We have written in prior issues on the electrocution deaths of American troops in Iraq. Recently, a federal judge denied Army contractor KBR’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the mother of a soldier who was electrocuted in the shower while serving in Iraq. As previously reported, Houston-based contractor KBR failed to maintain the electrical infrastructure at the former estate of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad. On January 2, 2008, Staff Sgt. Ryan Maseth, an Army Ranger and Green Beret, was electrocuted as he showered while stationed there.
Lawyers for KBR argued that decisions made by the Army insulated the private military contractor from prosecution. Fortunately, U.S. District Judge Nora Barry Fischer disagreed, stating in her order:
This case does not involve claims arising from active military combat operations. The issues presented by [Ms. Harris’] claims involve the alleged negligent performance or non-performance of KBR in providing maintenance services to the United States Army. The lawsuit asks this court and a jury to determine whether the work that KBR actually performed at the [complex] was substandard, negligent work that resulted in Ryan Maseth’s death.
KBR lawyers also argued that the lawsuit should be dismissed because it could be a “potential embarrassment to the Army” and the U.S. government. Judge Fischer, however, noted that “the Army has not sought to intervene in this action nor expressed any concerns to this court.” Without a doubt, KBR should be held accountable for the death of Sgt. Maseth and punished to the fullest extent of the law.
A military team sent to evaluate the electrical problems at U.S. facilities in Iraq determined there was a high risk that flawed wiring could cause “catastrophic results” which, as we now know, includes the electrocutions of American soldiers. According to the team, the use of a required device, commonly found in American homes to prevent electrical shocks, was “patchy at best” near showers and latrines in U.S. military facilities. The team also found widespread use of uncertified electrical devices and “incomplete application” of U.S. electrical codes in buildings throughout the war-torn country. As previously reported, at least three U.S. service members have been electrocuted in Iraq while taking showers in the six years since the Bush Administration ordered the invasion of the country.
A copy of the team’s September 8th report to the then-commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, was obtained by the Associated Press through a Freedom of Information Act request. Senator Bob Casey has expressed his disappointment that the Pentagon failed to share the report with Congress when it was completed. The Pennsylvania Senator, who has been trying to get more answers about the electrical problems in the past year, recently observed:
This report from a U.S. military task force confirms my worst fears: a glaring pattern of shoddy application of relevant electrical codes, the absence of critical safeguards, and the lack of adequate oversight.
Since this report to General Petraeus, Task Force SAFE in Iraq, which was created to deal with the electrical problems, began extensive inspections and repairs of wiring in about 90,000 U.S.-maintained facilities in Iraq. The Associated Press has reported previously that about a third of the inspections so far have turned up major electrical problems. While it appears a good number of those problems have now been fixed, about 65,000 facilities have yet to be inspected. The military says it could be November before all the inspections are complete.
In the meantime, the family of Sgt. Maseth continues with its lawsuit in an effort to obtain justice. I would like to see the executives at KBR held personally responsible for their actions in this matter. At least the Maseth lawsuit is still on track. I hope it will be successful.
Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Associated Press
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