Politics

KBR Ignored Warnings Of Unsafe Electrical Wiring That Led To Deaths Of U.S. Troops

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In March, House Oversight Committee chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) announced that he was investigating the accidental electrocution of troops in Iraq and pressed Defense Secretary Robert Gates for uncensored details on at least a dozen deaths since 2003. Contractor KBR is at the center of the probe, with questions about whether it irresponsibly ignored wiring problems.

Today, The New York Times has more details on this malpractice, including the fact that senior KBR and Pentagon officials repeatedly ignored warnings by KBR electricians:

One electrician warned his KBR bosses in his 2005 letter of resignation that unsafe electrical work was “a disaster waiting to happen.” Another said he witnessed an American soldier in Afghanistan receiving a potentially lethal shock. A third provided e-mail messages and other documents showing that he had complained to KBR and the government that logs were created to make it appear that nonexistent electrical safety systems were properly functioning.

KBR itself told the Pentagon in early 2007 about unsafe electrical wiring at a base near the Baghdad airport, but no repairs were made. Less than a year later, a soldier was electrocuted in a shower there.

John McLain, the electrician who in 2007 told a visiting defense contracting agency official about his concerns over the logs, was fired shortly after the incident. Another employee “said his KBR bosses mocked him for raising safety issues.”

This sort of refusal to acknowledge and correct errors seems to be standard operating procedure within KBR, unfortunately. Former employee Jamie Leigh Jones revealed that after she was gang-raped by co-workers, not only did the company place her “under guard in a shipping container,” but warned her that if she left Iraq for medical treatment, she would lose her job. In an opposite situation, a KBR employee who was “busted by the military” for looting in Iraq was “given a promotion.”

Similarly, Bunnatine “Bunny” Greenhouse, who oversaw contracts for the Army Corps of Engineers, told the Senate in 2005, that KBR represented the “most blatant and improper contract abuse I have witnessed during the course of my professional career.” Reflecting the Pentagon’s efforts to protect KBR, Greenhouse was demoted almost two months to the day after voicing that critique.

Despite all these irresponsible, unethical actions (as well as providing contaminated water to troops and evading millions in taxes), KBR recently announced that it had tripled its first quarter net profits and received new contracts worth up to $150 million for 10 years to provide assistance to the U.S. military overseas.

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