07/09/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Death of My Friend's Son in Iraq Finally Sparks Pentagon Probe

So some good will come from the death of Ryan Maseth after all. The Pentagon -- after Ryan's mother, and my friend, Cheryl Harris, brought his death by electrocution to national attention -- has just ordered electrical inspections of all buildings in Iraq maintained by KBR, the major military contractor.

Cheryl, as I have written here previously, has researched other electrocutions and pressed a wrongful death lawsuit against KBR.

The senator from Cheryl's state, Pennsylvania, Bob Casey made public on Monday afternoon a written statement by Gen. David Petraeus, the American commander in Iraq. Petraeus informed Congress of the new inspections -- while also disclosing that at least 13 U.S. soldiers had been electrocuted in Iraq since the war began, and many others had received electrical shocks. Until now, the Pentagon had said 12 had been electrocuted.

A New York Times article by James Risen today relates: "Staff Sgt. Ryan Maseth, a Green Beret from Pennsylvania, died Jan. 2 when he stepped into a shower and was electrocuted at his base in Baghdad. His death prompted investigations this spring by Congress and the Pentagon's inspector general into evidence that poor electrical work at facilities used by American personnel had led to other electrocutions.

"Officials now acknowledge that Army experts warned as early as 2004 that poor electrical work by contractors was creating dangerous conditions for American soldiers. But those warnings were largely ignored."

The military told Cheryl Harris back in January that her son had foolishly carried an electrical appliance into a shower in Baghdad.

That was a lie. It turned out the fault was an improperly grounded water pump.

Just last week, Cheryl filed a motion in Federal District Court in Pittsburgh that includes a statement from another Green Beret, Sgt. Justin Hummer, saying that he suffered electrical shocks four or five times in 2007 in the same shower where Maseth later died.

"Another soldier, Specialist Stephan Michael Pabst, of the 19th Special Forces Group, has also provided a statement in the case stating that he suffered electrical shocks while living in the same complex late last year," Risen writes. "He said he had issued a repair order to KBR, but the contractor never adequately fixed the problem, and he continued to suffer shocks in his shower.

Cheryl has another son in Iraq and yet another in the military serving elsewhere. As she told me not long ago, "I'd like to have questions answered about who is accountable, and I'd like to know that this can't happen again to our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan."

Greg Mitchell's book So Wrong for So Long: How the Press, the Pundits -- and the President -- Fails on Iraq includes several chapters on "nonhostile" deaths in Iraq.

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