Casey Questions Petraeus on Electrocution-Related Deaths in Iraq

Releases letter at oversight hearing on electrocution-related deaths in Iraq

WASHINGTON, DC–U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) today at an oversight hearing on electrocution-related deaths in Iraq, released a letter to General David Petraeus on testimony he gave stating that 13 individuals, not 12 as originally thought, have been electrocuted in Iraq since September 2003.   In the letter, Senator Casey specifically addressed an Army safety report issued in October of 2004 which stated that several soldiers were shocked while in the shower. 

“American soldiers knowingly take on the risk that they may die in combat.  But they should not fear death while taking a shower or washing a Humvee,” said Senator Casey. 

Senator Casey went on to write: “Indeed, in October 2004, an Army safety report described electrocutions in Iraq as a ‘killer of soldiers.’  Frank Trent, a safety specialist with the Army Corps of Engineers, declared in the report that ‘we’ve had several shocks in showers and near misses here in Baghdad, as well as in other parts of the country.  As we install temporary and permanent power on our projects, we must ensure we require our contracts to properly ground electrical systems.’” 

Specifically Senator Casey asked General Petraeus:  

After the initial deaths by electrocution in 2004 in Iraq, why did the Department of Defense not move to implement immediately a theater-wide, full technical inspection of all facilities?
 
Did Army Corps of Engineers safety specialist Frank Trent’s statement in a 2004 report highlighting the serious danger posed by electrocutions to American soldiers and other military personnel in Iraq trigger any specific actions by the Department of Defense, Multi-National Force-Iraq, or other entities?  If not, why not?  

You stated that, following the identification of deficiencies at the Radwaniyah Palace Complex (RPC) in Baghdad where Ryan Maseth was electrocuted, the Army proceeded to fund KBR to perform limited maintenance, including electrical repairs, as part of a contract modification on February 23, 2007.  Yet it was KBR itself that was responsible for ensuring proper electrical safety standards at RPC and other facilities prior to this contract modification.  So why is the Army now asking KBR to implement a theater-wide series of inspections when KBR both failed to initially ensure proper electric standards at these facilities and subsequently failed to act on reports of deficiencies at those facilities?  Is it standard practice for a military contractor to inspect its own work?  If so, how do we best avoid potential conflicts of interest from emerging?  

Please describe in further detail the changes that Multi-National Force-Iraq is incorporating into theater support contracts to help insure proper electrical safety standards.   

Will KBR receive additional funding to undertake the theater-wide, full technical and life, health, and safety inspections?  What is the expected timeline for completion of all theater-wide inspections?  

Senator Casey has been a leader on the issue of electrocution-related deaths in Iraq. Last month, after meeting with Cheryl Harris, mother of Staff Sergeant Ryan Maseth who was electrocuted while taking a shower in Iraq, Senator Casey sent a letter to the Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, demanding to know what steps the Department of Defense (DOD) has taken to ensure that no other soldiers serving in Iraq are electrocuted due to faulty wiring or negligent maintenance.   

According to the Army Criminal Investigation Division, Staff Sergeant Maseth died when the electricity in the shower facility short-circuited because an electric water pump on the rooftop was not properly grounded.  An initial investigation by the DOD’s Criminal Investigative Division office found that the Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA) was aware of the electrical safety hazard posed by this shower facility prior to the death of Staff Sgt. Maseth.  The Pentagon has turned over the investigation to the Department’s Inspector General for further investigation.   

In April, Senator Casey asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to investigate all accidental electrocution-related deaths or injuries of military and contract personnel in Iraq.  Because the Inspector General (IG) of the DOD was already conducting an ongoing investigation, the GAO declined Senator Casey’s request.  
 

Full text of the letter is below: 

Dear General Petraeus,  

Thank you for your response to the questions I submitted for the record following your appearance before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on April 8th.   My questions related to the circumstances surrounding a series of accidental electrocutions of American military personnel serving in Iraq since 2003, including the January 2, 2008 death of Staff Sergeant Ryan Maseth, a constituent of mine.   

Both the Department of Defense and Kellogg, Brown and Root Services, Inc. (KBR) have not demonstrated a sense of urgency in responding to a pattern of deaths that should never have occurred.  It is somewhat encouraging to know that the Defense Contract Management Agency now has directed KBR to implement a theater-wide series of full technical inspections of all maintained facilities, but frankly these inspections should have been initiated over four years ago when the first electrocution occurred.    

It is my understanding that, dating back to the early stages of the U.S. military presence in Iraq, numerous soldiers and other personnel have reported potential dangers from electrical shocks while taking showers and engaging in other daily activities.  Indeed, in October 2004, an Army safety report described electrocutions in Iraq as a “killer of soldiers.”  Frank Trent, a safety specialist with the Army Corps of Engineers, declared in the report that “we’ve had several shocks in showers and near misses here in Baghdad, as well as in other parts of the country.  As we install temporary and permanent power on our projects, we must ensure we require our contracts to properly ground electrical systems.” 

This report by a safety specialist put the U.S. military on notice in May 2004 as to the threat of electrocutions.  Thus, I have additional questions:  

After the initial deaths by electrocution in 2004 in Iraq, why did the Department of Defense not move to implement immediately a theater-wide, full technical inspection of all facilities?  

Did Army Corps of Engineers safety specialist Frank Trent’s statement in a 2004 report highlighting the serious danger posed by electrocutions to American soldiers and other military personnel in Iraq trigger any specific actions by the Department of Defense, Multi-National Force-Iraq, or other entities?  If not, why not?  

You stated that, following the identification of deficiencies at the Radwaniyah Palace Complex (RPC) in Baghdad where Ryan Maseth was electrocuted, the Army proceeded to fund KBR to perform limited maintenance, including electrical repairs, as part of a contract modification on February 23, 2007.  Yet it was KBR itself that was responsible for ensuring proper electrical safety standards at RPC and other facilities prior to this contract modification.  So why is the Army now asking KBR to implement a theater-wide series of inspections when KBR both failed to initially ensure proper electric standards at these facilities and subsequently failed to act on reports of deficiencies at those facilities?  Is it standard practice for a military contractor to inspect its own work?  If so, how do we best avoid potential conflicts of interest from emerging?  

Please describe in further detail the changes that Multi-National Force-Iraq is incorporating into theater support contracts to help insure proper electrical safety standards.   

Will KBR receive additional funding to undertake the theater-wide, full technical and life, health, and safety inspections?  What is the expected timeline for completion of all theater-wide inspections?  

In your current position as Commanding General for U.S. troops in Iraq, and in the position to which you were just confirmed yesterday – Commander of U.S. Central Command – you are well aware of the tremendous sacrifices our young men and women and their families make in volunteering to serve their nation.  American soldiers knowingly take on the risk that they may die in combat.  But they should not fear death while taking a shower or washing a Humvee.  I respectfully urge you to take action to ensure that the Department of Defense gets to the bottom of this troubling pattern and that no more American heroes must needlessly lose their lives.

 

Regards,

 

Robert P. Casey

United States Senator

 

            

 

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