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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."

Adam Vernon Hermanson "was a natural-born leader," according to his brother, Jesse. In 2002, just before his eighteenth birthday, Adam enlisted in the U.S. military, armed with the required permission from his parents because he was not legally an adult. Adam spent six years in the Air Force. In all, he did three tours in Iraq and one in Uzbekistan. After he was honorably discharged from the military in early 2009 with the rank of staff sergeant, Hermanson took up employment as a private bodyguard in his hometown of Las Vegas, where, according to his family, he protected a wealthy individual. But according to Jesse, Adam was interested in returning to Iraq as a private military contractor. "He had been talking about it a lot; he was interested in Blackwater," Jesse recalls.

In May, Adam signed a contract that would put him back in the action -- as a private contractor for Triple Canopy, the company that the State Department has chosen to take over much of Blackwater's security work in Iraq. According to his cousin, Paul Moreno, Hermanson was offered about $350 a day for a four-month contract. "It happened real fast," Jesse remembers. "He didn't want the family to know and get worried. He actually did it behind the backs of the family -- my mom found out a day and a half before he was going. We were trying to change his mind and say it wasn't worth the money, but he felt that he needed to do it to pay off bills and get a house and be financially secure." Jesse adds, "He had also tried to get a job in Vegas as a Metro Police officer, and they denied him even with all of his training." Adam's mother, Patricia, says, "We know he disliked it. His plan was that after four months he was going to leave Triple Canopy and get a house."

Hermanson arrived in Iraq in June and took up residence inside the Green Zone at Triple Canopy's base at Camp Olympia. His family said his e-mails were brief and primarily made up of questions about how everyone else was doing. As for his work, he told the family he wasn't allowed to say much. "The last time I talked to him, I noticed that it wasn't really Adam -- the way he talked," Patricia recalls. "He said he was working seventeen-hour days. When I asked how it was going there, he said, 'I can't really say much, but let's just say the average Joe couldn't be here and do what we do.'"

Earlier this week, Hermanson returned home on a flight to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. His body was in a coffin. Hermanson was not killed by enemy fire or an improvised explosive device or even by "friendly fire." In fact, he died in what is considered to be the safest place in Iraq for Americans -- the heavily fortified Green Zone. His body, according to his family, was discovered on the floor of a shower near his quarters at Camp Olympia. It appears that Hermanson was electrocuted.

On Tuesday morning, the military medical examiner who performed Hermanson's autopsy met with Hermanson's wife, Janine. "He said that everything was still pending and that he can't make a final [statement] because the toxicology and all that stuff has not come back yet. But he said that [the cause of death] was a low-voltage electrocution," she told The Nation . "When I got the call I was told that he was found in a shower, and now I am getting told that there was even still electrical current on the shower floor when they found him."