WASHINGTON (CNN) -- An Army sergeant complained about faulty wiring in Iraq months before another soldier was fatally electrocuted in a shower in the same quarters, according to documents released Wednesday by a congressional committee.
Ryan Maseth, a 24-year-old Green Beret, died in his shower January 2, 2008.
Sgt. Justin Hummer filled out a work order in July 2007 that warned, "Pipes have voltage, get shocked in the shower."
Hummer told investigators from the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that at least once, he had to use a wooden stick to turn off the shower "because the electrical current was so strong."
Army records show that electricians from contractor Kellogg, Brown and Root found "several safety issues concerning the improper grounding of electrical devices" in February 2007.
In January 2008, Staff Sgt. Ryan Maseth was electrocuted in a shower in the same quarters where Hummer lived the previous summer. A follow-up investigation "found nearly all of the same problems and deficiencies that had been reported one year previously," a committee report states.
Maseth and Hummer had been based at a Saddam Hussein-era palace complex near the Baghdad airport. Hummer's concerns were not shared with the Defense Department's inspector-general's office.
His January 2 death was just one of many deaths now believed to be linked to shoddy electrical work done at U.S. bases, managed by U.S. contractors, according to Pentagon sources.
The Pentagon's Defense Contract Management Agency recently gave KBR a "Level III Corrective Action Request" -- issued only when a contractor is found in "serious noncompliance" and just one step below the possibility of suspending or terminating a contract, Pentagon officials said.
In KBR's case, it means that the contractor's inspections and efforts to ensure electrical safety for troops have been unacceptable, and must be significantly improved, Pentagon sources told CNN.
Just after Maseth's electrocution, Pentagon officials estimated that about a dozen troops had been electrocuted in Iraq. But Pentagon officials now say at least 18 troops have been electrocuted since 2003 -- many due to faulty wiring and improper grounding.
The number could be higher than that when Afghanistan is included, say congressional sources.
"I can't make sense around Ryan's death, that he died like that, that he was so trained. So highly trained to survive," said Maseth's mother, Cheryl Harris, in an interview earlier this year. "It just feels so surreal. It's so painful to think about how he died."
Largely because of Harris' efforts to demand answers about her son's death, the U.S. Senate and House have held oversight hearings in recent months in hopes of finding out how the electrocutions occurred.
"The fact that there's an assessment made at this level -- a level three -- which is very serious, indicates to me, and to a lot of people, how serious this problem is," said Sen. Robert Casey, D-Pennsylvania.
"It's really a question in the end about justice. The only way we can have justice in a case like this for the families and for the American people is to have serious accountability. That has not happened yet. There's still a lot of parties here that have not been held to account for what happened here," Casey said.
Danielle Brian, the executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, a Washington-based watchdog group, said accountability is needed, but difficult to come by when KBR's contract is so integral to the Iraq war.
"The problem, of course, is it's such a big contract," Brian said. "The government's in a place -- the Pentagon's in a place where they say, 'How can we suspend KBR? They're sort of running the show over there.' "
"It's so big -- it's too big to cancel that contract or suspend them from future contracts," she added.
Brian said the action against KBR amounts to "nothing more than a slap on the wrist" for a company with an estimated $24 billion contract for its work in Iraq. She pointed out that KBR's government contract is paid for by U.S. taxpayers.
Labels: electrocuted US soldiers in Iraq, Staff Sgt. Ryan Maseth