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The Mysterious Electrocution Death of a Military Contractor in Iraq

The death of a Triple Canopy contractor in the Green Zone resembles an earlier electrocution ruled to be a "negligent homicide."

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When Patricia got the news, she thought there must have been a mistake. "Adam didn't want me to worry and had told me he was in Kuwait. I just found out he was in Iraq the day he died. He said, 'Mom, I'm gonna go to Kuwait, it's gonna be a piece of cake -- they even have a water park there.' All along he was telling me a lie because he didn't want me to worry."

Hermanson's family suspects that Adam may have died as a result of faulty electrical wiring. And they have good reason to think that -- at least sixteen U.S. soldiers and two contractors have died from electrocution. The Pentagon's largest contractor in Iraq, KBR (a former Halliburton subsidiary), has for months been at the center of a Congressional investigation into the electrocution deaths because the company has the massive LOGCAP contract and is responsible for almost all of the electrical wiring in U.S.-run facilities in Iraq. The eighteen soldiers and contractors died as a result of KBR's "shoddy work," according to Senator Frank Lautenberg.

Janine Hermanson, who served four years in the Air Force, where she met her husband, said Adam will be cremated on Wednesday and a funeral service will be held Saturday. "I just want whoever is responsible to pay for it," she says. "It's not right. I know there are many cases, and it shouldn't keep happening. It should stop." Patricia echoed those sentiments. "My son went over to Iraq four times, and he was in harm's way every single time, and for him to die like this is just wrong," she says. "We want justice for this. It is shocking and unbelievable that he died, but worse is how he died."

KBR has long denied that it has been responsible for any of the deaths in Iraq, and the company says it had nothing to do with Hermanson's death. "KBR has no operations or maintenance responsibility for the living, office, or shower facilities at Camp Olympia, the Triple Canopy compound where the death occurred. Nor does KBR maintain the electrical system in the facilities or for the camp," KBR spokesperson Heather Browne said in a statement to The Nation . "We have found no evidence that that KBR constructed the camp, installed the electrical system, or ever had any operations or maintenance responsibility for the living, office, or shower facilities." The Defense Department, which is responsible for KBR's work in Iraq, did not respond to requests to confirm or deny KBR's claims. Triple Canopy would not comment on whether it did the electrical wiring for the facility where Hermanson died or if an outside contractor was involved. A Triple Canopy spokesperson told The Nation she was "unable to provide additional information at this time."

The problem of electrocutions and shocks in Iraq has become a major issue because of the number of deaths and incidents involving soldiers and Defense Department contractors. The military is making its way through inspections at the more than 90,000 U.S.-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. The award payments were for the very work that resulted in the electrocution deaths of U.S. soldiers, according to Defense Department records. More than $30 million in bonuses were paid months after the death of Sgt. Ryan Maseth, a highly decorated 24-year-old Green Beret who was electrocuted while taking a shower at a U.S. base in January 2008. His death, the result of improper grounding for a water pump, was classified by the Army Criminal Investigations Division as a "negligent homicide," but the Pentagon recently announced there would be no criminal charges filed in the case. Two other soldiers who died from electrocution while showering are Navy Petty Officer Third Class David Cedergren and Army Cpl. Marcos Nolasco.