Who Killed Doc? - Live Web Chat transcript
Mark Albert: Good afternoon.
Welcome to this kstp.com
If you haven't seen the story, or you want to learn more after this chat, please go here:
I want to thank the Cedergren family for spending countless hours sharing their story with us. It's an important story that we think needs to be fully told and we're not done yet.
As the reporter who is doing the investigation, I'd now be happy to take your questions.
[Comment From Sue: ] Has the family sued the military?
Mark Albert: The Cedergren family told us they did look into filing a lawsuit but were stopped by the federal government's immunity. Legal experts have told us that 1950 Supreme Court decision, Feres v. United States, basically prohibits people from suing the military for deaths or injuries that occur during someone's service. The Court decided that the federal government generally cannot be held liable for negligence by members of the military. I think there have been efforts to change that over the years, but as of now, that's the law of the land.
[Comment From Mike: ] Do you know how many soldiers have been electrocuted in Iraq?
Mark Albert: Of the 18 service members and contractors known to have been electrocuted in Iraq between 2004-2008, the Department of Defense Inspector General found -- were electrocuted in the showers. The most notorious is the case of Staff Sergeant Ryan Maseth from Pittsburgh. In that case, the IG found, "multiple systems and organizations failed, leaving him and other U.S. Service members exposed to unacceptable risk of injury or death." (you can read the full report here:
In the Ssgt. Maseth case, his family is suing contractor Kellogg, Brown, and Root (KBR).
Since Task Force SAFE was established to repair the 60,000 electrical defects found at US facilities, there has only been one additional electrocution, and that was a contractor also electrocuted in the shower. You can watch our interview from Baghdad with the Chief of Task Force SAFE here:
[Comment From Jeremy C.: ] Mark, why didn't you mention contractor KBR which is the same as Halliburton? Aren't they at fault for putting up those showers?
Mark Albert: Contractor KBR, who has done a lot of electrical work for the U.S. Military in Iraq, was not involved in building or maintaining the electrical work at Camp Iskandariyah, when David Cedergren died. After reading the hundreds of pages of military investigative reports, it's clear that no private contractor would agree to go to the base. It was in the Sunni Triangle/Triangle of Death at the time. So, the reports show that military commanders used local Iraqis.
One report shows local workers were paid $170,000 to do odd jobs around the base, including electrical work. As we highlighted in our report Tuesday night, statements show that commanders preferred to use "older Iraqi electricians as we figured if they lived that long, they probably had enough knowledge to at least survive."
Report after report shows that "the electrical wiring was typical of a poor third world country," that is was "shoddy," and "never would have been permitted in the United States." Col. Robert Durkin, the battalion commander, told NCIS investigators in his statement that, "we were at war, in a very dangerous area, and we were forced to make do with less."
[Comment From jennie: ] What kind of reaction have you seen from Minnesota military members after this story was on 5?
Mark Albert: We've received several emails from people who have either served in the military or who have had loved ones serve in the military. One person wrote in to tell us that their loved one died and one of our former reporters did a story on them a decade ago.
He expressed frustration that these types of "mistakes" made to our members of the military seem to keep happening. The person wrote in to say, "This seem to me that members of Congress, and Senate know this stuff goes on, and every time it happens its always news to them. For what ever reason the dots are not being connected."
We did a follow-up story last night and both fmr. US Sen. Norm Coleman and current Rep. Betty McCollum both called Cedergren's death "preventable." Rep. McCollum even told us she thought Cedergren was killed by a "lethal level of negligence and incompetence."
The official NCIS investigation, though, found no criminal negligence and the USMC Command Investigation found no discipline was warranted in this case.
[Comment From Jake: ] Is there any way to connect the problem to other countries where U.S. Troops have been?
Mark Albert: Jake:
The Dept. of Defense Inspector General report only looked at electrocution deaths in Iraq. From 2003-2008, the IG found the 18 (there has since been another one): 10 Army soldiers, 5 Marines, 1 Sailor, and 2 contractors.
That's a good question about other countries where U.S. troops serve (and there are a lot of countries). I do not know if there have been any electrocution deaths in Afghanistan. I'm trying to find out. I do know that Defense Secretary Gates is on record as saying he wants to transfer what the military learns about safe electrical practices in Iraq to Afghanistan.
[Comment From Jason: ] Can David's family look into a lawsuit against the government, not for the wiring problem, but for the coverup of what really happened?
Mark Albert: The family has contacted two attorneys, I believe, and both told them they would not be able to sue the military directly. The military denies there was a "cover up".
