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Death by electrocution

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Staff Sgt. Ryan Maseth, of Shaler, was a senseless victim of our misguided misadventure in Iraq. But it was not an IED that took the Green Beret's life in Baghdad on Jan. 2. It was an electrocution - a very preventable electrocution.

Maseth, 24, died in the shower, his heart stopped by a power surge that traveled along pipes and water, caused by an improperly grounded electric pump. And Maseth was not the first to die at a U.S. facility in Iraq because of shoddy electrical work.

According to a government report, at least 13 other American soldiers and civilians have died and 19 have been injured in Iraq since 2003 while taking showers, swimming in pools or doing basic maintenance with power washers.

It's easy to blame the faulty Chinese electrical system involved in Maseth's death or to pin blame on defense contractor KBR Services, which operates the military bases where the electrocutions occurred.

But the ultimate responsibility rests with U.S. military leadership. In 2004, after five soldiers were electrocuted, an Army report urged that experts inspect all electrical systems in Iraq.

Tragic accidents happen in war. But Sgt. Maseth's death mocks the definition of "accident." That he and others died because of something as rudimentary as "improper grounding" is not a shame. It's criminal negligence.

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