For Memorial Day: ‘NYT’ Slams KBR on Electrocutions in Iraq

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By: Greg Mitchell

It was good to see an editorial in The New York Times this morning blasting KBR for trying to give its people bonuses, in light of the recent revelations about its shoddy electrical work in Iraq.

Namely, it was found that 90% of its work there was faulty.

I have followed this issue closely since January 2008, when a Green Beret, Ryan Maseth — the son of Cheryl Harris, now my friend — was electrocuted. I’ve written about it often here. You may recall: The military claimed at first that he had carried a hair dryer into a shower, all his fault. Turns out: It was a lie. Cheryl kept fighting and her efforts led to probes by the press, the Pentagon and Congress.

She has sued KBR. Many other cases of soldier electrocutions have since come to light. KBR whistleblowers have surfaced. And so on.

Here’s an excerpt from the Times’ editorial, which (without naming it) refers to the Ryan Maseth case in the final graf:

Far from suffering for its shoddy military contracting in Iraq, Congressional investigators have found that KBR Inc. was awarded $83 million in performance bonuses. Even worse, more than half came after Pentagon investigators linked faulty KBR wiring to the electrocution of four soldiers intent on relaxation. One soldier died taking a shower and another in a swimming pool.

How such settings became part of harm’s way for the military was the question put to an electrical engineer hired by the Army who reported finding that 90 percent of KBR’s wiring work in Iraq was not done safely. Some 70,000 buildings where troops lived and worked were not up to code, according to the engineer, who told a Congressional hearing of “some of the most hazardous, worst-quality work I have ever inspected.”

Officials of KBR, the offshoot of the Halliburton conglomerate once run so lucratively by former Vice President Dick Cheney, deny responsibility and say the work met the British code used in the war zone. Flat denial is an all-too-familiar refrain from this most favored and most questionable of military contractors. The electrical engineer found most wirers were not experienced in the British code and many were third-country nationals with no electrical training at all.

Confronted with the airing of these lethal findings, the Pentagon at least had enough sense to tell Congress last week that KBR bonuses were suspended pending a full review. Senator Byron Dorgan’s description of the Pentagon’s performance as “stunning incompetence” is an understatement for such tragic profiteering.

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