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Mystery Surrounds Soldier's Disappearance in Guantanamo

October 13, 2002|Paisley Dodds | Associated Press Writer

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba -- Army Staff Sgt. Ryan Foraker was charged with transporting and guarding hundreds of suspected terrorists at this outpost, but he wasn't without his phobias.

He was scared of heights and the ocean, but since he vanished more than two weeks ago, the most plausible explanation for his disappearance has been that he climbed down a cliff and drowned.

"I'm not buying that," said his mother, Ann Foraker, 58, speaking by telephone last week from the home of her son and daughter-in-law in Logan, Ohio.

Foraker's wallet, military ID, and civilian shorts and T-shirt were found folded and stuck in a crevasse outside the Camp America barracks, just yards from Camp Delta, where 598 detainees accused of links to the Taliban or Al Qaeda are being held. Nearby, 20-foot cliffs overlook the Caribbean Sea.

"He wouldn't have left his ID," his mother said. "He worked too hard to become sergeant and knew leaving the ID could cost him his stripes."

Foraker, 31, was last seen about 1:30 a.m. on Sept. 24 -- his day off -- when he picked up a flashlight from his quarters and vanished into the night.

"Everything we have learned about him, there is not a single shred of evidence to support any kind of wrongdoing," said Col. John Perrone, who is in charge of Camp Delta.

He described Foraker as a model soldier. "He had an excellent work record. He had a good work ethic. He wasn't aloof about his position. He took it very seriously."

Foraker was supposed to call his family the day he disappeared because one of his daughters was sick. Foraker's wife, Angela, said everything seemed normal when she spoke with him the day before he vanished.

"He would call every other day," Ann Foraker said. "He was happy. He lived for those girls, and there's no way he would have missed calling."

Foraker deployed to Guantanamo in February and had spent several months transporting detainees from Turkey to Cuba, his mother said. It was unclear whether he spent any time in Afghanistan.

"He was a true-blue soldier," his mother said. "There were certain things he said he just couldn't tell us."

His family says he was terrified of heights and would never go swimming alone. "He was always incredibly cautious -- so much so that it used to irritate his brothers," his mother said.

Authorities said the ocean was calm the day he vanished.

Foraker is the first soldier to disappear since the detention mission began in January on Cuba's eastern tip, and one of the only people -- military or civilian -- to disappear from the base in recent memory.

Authorities suspended the search Oct. 4 but said they would keep looking during routine sweeps. Cuban officials were also informed.

Foraker's family said they've grown frustrated with the lack of information from the U.S. military, which so far has prevented Foraker's wife from going to Guantanamo.

"They told me I couldn't because of security concerns," said Angela Foraker, 24. "In the beginning, I supported the military. But my whole outlook has changed."

Foraker, a Gulf War veteran with the 342nd Military Police Company of Ohio, was one of about 1,000 guards at Camp Delta, where he worked 9- and sometimes 10-hour shifts watching the detainees.

"I feel our son is every bit as important as Sept. 11," said his mother, whose three sons served in the military. "I've given the military all three of my sons, and this is all they can do for me?"

Missing posters dot the base's sparse facilities.

With four years as a full-time soldier in the Army, then nine years since as a reservist, Foraker was devoted to the military, his wife said. He even considered becoming a recruiter and giving up his job laying gas pipelines at Miller Pipeline Corp. outside Columbus.

Foraker last came home for Father's Day, and his unit was to return home in November.

The Forakers' fifth wedding anniversary is Nov. 19. They have two daughters, 3 and 14 months.

Angela Foraker still doesn't know what to tell her 3-year-old, who is making plans for the next time she sees her father.

"It's rough," she said. "What do I tell my daughters when I don't know what to tell myself?"

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