On January 2, 2008, Green Beret Staff Sergeant Ryan Maseth was electrocuted in a shower on a US base in Iraq because a water pump was improperly grounded and electrified the water pipes. The Army initially reported to his mother that Maseth had taken an electrical appliance into the shower with him and that this had caused his electrocution. The contractor KBR had inspected the premises 11 months before and had noted serious electrical problems, including some involving “improper grounding of electrical devices” but it had done nothing because its contract did not cover “fixing potential hazards” but only authorized repairs after something broke. KBR did, in fact, fix the electrical problem after Ryan Maseth’s death. KBR’s explanation was to be blunt horse manure. Given the latitude that contractors have to operate in Iraq, KBR could have and should have fixed what it knew to be serious and dangerous problems. But also given how sloppy contractors are in Iraq, it simply didn’t bother and an American soldier died. At least 12 US troops have died by electrocution since the war began. As incidents like this one demonstrate, private contractors in Iraq are not there to be patriotic but to make a buck. When something goes wrong, it is not KBR but American troops who pay the price.
It has since come out that two soldiers were nearly killed two weeks before in an electrical fire in a nearby building to that Maseth was electrocuted in. Other reports have also come to light. One Army study found that in a single 6 month period from August 2006 to January 2007, there were some 283 electrical fires in Iraq which destroyed or damaged buildings, including the Army’s largest mess hall in the country. A February 2007 survey listed electrical problems as the single most important non-combat hazard in Iraq. Put simply, politically connected contractors like KBR put the lives of American soldiers in danger, escape blame or close scrutiny, and continue to be paid and win new contracts despite a long and deplorable history of shoddy work.