Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Judge Hears Arguments about Gi's Electrocution

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Judge Hears Arguments about Gi's Electrocution

Article excerpt

The Army knew soldiers were being electrocuted in Iraqi-built showers but did nothing, lawyers for a top defense contractor said in a U.S. District Court hearing Friday.

The contractor, Kellogg Brown & Root Services Inc., had been ordered to repair electrical problems in the building where 24-year- old Staff Sgt. Ryan Douglas Maseth died while showering, but didn't fix them, attorneys for the soldier's estate countered.

The hours-long debate on KBR's motion to dismiss the lawsuit by Maseth's parents and estate led U.S. District Judge Nora Barry Fischer to note contractual language making the firm "responsible for quality" in its work for the troops in Iraq. But that's just "boilerplate language," said KBR's Washington-based attorney Lawrence S. Ebner, who led a delegation of a half-dozen representatives of the Houston-based mega-contractor.

So went a hearing that shed as much light on the cold calculus of wartime decisions as on its ostensible topic, which was whether the court has legal authority hear the case at all.

Maseth, whose parents live in the North Hills, died Jan. 2, 2008, on the U.S. base at Radwaniyah Palace complex in Baghdad. KBR had a contract for maintenance of buildings there.

Mr. Ebner said that the Army opted to house troops in old Iraqi- made buildings rather than constructing new ones for three reasons. First, the old buildings provided good protection from gunfire. Second, using them was cheaper than building temporary structures. Third, the Army wanted to avoid any appearance of preparing for permanent occupation.

The Iraqi buildings were deemed "good enough, or at least as the least bad option," he said, adding that "good enough" and "least bad" were official Army decision-making standards. The Army also opted to pay for maintenance, and not refurbishment, of Iraqi-made buildings, he said.

In 2006, he said, Lt. Col. Brent Carey produced a briefing on electric shock risks in Iraqi-made buildings. He noted shower deaths in 2004 and 2005, included photos of burned buildings and called the use of ungrounded electrical systems "a disaster waiting to happen."

"Despite sending this to all of those persons in the military chain of command, and others, nothing was done," Mr. …

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