitter’s office, as well as an estimated $242 million on humanitarian aid.
“The U.S. government regularly recognized the humanitarian needs of your people through regular, substantial foreign aid and other means,’’ Vitter wrote. “The question is whether your government will do the same for an American.”
For Anne McCabe, the weeks of worry about her husband have been compounded by the fact that her family has been without its principal breadwinner ever since he was arrested and also faces uncertain costs for his legal defense. Three lawyers in South Sudan are handling his case.
The Elton “Mark’’ McCabe Trust has been set up at Chase Bank, and those who want to help the family can make a donation to the fund at any Chase location.
Anne McCabe said that South Sudan officials responded to the initial plea for a transfer to Nairobi by saying that McCabe could only go if someone else was willing to take his place — something she reported on her Facebook page.
“One thing that really warmed my heart, it was just kind of an American thing,’’ she said. “When I put that out there, several people said, ‘I’ll go. I’ll take his place.’ ’’