Army accuses KBR contractors of 'negligent homicide' for electrocution
Stephen C. Webster
Published: Thursday January 22, 2009

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United States Army investigation has accused former Halliburton subsidiary KBR, along with contractors the company used and two of the firm's supervisors, of 'negligent homicide' in the electrocution of a soldier, according to a published report.

"[A]n Army criminal investigator says the manner of death for Staff Sgt. Ryan Maseth, 24, has been changed from accidental to negligent homicide because the contractor failed to ensure that 'qualified electricians and plumbers' worked on the barracks where Maseth died," reports the Associated Press.

"Maseth, 24, of Shaler, Pa., outside Pittsburgh, was electrocuted on Jan. 2 when an improperly grounded electric water pump short-circuited and flowed through the pipes," reported ABC in March 2008. "Since the coiled hose was touching his arm, he was hit with an electrical jolt and went into cardiac arrest and died."

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.

"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, in a report by the AP.

In 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.'

The upgrading of Sgt. Maseth's death from accident to negligent homicide is another in a long string of controversy emanating from KBR's involvement in President Bush's war in Iraq. In Dec., 2008, the firm was accused of holding hostage laborers from from Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka. In August a suit was filed alleging KBR had participated in human trafficking: a scheme which allegedly left 12 men dead.

An ABC News report from Dec. focused on claims made by Jamie Leigh Jones, who accepted an offer to work in Iraq for KBR in 2005. Less than a week after arriving in Iraq, Baker alleges she was served what she believes was a drug-laced drink by a group of KBR men, blacked out and awoke naked, bruised and bleeding. An examination by an Army doctor confirmed that she had been gang-raped.

Also in Dec., a CBS investigation determined the company had knowingly exposed US soldiers to toxic chemicals; a claim KBR denied outright.

Most recently, KBR has sought to blame the US Army for the deaths of its drivers in Iraq, though family members of the fallen contractors say the company sent them into hot zones knowing they would likely be attacked.

In April 2007, KBR broke away from Halliburton, the contracting services company formerly run by ex-Vice President Dick Cheney. KBR has not issued a statement on the Army's allegation of negligence in the electrocution death of Sgt. Maseth as of press time.

"We must not only ensure that full accountability is served in this case, but that the Pentagon is also doing all that it can to prevent future electrocutions of American personnel in both Iraq and Afghanistan," said Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa), to the AP.