Death by shower: Punish those who betrayed the troops in Iraq
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If you needed a metaphor for the misbegotten tragedy of Iraq, you couldn't find better than the cases of soldiers who were electrocuted in their showers. All wars have their accidental deaths, but these electrocutions shock the conscience.
These were deaths that could have been prevented. U.S. servicemen have done their duty magnificently in Iraq, but the same cannot be said for others who put them in harm's way -- even in their own barracks.
One of the key decisions taken in this war was to rely heavily on military contractors in Iraq, and they sometimes hired unqualified foreign nationals to do electrical work at U.S. military bases. Apparently you get what you pay for.
What we got in this part of the world was a local tragedy. Army Staff Sgt. Ryan Maseth, 24, of Shaler, a Green Beret, died of cardiac arrest on Jan. 2, 2008, after being electrocuted while taking a shower in his barracks in Baghdad.
Subsequently, his parents filed a wrongful death suit in Allegheny County, against Houston-based KBR Inc., alleging that KBR allowed U.S. troops to continue to use electrical systems that it knew to be dangerous. The soldier's mother, Cheryl Harris, also testified to Congress.
For his part, Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey has been zealous in keeping this issue alive by demanding explanations from the Defense Department. The combined pressure seems to have paid off: The Associated Press reported last week that an Army investigation now deems the soldier's death a "negligent homicide" instead of an accident.
According to Sen. Casey's office, 18 electrocutions occurred in Iraq between March 2003 and August 2008 -- 16 military and two civilian. While the majority of these could be put down to the mischance of war, for example a vehicle snagging low-hanging power lines, three occurred in showers and half a dozen more were due to equipment or grounding problems.
Sen. Casey is still pressing for answers -- and anyone who supports the troops should stand with him. He and Democratic Sen. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, who has held hearings on contracting abuses, are demanding accountability for the death of Sgt. Maseth and others. It is overdue.
Praise the heroes and punish those who hurt them.
First Published January 30, 2009 12:00 am