Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nev.arrives for a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nev.arrives for a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington. Susan Walsh/AP
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is calling on Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to conduct formal investigations into the death of Adam Hermanson, a 25-year-old contractor who worked for Triple Canopy in Iraq. Hermanson, who served six years in the Air Force before joining the private company, was found dead in a shower at Camp Olympia inside the Green Zone on September 1. The military medical examiner who performed an autopsy on Hermanson told the family that the cause of death was "low voltage electrocution."
Hermanson did three tours in Iraq with the Air Force and had returned in June as a contractor for Triple Canopy. "I am outraged that Americans who have chosen to brave the extreme challenges and risks of supporting our mission in Iraq have been killed or injured as a result of negligence by KBR or other government contractors," Reid wrote in a September 14 letter to Gates provided to The Nation. "Adam Hermanson's recent death is even more troubling when one realizes that Army experts warned as early as 2004 that shoddy electrical work had created potentially hazardous conditions for American personnel."
Major Shawn Turner, a Defense Department spokesperson, told The Nation on September 10 that there is "no indication that US forces will be launching a formal investigation." Even though Hermanson was working for Triple Canopy on a Department of Defense contract, his death, Turner said, took place at a facility that "does not fall under DoD responsibility."
In his letter, Reid called on Gates to "immediately investigate the circumstances of Adam Hermanson's death, including whether it resulted from faulty electrical work and which contractor(s) was responsible for the electrical installations at the facility." In a similar letter to Clinton, Reid asks that the State Department work with the Defense Department to "ensure" Hermanson's death is investigated thoroughly.
Hermanson appears to be the nineteenth US soldier or contractor to die from electrocution since 2003 in Iraq. Reid and the Senate Democratic Policy Committee have been investigating these deaths for months and held a public hearing in May examining KBR's role in installing electrical wiring in nearly 90,000 facilities in Iraq. At that hearing, Reid notes, a Pentagon master electrician assigned to review KBR's electrical work in Iraq stated that "roughly 90 percent of the new construction buildings worked on by KBR were not properly wired. This means that over 70,000 buildings in Iraq were not up to code."
KBR denies it did any work at Camp Olympia where Hermanson died. "KBR has no operations or maintenance responsibility for the living, office or shower facilities at Camp Olympia, the Triple Canopy compound where the death occurred. Nor does KBR maintain the electrical system in the facilities or for the camp," KBR spokesperson Heather Browne said in a statement to The Nation on September 9.
Triple Canopy will not say whether it did the wiring itself or hired outside contractors, and a Defense Department spokesperson claimed the military does not know who wired that facility. Several facilities in Iraq have been improperly wired, and liability for Hermanson's death could fall on whatever US entity hired those contractors.
In interviews with The Nation, the Hermanson family alleged that Triple Canopy initially misled them about the circumstances surrounding Adam Hermanson's death. Patricia Hermanson, Adam's mother, says she was told her son was found collapsed by his bed, not in a shower. The family also says that they were told Adam had no marks on his body only to discover later that he had wounds up and down his left arm. The Hermansons also say that a Triple Canopy representative told them a few days after Adam's death the company stripped his living quarters and removed the plumbing, water heater, electrical wiring and other equipment. If true, this could make determining the circumstances of Hermanson's death—and what role, if any, faulty wiring may have played—more difficult. Triple Canopy says it will not comment while an investigation is still pending.
"We must honor Adam and other Americans who have lost their lives in similar circumstances by putting an end to the negligent, substandard work at U.S. facilities in Iraq," Reid wrote.