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Dumpster-diving, souvenir flag-making couple quit Guantanamo after arrest

Pentagon contractor Ismael Gonzalez holds up his veteran's identification card during an interview Monday, Nov. 6, 2017, in a photo approved for release by the U.S. military. He is sitting with swatches of his wife's handiwork.

CAROL ROSENBERG/MIAMI HERALD/TNS

By CAROL ROSENBERG | The Miami Herald | Published: November 17, 2017

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba (Tribune News Service) — An Army combat veteran and his wife who were detained by Navy police for plucking used uniforms out of a dumpster to fashion them into souvenir flags have left the base in the aftermath of the episode.

Retired Army Sgt. 1st Class Ismael Gonzalez, 48, said he resigned his post as the wartime prison’s contract Operational Security Manager because his workplace had become a “hostile environment” after he described his detention in an interview with The Miami Herald.

The detention center spokeswoman, Navy Cmdr. Anne Leanos, declined to answer a question about Gonzalez’s status because the Detention Center of 41 captives staffed by 1,500 troops and civilians “does not comment on personnel administrative matters.”

Gonzalez and his wife Maria Conrad said they were arrested at their base home, had their home searched and handcraft pieces seized on Nov. 3 after she retrieved a bag of soggy, dirty discarded uniforms from a base dumpster marked “Old Uniforms Only, Think OPSEC,” military shorthand for Operational Security.

Gonzalez said he had granted his wife permission to do it to collect raw material for banners she was sewing as souvenirs for base residents, including the deputy base commander. After the couple complained to the Herald, base spokeswoman Navy Chief Monique K. Meeks said neither of them had been charged but were under investigation on suspicion of theft of government property.

Because they were civilians, it is apparently not possible to charge them in military courts.

They packed up and left the base on a military charter flight to Jacksonville, Fla., on Friday. Gonzalez said he had contacted members of Congress and was considering legal options for what they considered to be an unlawful search of their home and what Gonzalez, a contract civilian intelligence analyst, described as workplace retaliation for talking to a reporter.

His prison security job included advising troops on what photographs were subject to censorship and destruction when taken by civilian, independent journalists. After he spoke to the Herald, according to Gonzalez’s account, the prison canceled his access to Detention Center’s computer network.

It became clear that the issue was unresolved Thursday when the U.S. Navy rejected a Miami Herald Freedom of Information Act request for documents regarding the episode because, a Navy attorney said, release could “interfere with a pending investigation.”

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