Friday, March 21, 2008

Someone At KBR Must Go To Prison For This

For ordinary Americans, living in a harsh desert climate is tough enough, though, remarkably resilient creatures that we are, we adapt. Somehow. For military personnel (and, I will state up front, I have never served in a desert clime; I worked very hard to keep it that way), many of whom must carry dozens of pounds worth of equipment (sometimes over 100 pounds), it's in no way easier. Add to that, the fact that they are in a war zone, where it's hard to figure out which people want to kill them and which want to help them. (For many of them, there is the added sorrow that they know full well that the entire premise for the invasion of Iraq was a series of lies, and it does not lesson their burden one iota.) Anything they can do that would remind them of home is always welcome to strangers in a strange land.

Knowing that your needs are being served by fellow countrymen can be a comfort, though many of them are not military personnel, as they would have been in days gone by, the days before Donald H. Rumsfeld's "leaner, meaner, fighting machine" - the "H" stands for "Headcase" - when the guy cooking your food was one of your fellow soldiers, not some civilian getting paid hundreds of dollars a day, if not thousands, to do what someone in your own unit could have been doing for far less money and with far more empathy. Having local civilians in any foreign land serving your food would rightly be cause for concern to any soldier. It's not bigotry or racism, it's the simple fact that when operating in a war zone, the use of local citizens, no matter how outwardly friendly or innocuous, is a security risk because any spy or enemy combatant (who would likely look like any other local citizen) would be trained to act the very same way in order to gain trust. And with people like that, the damage is done before the danger is avoided, and the well-trained ones (who weren't committing suicide as part of their mission) would know how to get away clean. The ones committing suicide as part fo their mission will go to as crowded a place as they can - say, a mess hall during lunch - and detonating their vests, or opening up with a machine gun, or some other gruesome method of carnage. Carnage intended to frighten anyone who learns of it, or who witnesses it and lives.

Anyway, the point is that, as a servicemember serving overseas, you like to think that the only people who don't give a shit if you live or die is the enemy. Not the people your government is paying, with your tax dollars (soldiers pay income taxes on their salaries, even while fighting a war, but KBR avoids paying into the Medicare and Social Security programs by listing its 10,000+ employees and subcontractors as being from a Cayman Islands shell company), to make sure your water isn't tainted and undrinkable and causing disease and skin infections, your food isn't outdated or spoiled, your female co-workers aren't being gang-raped by other co-workers (when they aren't victims of sexual harrassment and discrimination), and your shower isn't turned into a suicide booth. Yes, I said, "suicide booth". At least twelve times!

At least a dozen soldiers and Marines have been electrocuted in Iraq over the five years of the war, and investigators now are trying to learn what role improper grounding of electrical wires played in those deaths.

And Houston-based KBR — which builds bases and maintains housing for U.S. troops in Iraq — is at the center of the probe, with questions being raised about its responsibility to repair known wiring problems.

They will try to evade responsibility by claiming that when they took over the building, the safety difficiencies were noted. But the contract did not require them to actually fix the fucking things, just note them for future reference. Including, apparently, potentially lethal safety concerns. They were only required to fix plumbing and electrical problems "as they broke". I find it hard to believe that they were not required to immediately address the life-threatening issues, like the fact that the water pumps had a tendency to short out. The soldier would step into the shower, turn on the water, and an electrical current would pass through the pipes and to a metal shower hose in the shower. When it happens once, it's clearly a tragic accident. Normally, as I used to understand them, an incident like this would prompt a review of all shower facilities to ensure that it doesn't happen a second time, not when it was so "easily preventable". Normally. That did not happen this time, apparently, because it did happen a second time. And a third. And a fourth. And another eight times! But, please, do not comfort yourself in the knowledge that it could not be worse. It is.

When Army Staff Sgt Ryan Masath, 24, of Pennsylvania, was killed after stepping into an electrified shower, his mother, Cheryl Harris, was told by the Army that her son had taken a small electrical appliance into the shower with him. They lied to her, and three weeks after his Jan 2 death, she sought help from her Congressman, Rep. Jason Altmire, D-Pa. And now, it's come to this. "On the fifth anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, California Democrat Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, sent a letter today to Defense Secretary Robert Gates seeking details about electrocutions of military and contract workers in Iraq and about KBR's role in making electrical repairs." The Pentagon said that they are taking this very seriously and the Inspector General's office will be investigating. But I have to wonder how much authority they would have over the Iraqis who KBR hired to refurbish the building. They would likely be the ones who installed the wire unsafely. If it turns out that one of them is culpable, will he ever be brought to trial? Will he ever face some kind of punishment?

And what about the people at KBR? As I understand it, the contract actually went to Dick Cheney's old buddies, Halliburton ("Bringing you the worst of humanity, each morning!"), and they sub-contracted it to KBR, on account of KBR is, technically, on paper, "headquartered" in the Cayman Islands. So they are not required to follow the same set of rules (the more stringent ones) that an American-based company would. In fact, in some cases, they are not bound by any rules whatsoever. And did I mention that this contract to Halliburton was no-bid and cost-plus? Not that anything like that matters to Dick "So?" Cheney. And if you've got a few minutes, why not drop KBR a message on their contact form? Ask them if after all of this, are we still supposed to believe that they aren't the ones trying to hurt our soldiers?

Somebody at KBR must go to prison for this. For a very, very long time.


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Dena said...

I served proudly over there for 18 months with our soldiers as a civilian. Since you have never been in the desert you tell me, what is it worth to you to have a group of men and women proud of their country and willing to die for the soldiers that defend it to go over there to provide support instead of having to reinstate the draft?

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