August 06, 2008
Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq and the next head of U.S. Central Command, has promised to oversee an assessment of more than 86,000 facilities in Iraq in a search for potentially dangerous electrical conditions.
Petraeus, in a July 29 letter to Sen. Robert P. Casey, D-Scranton, said he has formed an electrical safety joint planning team to evaluate risks, identify problems and develop repair plans to prevent more electrocution deaths.
The safety team is the latest development in an investigation of at least 16 accidental electrocutions among service personnel and military contractors in Iraq since 2003.
"This is an important development," Casey said. "As recent as three weeks ago, people were still reporting that they are getting shocked in Baghdad and throughout Iraq. There's still problems there."
Casey has pressured the Department of Defense for answers about the electrocutions after they were brought to his attention by Cheryl Harris of Cranberry, who is the mother of Staff Sgt. Ryan Maseth.
Maseth, 24, a Green Beret from Shaler, died Jan. 2 in his living quarters in Iraq after stepping into a shower and turning on the water faucet. The Army Criminal Investigation Division determined that an improperly grounded rooftop water pump short-circuited and sent an electrical current borne on water through the metal pipes and into his body.
The Pentagon turned the matter over to the department's inspector general for further investigation. And two months after Maseth's death, a congressional committee began investigating all Iraq electrocutions.
In recent weeks, information surfaced showing the Defense Contract Management Agency and Texas-based military contractor Kellogg Brown & Root Inc., which maintains many of the facilities in Iraq through government contracts, were aware of the electrical safety hazards.
Maseth's mother and father Douglas Maseth of Allison Park, sued KBR in April, claiming the contractor knew about hazardous conditions and other electrocutions but failed to make repairs or issue warnings.
Harris testified during congressional hearings related to the investigation.
"She's the reason we've made so much progress on this, but there are still hundreds of questions," Casey said. "She's an inspiration -- at least for me -- because she's determined to find answers not only about her son, but to basic questions about the other people who have died."
Harris attended U.S. House Oversight Committee hearings on the electrocutions last week.
"She's holding up well, under the circumstances," said her attorney, Patrick Cavanaugh.
Petraeus, who called the electrocutions a "critical issue," wrote to Casey that the assessment "is broad in scope and, therefore, time intensive." However, he promised to provide the senator with an update of the team's efforts by Sept. 1.
Petraeus said there are more than 80,000 Logistics Civil Augmentation Program (LOGCAP)-maintained facilities to be inspected, as well as some 6,000 pre-existing Iraqi facilities. He said the complexity of the issue extends beyond facilities maintained by LOGCAP.
The assessment will include many other contracts awarded and administered by the Joint Contracting Command in Iraq, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Air Force Contract Augmentation Program, the Special Operations Command, the U.S. Marine Corps, the Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development.
"While LOGCAP performs operations and maintenance on 61 bases in Iraq, there are also hundreds of smaller joint security stations and combat outposts in Iraq," the general wrote. "Most of these small outposts are operated and maintained using military assets and have little or no contract support."
Casey, insisting that Soldiers should not have to fear dying while taking a shower, said Petraeus' involvement will help to correct the problems.
"This needs high-level attention. This is not something that should be pushed down," Casey said.