Senate DPC Hearing-Iraq Electrocutions 7-11-08 – Opening Statements
I have been listening to and reading the news about this hearing. I know the news media can only print so much, but they are leaving out many important details. So I am posting the testimony of each person that testified. I want to make sure you know the truth about what was said before the rumors start. If you have any questions feel free to email me. When and if a final transcript is available, I will post that as well.
All witnesses were asked to be at the Dirksen Senate Office Building at 9am on Friday. When I got there the hearing room was relatively empty and non threatening, similar to an empty court room. At 9am the witnesses were ushered into a conference room and briefed by DPC staff members.
The witnesses for the Senate Democratic Policy Committee (DPC) Hearing “Contractor Misconduct and the Electrocution Deaths of American Soldiers in Iraq” are:
Mother of Staff Sgt. Ryan Maseth
Mother of Staff Sgt. Christopher Everett
U.S. Army Reservist
Debbie Crawford (Me)
Former KBR Electrician
Former KBR Electrician
At 10 am we were escorted back to the briefing room. Wow!!! OMG!!! Cameras, reporters, observers, witnesses, politicians, Senate staff. The room as packed. I was sure there wasn’t enough oxygen in the room for everyone that was there…mostly me! I could feel the panic welling up in my chest and I knew I had to “get a grip” and get it fast. I started taking long deep breaths. It’s amazing how many times my Lamaze training has come in handy since I first used it 24 years ago!
We were seated at the witness table in the order that we would speak. The media went crazy as Lorraine McGee pulled out a large framed photo of her son Staff Sergeant Christopher Everett and set it in front of her. I could see she was choking back tears. I think she wanted to put a face to these hearings. They weren’t just soldiers, they were someone’s son, brother, friend. They were people. This was the first of several times I myself had to choked back the tears that seemed determined to flow.
Senator Dorgan, Chairman of the Senate Democratic Committee gave the opening statement followed by statements from Senator Sherrod Brown, Senator Maria Cantwell, Senator Robert Casey, Senator Amy Klobuchar, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse.
Senator Byron L. Dorgan
Chairman, Democratic Policy Committee
“Contractor Misconduct and the
Electrocution Deaths of American Soldiers in Iraq”
Friday, July 11, 2008
226 Dirksen Senate Office Building
“This is the seventeenth in a series of oversight hearings conducted by the
Democratic Policy Committee to examine contracting fraud, waste, and
abuse in Iraq.
Over the last five years, our country has asked tens of thousands of young
men and women in uniform to go into harm’s way in Iraq and Afghanistan.
While these soldiers have answered the call to serve our country on the
battlefield, they never expected that their lives might be endangered by the
air they breathe, the food they eat, the water they use to brush their teeth, or
the showers they step into.
Yet as we have documented in past hearings, and will explore further today,
there have been massive failures by contractors, which combined with a lack
of oversight by the Pentagon, have presented unexpected and unnecessary
hazards to our troops.
Many of these problems have involved Kellogg, Brown, and Root (KBR),
which until recently was a subsidiary of Halliburton. KBR was awarded a
multi-billion dollar sole-source contract to provide logistical support to our
troops. And the testimony we have heard about their performance has been
We have heard testimony from KBR workers about how the company
exposed U.S. troops, British troops, its own workers and Iraqis at the Qarmat
Ali water injection plant in Iraq to a highly toxic chemical called sodium
dichromate. This was the same toxic chemical that was the subject of a case
profiled in the movie Erin Brockovich, and which can result in cancer and
other deadly diseases. Despite the fact that internal KBR memos
documented the fact that this chemical exposure was very serious,
the company is in court trying to avoid any responsibility at all for the injury
it has caused.
We have heard testimony from a KBR food supervisor, who described how
the company would insist on serving food to the troops that had exceeded its
expiration date. In one instance, a convoy of food supplies was shot up by
enemy fire. KBR managers directed that the shrapnel be removed from
the food, and the food be served to unsuspecting troops anyway. When the
KBR food supervisor objected to these practices, he was sent to the heavyfighting
area of Fallujah in retaliation.
We have heard testimony from KBR water treatment workers, who testified
that KBR was improperly treating water that our troops would use to
shower, brush their teeth, and make coffee. That water in some cases was
twice as contaminated as raw water from the Euphrates river.
KBR denied that there was a problem with water, and the Army denied that
there was a problem. Then we got a copy of an internal KBR report from
the company’s water quality manager for all of Iraq, warning that the water
problems could have caused “mass sickness or death.” We also received an
e-mail from an Army doctor – a captain – who had documented many
illnesses related to contaminated water, and had traced the problem to KBR-supplied
Despite this, the Army sent two-star Brigadier General Jerome Johnson to
the Armed Services Committee in April of last year, and he denied flatly that
there was any problem with the water at all.
In March, the Inspector General at the Defense Department issued a report
confirming that there had been widespread problems with water in Iraq, that
KBR was largely responsible, and that IG had notified the Army of that fact
before General Johnson denied that there were any water problems at all.
I’ve asked Secretary Gates to look into whether General Johnson provided
false and misleading testimony to Congress, and he has directed that an
investigation be conducted.
Through all these and many other problems, the Pentagon has sought to
protect KBR at all costs. On Wednesday of this week, we heard the
testimony of Charles Smith, who managed the Defense Department’s
LOGCAP contract with KBR, which is the largest Pentagon contract in Iraq,
Mr. Smith was removed from his position for insisting that the Pentagon
withhold payment to KBR for over $1 billion in questionable charges. The
man who fired him was General Johnson, the same officer who denied to
Congress that KBR had improperly treated water for the troops.
Today, we will hear about KBR’s tragic failure to correct faulty electrical
work at U.S. military installations in Iraq, even after the United States Army
issued a bulletin stating that improper wiring by contractors had resulted in
the electrocution deaths of several soldiers.
I should note that earlier this week, the American commander in Iraq,
General David Petraeus, stated that at least 13 Americans had been
electrocuted in Iraq since the war began, and that many more soldiers have
received painful shocks.
Cheryl Harris lost her son, Staff Sgt. Ryan Maseth, a Green Beret, when he
was electrocuted in a shower at the Radwaniyah Palace Complex in Baghdad
on January 2, 2008.
Larraine McGee lost her son, Staff Sgt. Christopher Everett, when he was
electrocuted while power washing a Humvee on September 7, 2005 in Al
Rachel McNeill was stationed at Camp Speicher in Iraq, where improperly
wired water heaters shocked members of her Army battalion in 2005 when
Debbie Crawford worked for KBR in Baghdad from July 2004 to July 2006
as both an electrician and a safety representative.
Jefferey Bliss worked for KBR as a field combat electrician in Afghanistan
in 2005 and 2006.
I thank the witnesses who have travelled to be with us today, in some cases
at great inconvenience to them and to recount very painful stories of
personal loss. I look forward to their testimony.” (END OF STATEMENT)
Due to the importance of this Hearing, I am going to post one blog for each witness testifying.
I’m not sure how long these links will be good, but to access copies of testimony click HERE To access witness video clips click HERE To access the entire hearing video click HERE and then click on “Click here to see the webcast of this hearing (RealVideo)”. You can go to the Senate Democratic Policy Committee website at anytime at http://www.dpc.senate.gov.