Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Soldier Electrocuted in Iraq: Who Is to Blame?

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Soldier Electrocuted in Iraq: Who Is to Blame?

Article excerpt

The mother of a U.S. soldier killed in Iraq this past January filed a lawsuit yesterday in a Pennsylvania state court against KBR, the defense contractor that was in charge of inspecting the wiring at the base where Sgt. Ryan Maseth died -- from electrocution. This has brought to attention a 11 other fatal electrocutions in Iraq, leading to both a congressional investigation and a Pentagon inquiry.

Recently, at her request, I had passed along to Maseth's mother the names of other soldiers officially listed as electrocution victims since 2003.

This came after I wrote a story in January about Maseth's death for Editor & Publisher and the family's initial reaction, which ranged from disbelief to anger (see below). Maseth apparently had died in a bathroom or shower stall. His mother, Cheryl Harris, contacted me then, asking if any others had died in this manner. Now her lawsuit has arrived.

Rep. Henry Waxman and Pentagon chief Robert Gates are looking into reports that the 12 deaths, and probably more, were caused by shoddy wiring and construction where our troops are housed. It is not known how many of these cases involved KBR.

Cheryl Harris's lawyer has obtained military documents indicating that KBR told the Defense Contracting Management Agency there were wiring problems in the building before Maseth's death, and nothing was done about them. The question is: Who is to blame? And what about all those other cases.

Also, Harris was originally told by the military that her son had been electrocuted after he took a small electrical appliance into the shower area. She couldn't get answers herself and contacted a local member of Congress. Now documents show that Ryan was killed when an electrical water pump shorted out after he had stepped into the shower and turned on the water. An electrical current then passed through the water pipes to a metal shower hose in the shower.

As Harris told me two months ago, this type of accident is particularly relevant for her since her son's twin brother, Brandon, is still serving in Iraq. Think about that for a minute.

She told The New York Times today, "I would like to have questions answered about who is accountable. And I would like to know that this can't happen again to our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan." The Times has a full account of the case today, as does the Houston Chronicle. …

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