By: E&P Staff
(Note: E&P’s Greg Mitchell was first in the media to cover this case, starting last January and in numerous articles and columns since.) An Army investigation called the electrocution death of a U.S. soldier in Iraq a “negligent homicide” caused by military contractor KBR Inc. and two of its supervisors, according to a document obtained by The Associated Press.
An Army criminal investigator said the manner of death for Staff Sgt. Ryan Maseth, 24, of Pittsburgh, has been changed from accidental to negligent homicide because the contractor failed to ensure that “qualified electricians and plumbers” worked on the barracks where Maseth died, according to the document.
Heather L. Browne, a spokeswoman for Houston-based KBR, said in an e-mail that the company maintains that its activities in Iraq did not play a role in Maseth’s death.
The Green Beret died of cardiac arrest on Jan. 2, 2008. He was electrocuted while taking a shower in his barracks in Baghdad. He was assigned to the 5th Special Forces Group at Fort Campbell, Ky.
The document obtained by the AP, dated Dec. 16, said the case was under legal review at Army’s Criminal Investigation Command headquarters at Fort Belvoir, Va. A spokesman for the Army’s criminal division, Christopher Grey, said the investigation is continuing and he could not comment.
Last year, Maseth’s parents filed a wrongful death lawsuit in Allegheny County, Pa., against KBR. It alleges that KBR allowed U.S. troops to continue using electrical systems “which KBR knew to be dangerous and knew had caused prior instances of electrocution.”
Maseth’s mother, Cheryl Harris, testified on Capitol Hill about electrical problems in military facilities. Since then, the Army has made changes such as creating an electrical code for U.S. facilities in Iraq. At one point last year, the deaths of at least 18 U.S. service members and contractors were under investigation as possible electrocutions.
Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., said in a statement that the Army CID’s investigation validates the work by Maseth’s mother.
“We must not only ensure that full accountability is served in this case, but that the Pentagon is also doing all that it can to prevent future electrocutions of American personnel in both Iraq and Afghanistan,” Casey said.
KBR was previously owned by Halliburton Co., the oil services conglomerate that former Vice President Dick Cheney once led. Congressional Democrats long have complained that KBR has benefited from its ties to Cheney.