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Ordinary Americans can make a big difference, even against great odds, when they dare to stand up and challenge The Powers That Be.
Cheryl Harris dared to confront two of the biggest powers: the Pentagon and its favorite corporation, Halliburton. “I’m not going to sit around quietly,” she said determinedly early this year. What prompted her defiance was the death of one of her sons in Iraq. Ryan wasn’t killed by the enemy he’d been sent to fight – but by the shower in his own barracks. He was electrocuted, apparently suffering a long and painful death.
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Ms. Harris asked questions. She got lies. Army officials blamed Ryan, saying he’d gone into the shower with “a small appliance.” She knew her son better than that, so she kept pushing for real answers. With the help of a lawyer, she eventually uncovered the fact that this shower was connected to a water pump that had been improperly wired.
KBR, a Halliburton subsidiary that has been paid $24 billion by the Pentagon to do such basic work in Iraq as electrical wiring, had known 11 months prior to Ryan’s electrocution that there were severe electrical problems in that building. KBR officials, however, scoffed at Ms. Harris, saying that their contract with the Pentagon included no responsibility to prevent such deaths.
Now, though, the corporate scoffing has subsided substantially, for Cheryl Harris’s insistent activism reached Congress, which forced the Pentagon to investigate. It turns out that Ryan is not the only victim; 18 of our soldiers have died from electrocution in Iraq. The investigation reveals a pattern of shoddy electrical work, KBR has now been found guilty of “serious contractual noncompliance” for jobs it has done in Iraq, and the Army has recently reopened its investigation into Ryan’s death.
All because one mother would not stay quiet. She dared to question authority, then she questioned their answers.
“Pentagon Finds Company Violated Its Contract on Electrical Work at Bases in Iraq,” The New York Times, October 25, 2008.
“Green Beret electrocuted in shower on Iraq base,” www.cnn.com, May 28, 2008.