Pentagon Investigating Iraq Electrocution Death

Published on
by
The Nation

Pentagon Investigating Iraq Electrocution Death

by
Jeremy Scahill

Pfc. Justin Shults shows some of the burn wounds he received after being electrocuted in a shower facility in Iraq, in this photo taken in January in San Antonio, Texas. More recently, 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, who died in a shower on September 1, 2009. (Kin Man Hui / San Antonio Express-News via AP)

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."

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