Americans die in Iraq from 'electrocution,' shocks reported by troops 'almost daily'
Stephen C. Webster
Published: Thursday July 17, 2008

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Among the seemingly innumerable scandal-worthy stories which have so marked the war in Iraq is one growing tragedy which has been largely ignored: shoddy electrical work by U.S. contractors at military bases leading to numerous electrical fires, troops receiving painful shocks, and even death by electrocution.

In January 2008, Staff Sgt. Ryan Maseth, a 24-year-old weapons expert, was electrocuted while showering in Baghdad's green zone. According to a criminal investigation by the Army, an electrical water pump on the building's roof shorted out from not being properly grounded when installed. On March 19 his parents sued the contractor, KBR Inc., for Sgt. Maseth's death.

According to the Pittsburgh-Post Gazette:

"The Defense Contract Management Agency, we believe, authorized [the contractor] to the tune of millions of dollars to make the repairs. And they never made the repairs," Mr. Cavanaugh said. "And we don't know why. A simple repair -- just ground the building -- and Ryan would be alive today."

On July 1, New York Times Investigative Reporter James Risen, author of the 2006 book "State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration," took up the subject. According to Risen, General David Petraeus stated to Congress that 13 Americans had been electrocuted since the invasion of Iraq: 12 soldiers and one contractor.

As recently as July 11, KBR Inc. electricians told a Senate panel tasked to investigate the deaths that their employer used inexperienced, non-English speaking workers to install electrical systems. Many experienced contractors, they claimed, were dismissed after raising cautions over the work.

According to the Associated Press:

"Time and again we heard, `This is not the states, OSHA doesn't apply here. If you don't like it you can go home,'" said Debbie Crawford, a journeyman electrician with 30 years experience.

Army Times reports that the shoddy wiring and electrical risks have brought about the deaths of 11 service members and two U.S. civilians.

However, a follow-up report by James Risen in the New York Times on July 18 states that the problem is far worse than General Petraeus stated, and the military has known about the systemic problems since 2004.

Since the invasion, over 283 electrical fires on US bases have been reported, along with two deaths in 2006 at a base in Tikrit, the death of Sgt. Maseth, and innumerable painful shocks dealt to Americans.

A log of complaints compiled early in 2008 found soldiers living in just one Baghdad building complex were complaining of painful electrical shocks 'on an almost daily basis.'

In public statements, Pentagon officials have not addressed the scope of the hazards, instead mostly focusing on the circumstances surrounding the death of Sergeant Maseth, who lived near Pittsburgh.

But the internal documents, including dozens of memos, e-mail messages and reports from the Army, the Defense Contract Management Agency and other agencies, show that electrical problems were widely recognized as a major safety threat among Pentagon contracting experts. It is impossible to determine the exact number of the resulting deaths and injuries because no single document tallies them up. (The records were compiled for Congressional and Pentagon investigators and obtained independently by The Times.)

The 2007 safety survey was ordered by the top official in Iraq for the Defense Contract Management Agency, which oversees contractors, after the October 2006 electrical fire that killed two soldiers near Tikrit. Paul Dickinson, a Pentagon safety specialist who wrote the report, confirmed its findings, but did not elaborate.