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Pentagon Investigating Iraq Electrocution Death
The Department of Defense has confirmed that the US Army Criminal Investigation Command has launched a formal investigation into the electrocution death of 25-year-old Adam Hermanson, a US Air Force veteran-turned private security contractor who died in a shower at the compound of his employer, Triple Canopy, at Camp Olympia inside Baghdad's Green Zone on September 1, 2009. The State Department's Regional Security Office is also investigating.
The DoD appears to be placing responsibility for the deadly incident squarely on Triple Canopy. "As part of the terms and conditions of the JCC-I/A contract, Triple Canopy is solely responsible for providing billeting, showers, latrines and other life support activities to its employees at Camp Olympia," according to Under Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter. Hermanson is the nineteenth US soldier or contractor to die from electrocution in Iraq since 2003.
Carter said that the US military's Task Force SAFE "initiated a formal shock investigation" of the incident the day after Hermanson's death and issued a report a week later, on September 7. "TF SAFE's preliminary investigation results found grounding and bonding deficiencies," Carter wrote in a letter dated October 19 to Reps. Jan Schakowsky and Carol Shea-Porter, a copy of which was provided to The Nation. "The overall assessment of the electrical system revealed that major repairs were required to bring the systems to a safe standard. The TF SAFE investigation will remain open until the facility repairs are completed and re-inspected." Carter added that the Joint Contracting Command-Iraq/Afghanistan "issued a cure notice to Triple Canopy" on September 4 informing the company that its electrical wiring was "inadequate." Triple Canopy, he said, had responded and that its facility is currently under review.
On September 17, Schakowsky and Shea-Porter wrote letters to Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about Hermanson's death. "We are appalled by the Pentagon's failure to pursue answers to the questions surrounding this tragedy," they wrote in their letter to Gates. "Since Mr. Hermanson was in Iraq working on a DoD contract, we believe that the Pentagon has a responsibility to fully investigate." Citing comments from Major Shawn Turner to The Nation that there is "no indication that US forces will be launching a formal investigation" because Hermanson's death took place at a facility that "does not fall under DoD responsibility," the lawmakers told Gates, "It is disturbing that the Department of Defense apparently wishes to distance itself, now that a fatality has occurred." Carter's letter, which was written "on behalf of" Secretary Gates, to the lawmakers appears to reverse the earlier DoD position on Hermanson's death. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has also called for an investigation.
Hermanson's family has alleged that Triple Canopy representatives initially misled them about how he died. They also say that a Triple Canopy representative told them that the company had dismantled electrical wiring and other equipment in Hermanson's quarters after his body was found, which could make it harder to determine the circumstances surrounding his death. Triple Canopy will not say who did the electrical wiring or plumbing in the facility where Adam Hermanson died.
Former Halliburton subsidiary KBR, which has been under investigation by Congress over the issue of electrocution deaths of US troops at facilities where KBR did the wiring, issued a strong denial that it had any relationship to the operations, maintenance or electrical wiring at Triple Canopy's Camp Olympia facility. According to the DoD's Carter, "KBR is responsible for providing two specific services to Camp Olympia: food and bottled water" under its contract with the military. "The [Defense] Department does not otherwise provide, manage, or maintain the facilities at the camp."
The military is making its way through inspections at the more than 90,000 US-run facilities in Iraq, a massive undertaking. According to the Associated Press, "KBR's database lists 231 electric shock incidents in the more than 89,000 facilities the company runs in Iraq, according to military records." As The Nation has previously reported, the Defense Department paid KBR more than $80 million in bonuses for contracts to install electrical wiring in Iraq.
"TF SAFE is aggressively inspecting all facilities in Iraq occupied by military, civilian, and contractor personnel," Carter wrote. "An additional 36 contractor living camps in Iraq have been identified. TF SAFE has initiated a process to assess electrical systems at these camps and has the capacity to assess approximately two camps per week. Efforts will continue to identify and correct unsafe electrical conditions as they are discovered."