Guantánamo

Navy cops search home of Gitmo security consultant, detain couple for dumpster-dive art

A work-in-progress version of a flag crafted from discarded uniforms by Maria Conrad, the wife of a contractor at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, that was seized by base police on Friday, Nov. 3, 2017. The blue fabric comes from a Navy Working Uniform due to become obsolete in October 2019 while the other stripes come from an Army Combat Uniform due to become obsolete in September 2019.
A work-in-progress version of a flag crafted from discarded uniforms by Maria Conrad, the wife of a contractor at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, that was seized by base police on Friday, Nov. 3, 2017. The blue fabric comes from a Navy Working Uniform due to become obsolete in October 2019 while the other stripes come from an Army Combat Uniform due to become obsolete in September 2019. Courtesy Maria Conrad

A Pentagon contractor, entrusted with helping safeguard the terror prison’s secrets, and his wife were arrested on suspicion of stealing government property — discarded combat uniforms. She had been been sewing them into souvenir banners for departing service members.

Retired Army Sgt. 1st Class Ismael Gonzalez, 48, a combat veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, said their rights were violated in the Friday arrest, which both said included a search of their Guantánamo rental home and seizure of what the couple described as “arts and crafts.” They were detained for nearly four hours.

Among the items they said were seized: A souvenir flag Gonzalez’s wife, Maria, had sewn to present the deputy base commander, Navy Cmdr. Dennis Mojica, who is due to leave the base soon. It had already been signed, she said, by the grateful elderly Cubans living on base.

A Navy cop “was admiring my work while he was removing it from the wall. They are artwork,” said Maria Conrad, who lives on the base with her husband, a Cencore LLC contractor.

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Navy police raided the house of a Guantánamo prison security chief after his wife fetched discarded uniforms from a dumpster for fabric in her arts and craft hobby. Courtesy Ismael Gonzalez

Navy security forces were apparently alerted to the side business by a military officer who spotted Conrad plucking a bag of discarded uniforms from a dumpster on base. It was marked “Old Uniforms Only. Think OPSEC,” military lingo for Operational Security.

Gonzalez, a civilian intelligence analyst, is the Operational Security Manager for the wartime prison of 41 terror captives staffed by about 1,500 troops and civilians. In that capacity, among other things, he guides soldiers who censor the photographs of civilian journalists on base for war court hearings and visits to the Detention Center Zone. He said his duties also make him responsible for “OPSEC dumpsters” on base.

“There have been no formal charges made,” said Navy Chief Monique K. Meeks, a base spokeswoman. The couple was “detained for questioning related to an allegation of theft of government property, and subsequently released. The manner in which the uniforms were acquired may have been illegal and is under investigation.”

Meeks added that the couple consented to having their house searched.

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Examples of flags and banners made from cast-off uniforms by Maria Conrad. Courtesy Maria Conrad

Both are American citizens, he with a home in Georgia. Until Friday’s rough treatment, Conrad said, the base was an idyllic place to recover from breast cancer. The couple moved here in April, after her last radiation treatment.

Then Friday, as she related it, Navy police arrived at her home, cuffed her tightly behind her back, searched “even under my bed” and seized her handiwork before hoisting her into a police pickup truck and taking her to security headquarters. Her husband said he was likewise cuffed behind the back and taken away before the search.

The base spokeswoman countered that, once the wife “indicated she was in pain due to a recent surgery, her handcuffs were moved to the front.”

Conrad, 53, said that she had produced and sold about 30 such flags — mostly from cast-off uniforms delivered to her by service members who wanted a souvenir. She said she was taught the handicraft by an Army major who served on the terror prison staff and established the side business before finishing up a tour of duty.

“I want to go home now. I’m traumatized,” she said.

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An arts and crafts flag made from cast-off combat uniforms by Maria Conrad. Courtesy Maria Conrad

Gonzalez said his previous assignments included work at the Defense Intelligence Agency, as a trainer with the Department of Defense’s Africa Command in Nigeria.

He described his treatment at the hands of Navy base police as abusive and ignorant. While being questioned at security headquarters, he said, a police officer asked him to spell out his place of birth, Puerto Rico, for a booking form. The sailor was unaware, Gonzalez said, that Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens.

“I have seven combat tours. I have been shot at. I already had the smell of blood that I could never get out of my head that is never going to disappear,” Gonzalez said in an interview Monday afternoon. “I have buried more friends than I care to remember. And to see my spouse treated like that? Here?”

He said he was exploring how to contact a member of Congress, and may take legal action.

Gonzalez added that, despite his arrest, he was continuing to work Monday as the prison’s Opsec program manager. “We have to go through the process here, face charges. But in the meantime I’m expected to perform my duties. It’s become a hostile work environment.”

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported Gonzalez’s age at 43.

Carol Rosenberg: 305-376-3179, @carolrosenberg

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