Shoddy standards blamed for electrocutions in Iraq

The Pentagon has acknowledged that 11 soldiers and two contractors have died in Iraq as a result of faulty wiring systems.

The mothers of two soldiers electrocuted in Iraq due to faulty electrical wiring in military facilities urged a Senate Democratic panel to hold the Pentagon and its contractors accountable for the deaths of their sons and 11 other American personnel who have suffered the same fate.

"Anger has taken over my grief," said Larraine McGee of Texas, in testimony before the Senate Democratic Policy Committee.

Her son, Texas Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Christopher Everett, 23, was electrocuted while power-washing a Humvee in Iraq almost three years ago.

"My son was my hero," said Cheryl Harris of Pennsylvania.

Harris' son, decorated Green Beret Staff Sgt. Ryan Maseth, 24, was killed six months ago while taking a shower at a Baghdad military facility.

His "burnt and smoldering" body was discovered lying in electrified water on the shower stall floor by a soldier who kicked down the door to get in, Harris testified.

She said that although an improperly grounded pump was blamed for the death, the Army initially told her that he may have triggered the shock by carrying an electrical appliance into the shower.

Members of the committee, which has held 17 hearings in the past two years on waste, fraud and abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan, accused the Pentagon of stonewalling congressional inquiries about its ongoing investigations of possible negligence on the part of the its main construction contractor in Iraq and Afghanistan -- Kellogg, Brown and Root.

"It is about time we got some answers ... at long last," said Sen. Robert Casey Jr., D-Pa. He released a letter to Gen. David Petraeus asking why his command had only recently ordered "theaterwide" technical inspections of military facilities despite being alerted to widespread wiring problems in Iraq installations more than three and a half years ago in a report filed by a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers safety specialist.

The Pentagon has acknowledged that 11 soldiers and two civilian contractor employees have died in Iraq as a result of faulty wiring systems.

In other testimony, two former KBR electricians accused the company of shoddy and negligent management practices in its war-theater operations. Debbie Crawford of Oregon, who worked for KBR in Baghdad, said the company failed to provide its electricians with the most basic tools and equipment, and routinely farmed out jobs to local and "third-country" subcontractors who knew nothing about U.S. standards and often had no electrical experience at all.

"Time and time again we heard, 'This is not the United States, [U.S. health and safety standards don't] apply here.' " she said.

Jeffery Bliss of Ohio, who worked for KBR in Afghanistan, charged that the company was dominated by a "good-old-boy network" in which "communication was poor and professionalism nonexistent." He said he spent two and a half months at one base doing nothing until finally being assigned "the task of building a dog house."

Another witness, Rachel McNeill of Wisconsin, who served as an Army Reserves heavy construction equipment operator in Iraq, said soldiers in her unit often received shocks in shower facilities but that "it made no sense" to report the situation to KBR because the firm "had a reputation for taking a long time to address repairs."