Some people familiar with the case point to a series of mistakes: the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology not including electrocution in the cause of death for four years; the miltiary extremely busy with casualties back in 2004 when Cedergren died and perhaps overlooking all the details; the people who did the autopsy not knowing the history of electrical problems at the base, etc.
But there is still the key question: Why didn't someone fix the electrical problems at Cedergren's base and other bases? And if the area was too dangerous for trained electricians to get to, why not simply close those showers? There were other shower facilities at the same base. We don't have an answer on that.
[Comment From Sam: ] In the story you mention going to Washington, DC. What do you hope to learn and who do you plan on talking with?
Mark Albert: NCIS, which conducted investigations in 2004 and 2008 to determine if there was criminal negligence, has granted us an interview for sometime in June. They're the ones that compiled all the statements we used in our report on Tuesday night. They're the finders of fact. We want to talk to them about what we found.
We also want to interview the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, as I mentioned in Jason's question. They told a grieving family something that turned out not to be the complete truth. What changes are in place now to make sure that doesn't happen to another family?
We also would like to talk to a representative at the Marine Corps. Given the clear amount of warnings, do they acknowledge that someone made a mistake? Do they owe the Cedergren family an apology for not acting to protect Dave and other Marines at that base?
[Comment From Kristy: ] Hello Mark, This is David's youngest sister. What is the next step for you?
Mark Albert: Hi Kristy:
As I've mentioned to your family, we want to see this through. We intend to keep pressing for answers.
We may never know who built those showers at your brother's base.
But we do want to find out who should be held accountable. I think our story was able to find out what steps the military is taking now to fix the electrical problems at US bases across Iraq and to bring this to light to some former and members of Congress who may not have known all the facts.
We were able to get your family some more pages of the investigative reports and to track down Tony Stevens, the Marine who tried to save your brother's life. We hope to learn more.
I hope you were happy with the way the story turned out. Your brothers Brad and Barry and sister Jodi, as well as Bart and Deb, said some very nice things about the story and we really appreciate that. It was good to see your whole family together at Ft. Snelling earlier this month.
[Comment From Kristy: ] Yes, the story and everything you have done is unbelievable. We are all very thankful for what you have already done for us.
Mark Albert: You're very welcome. I hope it brings you some of the answers you're looking for. It seems like it shouldn't have taken six years.
[Comment From EK: ] Can you explain why it was so hard to get a straight answer from Washington?
Mark Albert: We first asked for the documents back in July when the Inspector General issued its report. We were denied back then because the investigation into Dave Cedergren's death was one of four of those 18 electrocution deaths that had been recommended to be re-opened. Once it closed, however, we submitted a Freedom of Information Act request in December for the entire NCIS file. We got it in March.
I'm not sure if you saw the end of our story on Tuesday, EK, but I held up the hundreds of pages we received, many with large black marks. The military - as it's required to do under its privacy rules - redacted all identifying information and withheld other documents that it said needed to be released from other agencies. We're still waiting for some of those documents.
Despite the redactions, we did track down some of the key people involved. All but former Marine Tony Stevens refused to comment. We're still trying.
And we're still hoping for on-camera interviews with the various departments who were involved in the investigations. But yes, it can be frustrating that it takes so long.
By the way, we did appeal the redactions of the NCIS file to the Judge Advocate General's office. We lost. I'm trying to find the exact wording here from our denial... hold on... something about security concerns regarding a six-year old case...
Ah, here it is. The JAG office denied our request to get the un-redacted copies of reports which would identify the people involved because it would "constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy" and because the disclosure would "raise security concerns."
[Comment From Rhiannon: ] Hi Mark, This is Dave's cousin Rhiannon. I want to thank you again for what you have done, and are doing for our family. It was nice meeting you and Tony Stevens at the cemetery a few weeks ago. THANK YOU!!!!!
Mark Albert: Rhiannon:
You're very welcome. I'm glad you liked the story. Your family has been through so much. I just hope you get the answers you're looking for and deserve. Nice to meet you, as well.
[Comment From Jason: ] Are you going to try to push this story to a national audience with David's investigation? It seems this is such a pull at heartstrings of families in America (not just Minnesota) with so many families of young soldiers, that it should be shown at a national level.
Mark Albert: Thanks for your comment, Jason. We are passing along the information we've found to our partners at ABC News.
Folks, we have just five minutes left in our web chat. Please get any last questions in.....
Mark Albert: OK, I guess I've answered them all.
Thanks again for joining us here at kstp.com for this web chat. We'll post a transcript of this chat on the main page for this story: http://kstp.com/news/stories/S1575576.shtml
Look for our follow-up reports on this story soon.
Have a good afternoon.